Archive for November, 2010

The Family that Plays Together

Monday, November 29th, 2010
The Tyrones

The Tyrones

The Tyrones. They could be any family. But they’re not. They’re the family at the heart of Eugene O’Neill’s classic stage play Long Day’s Journey into Night. Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s production has been called “startlingly compassionate… beautifully realized” (Four Stars – Time Out Chicago), it’s Reader Recommended and Jeff Recommended.

Caroline Latta as Mary

Caroline Latta as Mary

It’s a substantial piece of theatre – a little over three hours of stage time – and a challenging show, full of squabbles and conflict and a family held together by their shared ruin – as well as their sadly weathered but very real love. How does the cast of four principles remain at the top of form, putting all they have into O’Neill’s charges and retreats? “Well it’s a bit like running a marathon,” admits veteran actor Caroline Latta (Mary Tyrone). “You have to pace yourself. When the performance works you are completely drained!”

This is the second time around for Latta in the role. She also played Mary Tyrone as a college student decades ago. “It’s such an amazing gift to be able to return to this play after all these years. It gives me a perspective on the play I don’t think I would have found otherwise.”

Kevin Kenneally as James

Kevin Kenneally as James

It’s a first time experience for Kevin Kenneally (James Tyrone, Sr.). In playing the epic role of the family patriarch, he focuses on the all-important passion of desire: “I keep focused on what I want from the other characters. I have to respond to the effects of what they want from me. That’s what the rehearsal process is about: digging through your relationship to others and their thought/feelings/actions towards you.”

Bryan Breau (Edmund Tyrone) concurs, “All I can really do is try to stay focused and in the right mindset. Don’t get distracted, don’t goof around…much. But you have to keep your sense of humor and even with a play this serious; you have to find the fun.” He and Eric Damon Smith (Jamie Tyrone) do manage to mine the script for more laughs than one would expect in a play of this depth.

However, the physical demands of his uncanny portrayal a man diagnosed with consumption does drain Breau. He sputters his lines between coughing and appears at times on the verge of collapse. “Most of the time (an actor’s work) tends to be outside various comfort zones,” he admits. Ironically, appearing sickly on stage demands much of Breau’s physical athleticism.

Eric Damon Smith as Jamie

Eric Damon Smith as Jamie

Eric Damon Smith plays the role of the older, aimless drunkard brother Jamie Tyrone. After intermission Smith spends over an hour off-stage only to return with an energetic ferocity in a grueling and devastating scene admitting his character’s vehemence towards his brother. The time off-stage presents certain challenges emotionally and physically. “Being off-stage for such a long period of time it’s difficult to maintain Jamie’s arc. Stepping out of the character is essential for an actor’s sanity but finding a way to engage back into the play after such a long break is difficult. With the fight choreography it’s important to stretch before and after the show. Honestly, it’s hard and I’m still working on it,” Smith says.

Much of rehearsal was done in large chunks, so the actors always had an idea of the play as a whole. Breau admits to an inherent frustration with any classic play but Smith offers: “I actually do a lot of classical theatre and feel really comfortable in it. I do however feel that you can’t let your reverence for a piece stifle finding a way to make it urgent. Frankly it’s a desperate and daunting script, but once you come to grips with it you can finally truly work on it. It’s what O’Neill wanted. We see it as a great piece of drama, but for O’Neill it was an exorcism of his demons. If we approach seminal pieces of drama as ‘scripture’ we can’t breathe new life into them.”

Bryan Breau as Edmund

Bryan Breau as Edmund

Although the story follows four volatile characters on a painful day, the goal of the script is to illuminate and to entertain. Even fifty years after its Pulitzer-winning debut, the play still has the power to seduce. As Latta says, “Life itself has shown me, over the past forty years, how dreams can sometimes be shattered, but there is always hope for change.”

Despite the grief the characters experience, the cast unanimously agrees that this is a special experience – for them and the audience. The storefront size of Polarity’s theatre, where viewers are placed inside the front room of the Tyrone’s summer home is, literally, like watching a tornado from the eye of the storm. Susan Padveen’s staging allows for the play to be intimately effecting, as can be noted by the rapt attention of the audience shown night after night.

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Long Day’s Journey into Night is directed by Susan Padveen and features Caroline Latta, Kevin Kenneally, Bryan Breau, Eric Damon Smith and Anne Sears.  The final three performances take place at the Polarity Ensemble Theatre in the Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell, Chicago, IL, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 3:00pm, December 3 – 5. (Please note the time change for the final Sunday). $19 general admission. Tickets can be purchased in online through Brown Paper Tickets by calling 1-800-838-3006.

The Artistic Director Talks Turkey

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

by Richard Engling

Richard Engling

Richard Engling

What makes a great, juicy turkey for Thanksgiving? A fresh turkey. Overnight brining. And this year I’m using a bacon fat baste for delicious smokey crisp skin that helps seal in moisture.

