Archive for October, 2010

Long Day’s Journey into O’Neill

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

by Richard Engling

Richard Engling

Artistic Director 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.

Jeff Award Recommended

10/29 Update: Long Day Jeff Award Recommended!!!

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!

The Director Speaks

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010
Susan Padveen

Director Susan Padveen

Polarity Ensemble Theatre, located in Wicker Park, Chicago, begins its 2010/2011 season with a production of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer-winning 1956 play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, directed by Susan Padveen and featuring Bryan Breau, Kevin Kenneally, Caroline Latta, Anne Sears and Eric Damon Smith. Beginning this October, audiences will have a chance to become immersed in the O’Neill’s precisely drawn characters in a way that is rare for a work of such intensity, unfolding in a theatre of less than 60 seats, with performers just a few steps away.

“When someone offers you one of the greatest American plays of the 20th century, you say, ‘Yes!’” chimes Ms. Padveen of her second collaboration with Polarity. Her first partnership was The White Airplane, a mind-bending original work by Chicago playwright Darren Callahan that had a successful run in the 2008/2009 season. Never having directed O’Neill, Ms. Padveen, as a coordinator of the directing department of Columbia College of Chicago’s theatre program, wanted to be newly challenged by this classic play. “I was really excited to do a classic again – I’ve been doing new or devised pieces for a while now and relish the chance to do the opposite.”

Taking place entirely the Connecticut summer home of The Tyrones – a family of significant flaws and driven by ego and addiction – it is a semi-autobiographical play of O’Neill himself, and widely considered to be his strongest work. Written in the mid-1940s then hidden away, the play was not produced until three years after O’Neill’s death. Since that time, the play has been produced many times and also saw a 1962 film adaptation starring Katherine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, and Dean Stockwell.

Having seen so many revivals, Polarity has been challenged with making this version unique while staying true to the elements that find favor with audiences. As part of Polarity’s mission, the company “breathes new life” into classics – such as in Polarity’s 2008 revival of Hamlet in which the Dane was immersed in a world of rock n’ roll – a production which prompted the Chicago Reader to dub Polarity “Best Emerging Theatre Company” of the year. “(Long Day’s Journey is) being done steam punk,” jokes Ms. Padveen. “Kidding. We’re doing it pretty traditionally, but there will be terrific design elements that will be surprising – sound, video, etc. I don’t want to say too much and spoil the fun.” 

Adding to that design is a crack behind-the-scenes team – a Polarity “best-of” from prior productions – all in service of O’Neill’s story. This includes some recent renovations to Polarity’s space at the Josephinum Academy, where the company has been located since 2008. “We endeavor to make each production a better experience for our audiences,” notes Richard Engling, artistic director. “Our mission is to make entertainment and give people an experience they can only get from this group of talent.” Always respected for tackling works seemingly beyond most storefront companies, Mr. Engling keeps his choices stretching the ensemble and those new and long-time patrons who buy tickets. Long works such as Sheridan’s The Rivals, Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Antigone, or The White Airplane all showcased large-scale story and production values. “We want to move beyond what people think we can do or even should do and, when it works, which is thankfully often, it’s something special.

This potent combination of a great script, a talented troupe of actors, and knowing production crew will all be brought to bear on Long Day’s Journey into Night.

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Long Day’s Journey into Night, directed by Susan Padveen and featuring Bryan Breau, Kevin Kenneally, Caroline Latta, Anne Sears and Eric Damon Smith.

Performances will take place at the Polarity Ensemble Theatre in the Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell, Chicago, IL.

Performances run from October 26 through December 5, 2010. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:30 pm. Sunday, December 5 will be at 3:00pm. General admission $19. Previews October 26 and 27 (7:30pm) $10. Gala opening night, Thursday October 28 (7:30 pm) $35. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Brown Paper Tickets or by calling 1-800-838-3006.