First reported 7/19/2010 4:30 p.m.

A favorable Chicago Sun-Times review Monday morning of Circle Theatre’s latest production broke potentially unfavorable news for Forest Park’s connection to one of the village’s most respected arts presences.

“At the end of the summer, Circle Theatre will bid goodbye to its Forest Park home, taking up temporary residence several blocks east at 1010 Madison St. in neighboring Oak Park, where it will spend about 14 months making plans for a permanent space.”

That was the opening sentence of the Sun-Times’ Philadelphia Story review, a report that according to the president of the theater group in Oak Park is premature.

“Negotiations are under way. We are trying to work out a couple of issues,” said Rosemary Foley, president of the board and managing director of the Oak Park-River Forest Performing Arts Center, formerly Village Players. “This is definitely not a sure thing, though we both want it to work out. The discussions are very friendly.”

If the lease negotiations reach an agreement, Circle Theatre would move three-tenths of a mile east into the space long operated by the community theater group known as Village Players. The move would be a temporary one, perhaps just over a year, that would benefit both theater companies as they each work on restructuring their operations.

This October, Circle is coming to the end of a lease on its first-floor space in a former 1920s department store building a block east of Circle Avenue on Madison.

That building has been home to Circle Theatre for almost 20 years. Following the sale of the property in 2007, there were doubts that the nonprofit theater group would be able to afford an increase in its rent once the building was rehabbed, as planned by the new owner, Art Sundry Jr.

In 2008, Sundry had said he was willing to consider letting Circle out of its lease a year early to facilitate a move that was then planned to warehouse space in the Oak Park arts district. The Village of Oak Park had then promised $212,000 in grant money to help with renovations. When a delay in fundraising and complications with the warehouse’s owner kept that move from happening two years ago, Sundry told the Review:

“My intention is to do a 100-percent gut rehab of the building. There’s no way for me to address them staying or going. It would be harder to do that around them, but anything’s possible.”

On Monday afternoon, Sundry thanked the Review for a call about the latest news, but said he had no comment on the development.

Kevin Bellie, a Forest Park resident who is the artistic director of Circle, returned the Review’s call to say that, at the moment, he can’t comment on what’s being discussed.

While declining to discuss specific issues complicating the lease negotiations, Foley, the representative of the theater group in Oak Park, did say of the Village Players’ space: “This is an old building. The issue is that, not something between the companies.”

Reactions to the possible loss of Circle

“Circle Theater has been an integral part of the success of Madison Street and we are hopeful that they will be able to renegotiate a satisfactory lease and remain in Forest Park,” Laurie Kokenes, executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development, told the Review on Tuesday morning.

In an interview with the Review in December, Kokenes had praised Circle Theatre as a vital part of Forest Park’s rebirth, and said the theater’s regional draws absolutely meant new shoppers and diners for the area. “We love having Circle Theatre on Madison,” Kokenes said. “They’ve been part of the community.”

Mayor Anthony Calderone says he’s “highly disappointed” at the thought of losing a group born in Forest Park. Calderone said he was aware of Circle Theatre’s struggles at its current location and that Circle had sought help from village government.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to save the day,” Calderone said.

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An award winner

Circle Theatre is known for solid, cutting-edge productions. Recently, on Channel 7’s morning news, Circle was named Chicago’s favorite theater.

Over its quarter-century history, Circle Theatre has garnered an impressive 107 nominations and 45 wins for the prestigious Jeff Awards, the standard for recognition in Chicago-area stage productions. This year, Circle was the recipient of a Jeff award honoring the company’s longevity.

-Doug Deuchler