A new play charting the early history of American comic books, The Mark of Kane, has just opened in Chicago, the first in a trilogy of productions at City Lit Theater, scripted by Mark Pracht, directed by Terry McCabe.
In 1939, two young friends huddled in a Bronx apartment and created a legend – Batman. A hero who represents an enduring chapter in the tale of the American comic book. One, Bob Kane, would profit from that legend for years to come, and the other, Bill Finger, would be all but forgotten. This is the legacy of the mark of Kane.
The play, which spans some 80 years of comic history, stars Josh Zagoren as Bob Kane, who has credits with Chicago’s Interrobang Theatre, The Factory, and other companies. He has also appeared on NBC’s Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and is also known as “Chad the Bird” in his podcast Chad the Birdcast. Todd Wojcik as Bill Finger, who recently appeared in The Pavilion and as the “Nasty Interesting Man” in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, both with The Artistic Home
Also in the cast are Adam Bitterman as Kane and Finger’s fellow DC Comics writer Arnold Drake, the creator of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Annie Hogan as Finger’s wife Portia, Lee Kanne as Jerry Robinson, co-creator of Robin and the Joker for the Batman comics, David Valenta as Shelly Moldoff, co-creator of Batgirl and Batman super-villains Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze; and Michael Sherwin, as artist Jim Steranko. Also in the cast are Sean Harklerode, Laura Coleman, John Wehrman, Zoe Deprez, Linsey Falls and Dakota Pariset.
The Mark of Kane poster art is by cartoonist and illustrator Tony Donley. A School of Visual Arts alumnus, when not drawing the adventures of of his creator-owned Action Lab title Albert Einstein: Time Mason, Tony can be found storyboarding projects for clients such as McDonalds, Bose and multiple major motion pictures/
The world premiere of The Mark of Kane opens City Lit Theater’s 42nd season, written by Chicago playwright/actor Mark Pracht, directed by City Lit Artistic Director Terry McCabe. Ranging in setting across eight decades, this is the first production of “The Four-Color Trilogy,” a set of plays Pracht is writing for City Lit that will make their world premieres over the next three seasons and will highlight major turning points in the history of the American comic book industry, once a denigrated art form but now at the centre of pop culture.
Pracht has previously appeared in lead roles at City Lit in Promotheus Bound, Frankenstein and The Copperhead, and won a Jeff Award for Performer in a Principal Role – Play for Requiem For A Heavyweight with The Artistic Home, where he is an ensemble member.
The second play of the trilogy, The Innocence of Seduction, about the 1950s Congressional investigation of horror comics, will premiere in 2023; the third, The House of Ideas, about the 1960s rise of Marvel, will premiere in 2024.
“The Bob Kane and Bill Finger story is just so fascinating,” Pracht told Chicago Reader recently, noting that the Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster story (the creators of Superman) is more like David and Goliath, the small-time artists versus a corporation, “but Bill Finger and Bob Kane is like Cain and Abel… artists conflicting with each other.”
“Enormously thought-provoking, delightfully stimulating, and wretchedly heartbreaking, The Mark of Kane is a narrative drama that excels in every way,” enthuses Julia W. Rath of the play in her review for Around the Town Chicago. “Beautifully written by Mark Pracht and directed by Terry McCabe, this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in a long time.”
“Both leading men are superb in their individual portrayals of these real life artists. Josh Zagoren is almost hypnotising as Bob Kane,” notes reviewer Colin Douglas for the Chicago Theatre Review. “Portraying the effervescent wheeler-dealer behind the creation and marketing of Batman, Kane’s arrogance and unfettered moxie is brilliantly played by this talented Chicago actor/writer.
“At times reminding me of a young Nathan Lane, Mr. Zagoren creates a shameless, goal-driven, unethical man who knows no boundaries or limitations in his quest for fame and fortune. Bob Kane is definitely the antihero of this play, and in his swift, callous rise to power and prosperity, he steps on all his friends and associates, and then casually casts them aside.”
Pracht notes that for something like Batman to survive this long proves what a significant creation it was. “This art form has become so important in the American experience,” he told Chicago Reader. “Knowing these people who maybe got forgotten for a while . . . I think it behooves us to know where these characters came from. They’re important in a way I don’t think anybody really comprehended until now, almost 100 years later. We’re still going to the movies to see it, we’re still buying comic books and playing video games.”
Founded in 1979, City Lit Theater, a non-profit organisation, is dedicated to the vitality and accessibility of the literary imagination. City Lit also produces concert readings and full-stage productions of adaptations of literary material, scripted plays by language-oriented playwrights, and original material developed especially for City Lit.
• The Mark of Kane runs until 4th December 2022 at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Located on the Second floor of the Edgewater Presbyterian Church two blocks east of the Bryn Mawr Red Line Station | Buy tickets here | City Lit Theater online at citylit.org
City Lit still requires masks for their Sunday matinee performances. Masks are encouraged but no longer required for Friday, Saturday and Monday performances. City Lit staff will continue to mask for all performances
With thanks, once more, to Paul Gravett