What’s that handsome “Private Practice” actor doing these days?

If you watched the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off show Private Practice when it was on ABC a few years ago, you know who Dr. Gabriel Fife is. The genetics specialist was introduced in the third season as a love interest who worked for a rival medical practice. The character used a wheelchair, and so does the actor who played him: Michael Patrick Thornton.

Michael Patrick Thornton

Michael Patrick Thornton

Private Practice went off the air in 2013, but national TV watchers loss is Chicago’s gain: Michael Patrick Thornton is a native Chicagoan, and now that he’s back in town full-time, those of us who live in Chicago get to see him live on stage here.

I myself appeared on stage last week at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre with Michael Patrick Thornton, and after sharing the stage with him, you know, I just call him Michael. We were there with other disability advocates at “Greater Together,” Chicago’s first Cultural Accessibility Summit.

My job was to give a short testimonial on how important it is for civic and cultural leaders (hundreds of them were there in the audience) to support accessible programming at the museums, theaters and foundations they work for. Michael was there in his real-life role as the Artistic Director & Co-founder of The Gift Theatre in Chicago.

Michael Patrick Thornton’s interest in theater started when he was in high school, and he and William Nedved co-founded The Gift Theatre Company in 2001. Two years later, Michael suffered a spinal stroke that almost killed him. He was 23 years old at the time, and the stroke left him paralyzed from the neck down. “It took a while for doctors to figure out what happened to me — it was very Dr. House-like,” he told the audience last week, and you couldn’t miss the hint of dark humor in his voice.

The Gift Theatre will celebrate its 15th anniversary this upcoming season, and when I talked with Michael after our presentation last week he told me how thrilled he is to be directing the world premiere of David Rabe’s Good for Otto at Gift next month. Michael played Iago in Gift’s production of Othello last year, and in March 2016, he’ll have the lead role in Gift’s production of Richard III, which will be staged at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre to accommodate larger audiences. Here’s a prepared statement from Michael about his beloved theater’s upcoming season:

Great theater asks great questions. Our milestone anniversary season asks: ‘What does it mean to be human?’ In perfect circuitousness, we begin where many of us first met — at Steppenwolf. In collaboration with our lead production sponsor, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, we will present a definitive ‘Richard III’ for the ages, performed in conjunction with Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. It will re-define what disability, ability, and Shakespeare’s villain can look like.

Good for Otto opens at The Gift Theatre in Chicago’s Jefferson park neighborhood next month, and Richard III opens in March 2016 at Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre at 1650 N. Halsted in Chicago. Mark your calendars and look for me there in the audience.


Comments may not reflect Easterseals' policies or positions.

Please read our community guidelines when posting comments.

  1. Allyson Wilhite Says:

    I want to know about Michael Patrick Thornton. Where is he? Is he ok?

Leave a Reply