Broth-basted turkeys are less expensive, but I prefer to season my turkey my way. God knows what they are injecting into your bird at the turkey processing plant. And if you do buy a frozen broth-basted or Kosher turkey–don’t brine it! It’ll be too salty.

Brining a fresh turkey produces the juiciest meat imaginable. You soak the turkey in a brine overnight in the refrigerator–or on a cold porch if it’s between 32 and 40 degrees. I have a huge (12 inches in diameter, 9 1/2 inches high) stainless steel stock pot that fits an entire turkey. It’s a great thing to own because it’s also good for making stock and soups, obviously, and fantastic for steaming crab legs or mixing enough sangria for dozens of friends. Some people brine in a cooler and add ice to the brine so as not to use refrigerator space. Some put the brine and turkey in a tall kitchen bag, seal and put that in a cooler. Whatever you use, if the turkey cannot be totally submerged, it’ll have to be turned occasionally.

Richard’s apple brine:
* 1/2 gallon fresh apple cider
* 1 cup sea salt or kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns
* 1 tablespoon crushed whole allspice
* 1 tablespoon dried thyme
* 1 inch peeled fresh ginger, sliced into thin slices
* 2 bay leaves
* 2 tablespoons juniper berries crushed
* 1 1/2 gallon ice water

1. In a large pan, combine the apple cider and other ingredients (but not ice water). Bring to a boil and simmer at least five minutes, stirring frequently to be sure salt is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.
2. Pour the apple cider liquid into stock pot or other container. Stir in the ice water.
3. Wash and dry your turkey. Reserve the innards for making stock. Place the turkey, breast down, into the brine. Make sure that the cavity gets filled. If you need more brine, add more salt water (1/4 cup of salt per quart of water). Keep cool (below 40 degrees) and soak for 12 to 24 hours.
4. The next day, drain the turkey, rinse well, pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.

Richard’s Stuffing:
Prepare your stuffing the night before. I make a big batch in a huge salad bowl and put some inside the turkey and bake the rest in a casserole dish.
* 1 1/4 pound of bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and toasted in an oven at 400 degrees until lightly browned. A firm white bread is good. 1/2 pound could be a lighter wheat. Don’t use heavy whole grain breads.
* 2 1/4 cups onion chopped.
* 2 1/4 cups celery sliced
* One stick of butter
Saute the onion and celery about 5 minute (until tender)
Mix with the toasted bread.
* 1 pound sliced mushrooms
* 1/4 stick of butter
Saute the mushrooms lightly
Mix with the toasted bread.
Stir in:
* 1/2 cup pine nuts (Yes, my friend, PINE NUTS!)
* 1/2 cup dried currents or raisins
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
* 1 teaspoon dried sage or 1 tablespoon minced fresh
* 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon minced fresh
* 3/4 tablespoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon pepper
For the portion of the stuffing that will go in a casserole dish, dot the top generously with butter. Add a 1/4 cup of chicken stock to moisten and bake covered for 45 minutes and take the cover off for a final 15 minutes.

Make bacon for breakfast Thanksgiving day and reserve the bacon fat for basting the turkey. Or better yet, make BLTs some night this week and save the fat to make Thanksgiving morning easier. Fry a 1/2 pound of bacon, at least.

Roasting the turkey:
If you want stuffing cooked in the bird (and who doesn’t?) stuff the body and neck cavity loosely with stuffing (recipe to follow). Use round toothpick or bamboo skewers stuck through the skin twice, like sewing needles, to hold the close the cavities. Tie the legs together with unwaxed dental floss or kitchen string (Some turkey come with a metal or plastic device for holding the legs together).

If you are not stuffing the turkey, put a few apple and orange slices and a sprig of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, parley, cilantro or sage) into the cavity for flavor. An unstuffed turkey will roast about a 1/2 hour faster than a stuffed one.

Put the turkey onto a rack in a roasting pan and rub it all over with the bacon fat. (If you don’t want to deal with the bacon fat, use butter). Sprinkle with ground pepper and dried thyme. Cover the breast lightly with a greased, double-thick layer of aluminum foil so it doesn’t overcook. Uncover it to brown in the final hour of cooking.

In the bottom of the roasting pan, pour in a can of low salt chicken stock plus 4 garlic cloves, one onion cut in quarters and a teaspoon each of dried thyme, parsley and sage (or a tablespoon each of fresh).

Roast the turkey on the lowest rack in the oven at 325 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes per pound if it’s stuffed or 10 to 12 minutes if it is not. Brush the skin with bacon fat, butter or pan drippings every 30 minutes. When it’s done, an instant read thermometer will read at least 175 to 180 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. Stuffing must reach at least 160 degress to be safe.

