Joe Zarrow

Joe Zarrow

Joe Zarrow is a playwright and actor. Stage Left and Theatre Seven of Chicago coproduced the world
premiere of Joe’s Chicago public school satire PRINCIPAL PRINCIPLE. It was nominated for the Joseph
Jefferson Award for Best New Work been produced in cities from Atlanta to Auckland. Joe’s plays have
also been produced by Walkabout (THE PIGEONS), Broken Nose Theatre (KODAK SHIRLEY), and...
Joe Zarrow is a playwright and actor. Stage Left and Theatre Seven of Chicago coproduced the world
premiere of Joe’s Chicago public school satire PRINCIPAL PRINCIPLE. It was nominated for the Joseph
Jefferson Award for Best New Work been produced in cities from Atlanta to Auckland. Joe’s plays have
also been produced by Walkabout (THE PIGEONS), Broken Nose Theatre (KODAK SHIRLEY), and
Collaboraction (OVERNIGHT PARKING BAN IN EFFECT). His play RETCON, OR ACTUALLY IT'S A PLAY
ABOUT ETHICS IN SUPERHERO JOURNALISM was developed in Theatre Nova's Michigan Playwrights
Festival and was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill National Playwrights Conference. Joe is a graduate of
the School at Steppenwolf.

Plays

  • Principal Principle
    Armed only with her dreams of making the world a better place and six weeks of training, Kay Josephs quits her corporate job to teach English in an urban high school. She wakes up to harsh realities: the copy machine is broken, the system is broken, and the spirits of her fellow teachers are broken. Or are they? A dark comedy of academic intrigue.

    "One of the best new plays of the year......
    Armed only with her dreams of making the world a better place and six weeks of training, Kay Josephs quits her corporate job to teach English in an urban high school. She wakes up to harsh realities: the copy machine is broken, the system is broken, and the spirits of her fellow teachers are broken. Or are they? A dark comedy of academic intrigue.

    "One of the best new plays of the year...There are very few excellent plays about public education. This is one." - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

    "★★★★ This clear-eyed glimpse into the teachers' lounge makes hearty laughs part of an all too relevant lesson plan." - Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago

    "Former public school teacher Joe Zarrow achieves something remarkable...an entertaining play about education that re-creates all the quirks and craziness of modern education without lapsing into either cynical hopelessness or Hollywood-style superteacher fantasies. His dialogue feels authentic, and his characters are flawed but likable human beings, not mouthpieces for this or that ideology." - Jack Helbig, Chicago Reader

    "Engaging, intelligent, and important. Highly recommended." - Peter Thomas Ricci, Chicago Theater Review
  • The Absent Minded
    Boyd is stuck in his head. He can't concentrate on his drone-piloting work, on his relationships, or even on sex. When his wife Monica issues him an ultimatum to work on his mental health, Boyd turns to a mad scientist to give his brain a literal out-of-body experience. Will it be enough to save Boyd and Monica's marriage? A dark sci-fi comedy about the mind-body problem.

    From Unicorn...
    Boyd is stuck in his head. He can't concentrate on his drone-piloting work, on his relationships, or even on sex. When his wife Monica issues him an ultimatum to work on his mental health, Boyd turns to a mad scientist to give his brain a literal out-of-body experience. Will it be enough to save Boyd and Monica's marriage? A dark sci-fi comedy about the mind-body problem.

    From Unicorn Theatre's Semifinalist Rating for its In-Progress New Play Reading Series: "Our readers especially appreciated the exploration of the concept of isolation and how it affects one's relationships with others. They thought that the play asks us to consider how a sense of disconnect within the self affects our entire lives and whether embracing our internal chaos will help or make things even worse. Our readers enjoyed the script's magical realism feel and thought that it told an interesting, often melancholic story balanced with wit and absurdity."
  • The Retreat, or Whatevs
    Mission Purple, a Chicago nonprofit connecting urban and rural citizens, is falling apart. The Director disappeared to a retreat in Wisconsin months ago. The board fires friends Ros and Tommy. Single and unemployed, they decide to go up to Wisconsin for long weekend and to look for the Director, who happens to be Ros's mom.

    In Wisconsin, the Mission Purple staff are missing, having...
    Mission Purple, a Chicago nonprofit connecting urban and rural citizens, is falling apart. The Director disappeared to a retreat in Wisconsin months ago. The board fires friends Ros and Tommy. Single and unemployed, they decide to go up to Wisconsin for long weekend and to look for the Director, who happens to be Ros's mom.

    In Wisconsin, the Mission Purple staff are missing, having abandoned their rental cabin. Ros and Tommy stay at an uncomfortable motel. Tommy can barely leave the room. A long weekend turns into a long winter. The local paper prints an anonymous love ode to Ros and the poet turns out to be Lando, a former coworker crush. Ros approaches him, but Lando mistakes her for a townie. Ros rolls with it.

