by Richard Engling
(10/28/2010) It’s a highly emotional business running a theatre company. I’m sitting at my desk the morning of opening night for Long Day’s Journey into Night, and I’ve got those flurries of swirling emotion. I want so much for the show to be great, the audience to love it, the director’s vision to be recognized, the actors to get the attention they deserve, the designers’ gorgeous work to be appreciated. Everyone has worked tremendously hard to get to this day–and it has been a process marked with struggle. We lost two major players along the way: our first Production Manager, Steven Hill, and our first James Tyrone, Sr., Ron Butts. Both were excellent. We lost the actor, Ron Butts, due to health issues and the cast and director sorely missed him. I thought director Susan Padveen might collapse to the floor. She had been moving from one directing project to the next without rest for some months. But she bravely soldiered on and we were able to find the excellent Kevin Kenneally to replace Ron.
The transition was stressful. It demanded lots of extra work from Susan and the cast, but I love what Kevin is doing in the show. Kevin did not have Ron’s advantage of time. We cast the show early and Ron had the whole summer to learn that tremendous number of lines. We postponed the opening by two weeks to give Kevin a scant five weeks to learn the part, on top of his full time job, and he took every moment of that to do it, but he brings a tremendous soulfulness to the part that is a pleasure to watch.
And Steven Hill was wonderful starting out as our Production Manager. He and Chuck Palia, who is a board member and our Tech Director, did great work renovating and upgrading our performance space. But Steve is also a partner at New Rock Theater Productions. They got the chance to step up from being a renter to taking over their venue, and his New Rock job suddenly demanded all of his time. Even still, Steve has been a great friend to Polarity, lending us lights and large props and a video projector. We know we’ll work with him again.
And Steve’s exit also gave us the chance to bring in Lee Strausberg as our new Production Manager. Lee is terrific, and is clearly going to be a great long-term asset to the company.
All these challenges we faced along the way (and I could go on if this were not the morning of opening night and other duties await) are now joined with the absolute joy of seeing a beautiful play come to life–but also by the need to get the seats filled. That’s always a challenge. Expecially since some audience members are reluctant to commit to an O’Neill play, which they know pushes past the 3 hour mark. They forget (or maybe they’ve never experienced) the rewards of basking in that great language, of being carried by a great story-teller. Long Day’s Journey into Night is on all the 10 ten lists of 20th century plays for a reason. It’s a tremendous experience. But with common tastes going toward shorter plays, it’s a risk to the producer. As a non-profit theatre producer that “brings new life to the classics and brings new work to life” we are happy to take that risk. But we need to find an adventurous audience ready for an extraordinary experience to join us. We hope you will. And until you do, we are a little nervous.
–Richard Engling, Artistic Director
P.S. What a difference a day makes! I’m at my desk the next afternoon. Opening night was fantastic. The actors were impeccable. The technical aspects were gorgeous. I loved the show. And the Jefferson Awards judges have given us a Jeff Recommendation! It’s a wild ride sometimes!