Martha Plimpton has left the Steppenwolf ensemble, a rare exit

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- To most curious outsiders, Chicago's famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble looks a lot like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Why would anybody want to go? It's inarguably among the most prestigious collections of stage actors in the world and yet membership comes with no formal minimum participation requirement: some ensemble members have not performed on a Steppenwolf stage in decades, never mind years. Yet they still get to declare their enrollment in their biographies. Actually, it's a win-win; many of these actors are famous and the theater also gets to claim them.

But sharp-eyed theatergoers at the new production of "True West" might notice something unusual in the traditional lineup of program headshots of the illustrious Steppenwolf crew. The row that begins with Sally Murphy and ends with Rondi Reed has an omission, right after Yasen Peyankov.

There is no longer a picture of Martha Plimpton.

New additions to the growing Steppenwolf ensemble, which now constitutes 50 actors and other theater artists, are usually announced by a press release. Departures, not so much.

Actually, there really have been very few departures throughout the theater's history. H.E. Baccus left abruptly in the fall of 1980, choosing a career in music over theater. Glenne Headly left in 2005, announcing that she wanted to focus more attention on raising her son.


You can now add Plimpton to that very short list.

Asked about the omission on Tuesday, a Steppenwolf spokesman confirmed Plimpton's exit, saying that it was based on Plimpton's sense that she was too busy elsewhere to fulfill any kind of realistic commitment to the theater. However, two sources close to Steppenwolf said that there was no love lost between the actress and the current artistic administration, although Plimpton had wanted to keep her action as private as possible.

Plimpton, 48, is currently starring in the highly acclaimed Donmar Warehouse production of the Lynn Nottage play "Sweat" in London and could not be reached for comment.

The daughter of Keith Carradine and Shelley Plimpton, Martha Plimpton rose to youthful fame after appearing as a precocious and interesting teenager in the 1985 movie "The Goonies," and showing up opposite River Phoenix in Sidney Lumet's Oscar-nominated "Running on Empty" in 1988. That superb film (which retains a cult following) is just one of a string of movies featuring Plimpton. Andrei Konchalovsky's "Shy People" and Ron Howard's "Parenthood" are also among her best-known early work.


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