The gravy:
While the turkey is roasting, put the neck and gibblets into a sauce pan with three cups of water, a quartered onion, a carrot, one or two sticks of celery, three peeled cloves of garlic, and a 1/2 teaspoon each of dried thyme, parsley and sage (or a 1/2 tablespoon each of fresh). Bring to a boil and simmer as the turkey roasts. Break apart the neck bones with a spoon as it cooks down. Add water if more than a cup of water boils away.

When the turkey is done, strain the broth. Put the turkey on a platter to rest for 10 minutes. Spoon off all but two tablespoons of fat from the drippings in the pan. Pour the remaining drippings into the broth and scrape the stuck bits into it as well. Mix 4 tablespoons of flour into a 1/2 cup of apple cider until it’s smooth. Bring the broth/drippings mix to a low boil. Very slowly pour the flour mix to it, stirring, until it reaches the thickness you prefer. You probably won’t need it all. (Are you now saying, “Richard, @$#&! I put all the apple cider in the brine!”? Don’t panic. Use canned chicken stock instead).

As I finish up my shopping list for the day, I am struck by the similarities between the Artistic Director and the Thanksgiving Chef. Each brings together the best combination of ingredients and cooking. In the theatre, one gathers the team and selects the script, director, actors, designers and technical staff, and provides the environment in which they can “cook” to perfection with the right amount of rehearsal time, money and materials into the final feast. Then it is a matter of getting the guests to the table to enjoy the meal. Consider yourself invited!

A Spotlight on Dramaturgy: Long Day’s Journey into Night

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

by Darren Callahan

Eugene O'Neill

Eugene O'Neill photo in Taree Chadwick's SOURCEBOOK

Taree Chadwick fell in love at an early age.  “The first time I read it, when I was a freshman in college, I cried… And that was just hearing my own voice in my head not seeing it or hearing it from multiple actors. I loved the poetry, the images, and the story it told.”  She is talking about Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer-winning 1956 drama, Long Day’s Journey into Night. She is part of Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s production team for Long Day’s Journey into Night, directed by Susan Padveen.  It is part of Polarity’s mission to bring new life to classics, and the best place to start is by the powerful aid of a dramaturg.

For those in theatre, the definition is known: a dramaturg researches and documents everything about the text, the world of the play, politics, the times, relevant biographies, anything that is connected to a work for stage, and then distills that information so that the actors and the production team have a solid foundation on which to build their unique ideas.  For those outside theatre, the effects of a dramaturg may not be immediately apparent, but it is imbued in everything from an actor’s performance to a lighting cue to a set design.

While studying dramaturgy at Columbia College under the popular Chicago director Kimberly Senior, Ms. Chadwick chose a project that would be a significant challenge. “I spent about three and a half weeks of my life putting this sourcebook together, highlighting, typing, reading, photocopying, and living at the library. It was the most ambitious project I had ever done in college and still is (I’m still in school). When I finished it I realized that I did all this wonderful stuff but it would only be for my benefit, no cast or production team would see it.”  This is where Susan Padveen enters the picture.  As coordinator of the directing department at Columbia College’s theatre program, she was impressed by Ms. Chadwick’s work and asked her to expand on it and become a part of Polarity’s production team.

To review the 150+ pages of detailed and thoughtful work that has gone into the sourcebook for the production team is to recognize Ms. Chadwick’s accomplishment.  “As a Dramaturg it’s my job to take the context of the pages and build a bridge from what those words mean to an understanding in the actors’ brains and then into the audience’s brains.” 


A theater stage on which James Tyrone might have played, from Taree Chadwick's SOURCEBOOK.

A literal picture is drawn of O’Neill history, definitions of terms, past production history, images, info on addiction and disease, info on the theater, info on the sea, etc., and from there is the start of inspiration, one based on a comprehensive understanding.

At this time, many Chicago theatres operate without the discipline of dramaturgy – for both original and classic works.  “Maybe they don’t feel it’s important,” says Artistic Director Richard Engling.  “Often, directors and playwrights collaborate directly and that’s pretty much it, or, if the playwright is not available, directors and department heads.”  Even in rehearsals, Ms. Chadwick saw the intentions of the playwright are kept true, especially in a play considered semi-autobiographical.  Concludes Mr. Engling, “Strong dramaturgy allows everyone to be working from the same foundation and reality – this is just one of the things that makes Polarity stronger for the effort.”  [to read Taree’s Sourcebook, click here]

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Long Day’s Journey into Night is directed by Susan Padveen and features Bryan Breau, Kevin Kenneally, Caroline Latta, Anne Sears and Eric Damon Smith. Performances take place at the Polarity Ensemble Theatre in the Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell, Chicago, IL  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.  Tickets can be purchased in advance through Brown Paper Tickets, by calling 1-800-838-3006.