Before "The Tomkat Project" even opened, playwright Brandon Ogborn knew he had a hit on his hands.
"About two days before opening night [the entire run] was completely sold out," he said of his two-act comedy about the failed marriage of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, which debuted in January at Upstairs Gallery in Andersonville. "And we had a wait list of like 70 people."
The play, which reopens this week at The Playground Theater in Lakeview, spans 14 years (1998-2012) and features imagined scenes, real-life events—yes, including the "Oprah" couch-jumping scene—and verbatim dialogue, began as an idea for a two-person sketch show. But when Ogborn sat down to write, he ended up with a 75-page script and more depth than he'd anticipated.
"Everybody comes and they want to laugh at this story—which they do," Ogborn said, "but what makes it a bigger story is it's not just about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, it's about the way we look at celebrity couples—and the way that we're fed by tabloids. So the second act is when it questions everything the audience saw and anything else they're going to see in the tabloids about any famous people."
Given the number of tabloid headlines Cruise has generated, it's not surprising that the play features more than 50 characters. What's pretty remarkable, though, is that the cast contains only seven actors. We had Ogborn (who plays the role of narrator) and director Elly Green—a UK transplant from Britain's Royal National Theatre—highlight who plays who.
Role: Tom Cruise
"Walt's is the version of Tom Cruise we all wish were possible—a bit of an egomaniac, but also a nice guy. If only he were 5 inches shorter …" –Elly Green
Role: Katie Holmes
"[Julie] did her homework. When we were reading the script, she was like, 'That part's not true. Tom got Katie a five-carat white diamond ring with a yellow-gold halo.'" –Brandon Ogborn
Joseph Martin Holmes
"Kevin as Katie's dad is just the funniest because he's absolutely convinced his daughter going to be, 'The beard-bride to a cult-loving Hollywood psycho and give birth to the Anti-Christ.'" --BO
"I always get a laugh watching Kevin as Spielberg doing the 'War of the Worlds' promotional interview with Tom. He gets wrapped into comparing his work with The Shoah Foundation, Scientology and the Holocaust and is trying desperately to bring the topic back to his alien invasion movie." –BO
"Brianna has that wonderful talent of appearing effortless even when there's a ton of thinking going on. Her Oprah is a tour de force." --EG
"It's always hilarious to me that every time Katie calls Nicole Kidman, she says, 'Nicole, it's Katie,' and Nicole thinks it's Katie Couric or Katy Perry." --BO
"The Lauer/Cruise stuff is right from the tape, verbatim. Brianna was the one that noticed Matt Lauer had the tiniest of smiles the entire interview, as if he knew he was at ground zero for this megastar's meltdown, but still had to do the job of interviewing him on his comments about Brooke Shields." --BO
David Miscavige (of the Church of Scientology)
"Micah as Josh Hartnett leaving Katie Holmes a voicemail that says, 'I'm gonna go play basketball and jack off, if you wanna get ice cream later,' is pretty much the greatest five seconds of my life." –BO
"It's such a dark scene, but Allison does this very believable portrayal Suri being audited by a Scientology staffer and processing answers to questions like, 'Have you ever made yourself sick or hurt yourself to make somebody sorry?'" --BO
"Allison has such an incredible range. She has some real chameleon moments, including a brief appearance as cuteball, but possibly lobotomized, Suri Cruise." --EG
"The ScarJo bit is brief, as she was supposedly one of the women that Tom attempted to lure into Scientology before Katie, and she (also supposedly) high-tailed it out of there. Allison had to get that mimicry down enough for the audience to be like, 'Oh yeah, that is her.'" --BO
"I'm sure Allison wouldn't mind me saying, we found a certain advantage to playing her scenes as if she is led by her lovely lady parts. Is that libellous?" –EG
The Tomkat Project
Go: 8 p.m. Wednesday through March 27 at The Playground Theater, 3209 N. Halsted St.
Tickets: $15. 773-871-3793; the-playground.com