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New play 'Rantoul and Die': A little slice of Central Illinois

March 7, 2009 |  9:00 am

Rantoul producersWhat's a Rantoul?

That's the question raised by the title of Mark Roberts'  new play "Rantoul and Die," slated to have its world premiere in mid-May at Hollywood's Lillian Theater.

Actually, Rantoul is not a what -- it's a where: Rantoul, Ill., population 12,851, is a town 110 miles south of Chicago, 14 miles north of Champaign, and possibly best described as the Paris of the middle of nowhere. It's the little burg where Roberts -- an Illinois native who now serves as writer and executive producer of the CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men" -- chose to set "Rantoul and Die," billed as "A Romantic Comedy Wrapped in Razor Wire."

Don Foster -- a "Rantoul" producer and playwright Roberts' fellow writer/executive producer on "Two and Half Men" -- explains on behalf of Roberts that the title is a pun of sorts on the big billboard for a tool and die manufacturer on the highway leading into town. The "die" part -- well, that's a pun too; don't expect a lighthearted sitcom.

"Essentially what we think we're doing is bringing Central Illinois to Los Angeles -- and it's about time," jokes Foster.

Foster's co-producer on "Rantoul" is Stephen Eich, 53, who was managing director of Westwood's Geffen Playhouse until last June, when he abruptly left the job.  Eich is also something of an Illinois import, having come to the Geffen from a post as managing director of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. 

Since leaving the Geffen, Eich has not been hiding out in Rantoul -- he's been busy with new projects, including this new play. Find out why Eich left the Geffen, and what he's up to now, in my Sunday story.

--Diane Haithman

Photo: "Rantoul" producers Don Foster, left, and Stephen Eich. Credit: Erin Quigley

Comments () | Archives (5)

I've had a chance to see this play in rehearsal and although some of the content may be dark, it speaks to the truth of the human condition, the battle between hope and dispair, good and evil, the thin line between love and hate, and it gives you a good laugh while doing it. Bravo, Mr. Roberts! Bravo!

Can't wait to see this play! I absolutely love Two and a Half Men and I'm sure that anything coming from the guys behind that show has got to be great. Buying my ticket right now!

I wish I was still living in LA to see this! I grew up in Champaign, IL and would occasionally go to Rantoul's aerospace museum while growing up.

Wow, what a play. Didn't know what to expect but was blown away. Everyone should go see it, you won't be dissapointed

I would love to go to LA and see this. I was born and raised in Rantoul. I worked closely with the tool and die department at Eagle Wings Ind as a press department associate. I relocated to Fort Worth Texas just 5 years ago and got this email from a close friend in Rantoul. How exciting..and I love Two and 1/2 Men too.


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