After several years of producing theater this way, City Lit made the leap from staged readings to full productions with Aprill's 1985 version of A Tale of Two Cities.
"Originally that was supposed to be a co-production with Pegasus Players," recalls Richard, who joined the company during this production, "but then it was put on hold when Pegasus moved to Truman College. And then, for reasons I do not know, [the show] didn't happen at all--but Arnie [Aprill] already had a full cast, was already in rehearsal, so we staged the show in the Stormfield Theater."
The production proved to be City Lit first real hit, and soon the group became well-known as much for full productions of literary works as for their chamber performances. The years that followed brought more hits, most notably Aprill's 1989 adaptation of Linda Barry's novel The Good Times are Killing Me.
"That was a big breakout hit for us," Richard recalls. "It ran for a year, first at Live Bait, where it first opened, then at Body Politic, and finally at the Halsted Street Theater Center." During this time, the company was gaining momentum and, more importantly, increasing its credibility with the press and the public.
Great momentum brought great advantages. First, City Lit had a regular space--Live Bait shared its stage--and an unofficial ensemble of talented theater people began to grow. "We had a loose family of folks back then," Richard remembers, "who would meet every weekend. It was like some weird Quaker ritual. We would pass books around and read to each other."
Aprill and Richard were both attracted to the fiction of Raymond Carver and had been trying to get permission to do stage versions of his work, finally getting stymied by an independent filmmaker who owned the rights to the writer's prose. Richard then looked at Carver's poetry and, at one of those meetings, introduced that aspect of Carver's work to the group. Sensing the underlying narrative in Carver's poetry, Richard wrote to Carver's estate (administered by Carver's widow, poet Tess Gallagher) and quickly landed the appropriate rights. Richard then began working on a two-hander that became The Hero's Journey.
"[When] we opened it was part of a poetry and performance series at Live Bait. We thought this was going to be the tiniest, riskiest experiment. And it just took off." Originally scheduled for a four-week run,