    Angry city and country lovers pile up. Mission Purple goes bankrupt, but a mysterious benefactor writes them a blank check. Wounds heal. Tommy weds a local dairy farmer. Ros reveals herself, and quits Mission Purple in order to find a new, honest place in the world. A modern update of Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT and its obsession with boundary-blurring, THE RETREAT asks, why do we so often yearn to be something other than what we are? How do our personal desires overlap and conflict with our professional and political selves?
  • Retcon, or Actually it's a Play About Ethics in Superhero Journalism
    RETCON is a universe-hopping comedy about geek culture, race, and keeping your story straight. An unknown African-American actress wins the lead role in the movie debut of Chronometa, a beloved comic book heroine who first appeared in the 1940s. Nerdy traditionalists, led by a mysterious blogger, think their hero must stay absolutely true to the original comics and be played by a white performer. The...
    RETCON is a universe-hopping comedy about geek culture, race, and keeping your story straight. An unknown African-American actress wins the lead role in the movie debut of Chronometa, a beloved comic book heroine who first appeared in the 1940s. Nerdy traditionalists, led by a mysterious blogger, think their hero must stay absolutely true to the original comics and be played by a white performer. The traditionalists pressure the studio to make some unsavory alterations to the screenplay. The actress, unhappy about this compromise, leaks the script to an idealistic young fan who publishes it on the internet. This escalates into a vicious campaign of trolling against the fan and the actress. This main plot is interwoven with the storyline of Chronometa herself, a superhero who grows with the decades. We also see the “origin stories” of the play’s real-life characters: the actress, the trolling blogger, the fan, the director, and the nebbishy continuity supervisor. The play ends on an optimistic note, jumping ten years into the future to see how comic books might continue to evolve.
  • Falstaff in Jerusalem
    What if King Henry IV had followed his dream to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land? What if Falstaff went along? A companion piece to Shakespeare's HENRY IV PART TWO, FALSTAFF IN JERUSALEM is both a fun cross-continental romp and a sincere exploration of what history - particularly traumatic history like the Crusades - means to us hundreds of years after the fact.
  • The Pigeons
    When Martin's girlfriend kicks him out of their apartment for cheating, he has to find new digs quickly in Chicago's diverse, rapidly-gentrifying West Town neighborhood. To get the only existing apartment, he'll have to compete with a rabid overgrown frat boy, a Machiavellian real estate agent, a determined Polish saleslady, an embittered barista, and a flock of very angry pigeons. How far will...
    When Martin's girlfriend kicks him out of their apartment for cheating, he has to find new digs quickly in Chicago's diverse, rapidly-gentrifying West Town neighborhood. To get the only existing apartment, he'll have to compete with a rabid overgrown frat boy, a Machiavellian real estate agent, a determined Polish saleslady, an embittered barista, and a flock of very angry pigeons. How far will Martin be willing to go to stay in the neighborhood he loves so much?

    "Without a doubt, one can arrive unprepared for Joe Zarrow's new play, The Pigeons, produced by Walkabout Theatre, at Swim Cafe's space. It's easily the cleverest, foxiest and physically wildest farce I've seen since, well, forever."
    - Paige Listerud, Chicago Theater Blog

    "Very funny satire."
    - Laura Molzahn, Chicago Reader (Recommended)
  • The Drill
    At a small town high school's active shooter drill, the backdrop of blank shots and bullet hole makeup inspires two teens and two adults to explore what is real in their world. Written for The Appetizer Plays speed playwriting festival.
  • Rondo à la Bongo
    Sibling rivalry, a circle of vengeance-wreaking, and a cat named Bongo with an unfortunate haircut. A ten-minute play for young actors, commissioned for the Piven Theatre Scene Study Class.
  • Kodak Shirley
    In this short play inspired by "Kodak Shirleys," the models whose faces were used to calibrate color film printers, an African-American artist attempts to get a white friend's help with her photography project critiquing racism in technology. Skipping back to 1970, the original Kodak Shirley model struggles with the unglamorous truths of her job. Commissioned for Broken Nose Theatre's Bechdel Fest.
  • The Big Idea
    A professor desperate for tenure gets to share her work at a TED-esque Big Idea conference, but only after she makes a deal with someone suspect in this short comic take on the Faust myth.
  • The Roman and the Jew
    In the first century, an idealistic Jewish priest named Joseph travels to Rome to negotiate the release of his imprisoned friend. As he navigates the corrupted politics of Rome's insane emperors, crafty empresses, cranky writers, and out-of-work actors, will Joseph preserve his cherished Jewish faith or lose his way? Inspired by the historical writings of Titus Flavius Josephus, THE ROMAN AND THE JEW is a...
    In the first century, an idealistic Jewish priest named Joseph travels to Rome to negotiate the release of his imprisoned friend. As he navigates the corrupted politics of Rome's insane emperors, crafty empresses, cranky writers, and out-of-work actors, will Joseph preserve his cherished Jewish faith or lose his way? Inspired by the historical writings of Titus Flavius Josephus, THE ROMAN AND THE JEW is a dark historical comedy about finding a middle way through extreme times.
  • Motherfucking Courage
    I have not actually written this play, nor do I plan to, but it's kind of a fun idea, yeah?