Archive for September, 2014

Reviews Are In For MIRACLES IN THE FALL!

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

by Richard Engling

We had a great opening weekend for MIRACLES IN THE FALL. What fun to see all of you who joined us for the celebration! And now the first reviews are rolling in. There will be more to come, but here are highlights from the first reviews and photos from the production. If you haven’t seen the show yet, please join us soon!

"there are able performances all around." -Time Out Chicago

“there are able performances all around.”
-Time Out Chicago

Chuck O’Connor’s new drama about a torn Catholic family struggling to make amends takes a page from the familiar Eugene O’Neill playbook of dysfunction and disillusionment around the dinner table. You’ve got your hardened Irish blue-collar father, long given up on forgiving his late wife for an unnamed sin; your prodigal son, fallen from grace and trying to turn back the clock and win dad’s acceptance; and most aptly, a liquor cabinet full of whiskey to drown a generation’s worth of sorrows and secrets before setting them all aflame.

–Time Out Chicago

"By the time we get to the titular fall, O'Connor's real statement comes to light, and it's a moving one. " -Time Out Chicago

“By the time we get to the titular fall, O’Connor’s real statement comes to light, and it’s a moving one. ” -Time Out Chicago

O’Connor’s story of alcoholism, self-destruction and self-preservation, faith and family secrets, all set against the backdrop of a world turning itself upside down, is familiar. Nonetheless, the characters are compelling, and the world being what it is, it’s a story that certainly bears telling and retelling.

O’Connor developed the work in 2013 as part of PET’s festival of new plays. The setting is Detroit in 1968, a year out from the city’s Twelfth Street Riots, and for the Connelly family, a year out from the death of a mother and wife who commanded a complicated, painful blend of love, hate, respect and contempt from her husband, Jimmy, and her children, Clare and Charlie.

Clare, who entered the convent — at her mother’s insistence — at age thirteen, struggles with her own embrace of post-Vatican II, social justice-focused theology and the attraction of submission to a simpler call to obedience and duty. As she grapples with anger at her father’s alcoholism and his attacks on both aspects of her faith, her estranged brother returns home, post-Vietnam, looking for reconciliation with their father.

"Laura Berner Taylor (Clare) and Rian Jairell (Father Lentine) open the play with a particularly well-executed scene " -Edge Chicago

“Laura Berner Taylor (Clare) and Rian Jairell (Father Lentine) open the play with a particularly well-executed scene “
-Edge Chicago

Clare’s life is further complicated by the departure of the authoritarian Monsignor who hands down penance and “charges” her with caring for her father, and his replacement by Father Lentine, a young priest whose uncertainties about faith and duty and meaning run parallel to her own.

Both the intimate setting of the Connellys’ living room and the backdrop of a still-smoldering Detroit, cautiously rallying around the “miracle” of the American League Champion Detroit Tigers, remain painfully resonant, as Ferguson, Missouri, fades from national attention and rare positive press for Chicago’s South Side in the wake of Jackie Robinson West’s ascension to Little League World Series glory gives way, once again to crime statistics….

It is to the playwright’s credit and the company’s that the work is likely to stand up to time and repeat viewings.

"All four actors are talented and the performances are very good overall" -Edge Chicago

“All four actors are talented and the performances are very good overall”
-Edge Chicago

Charles C. Palia, Jr.’s scenic design is excellent for the space and for the piece. With almost no set redressing, the action moves from living room to classroom to a prayer sanctuary nestled in the corner of a graveyard. In conjunction with Benjamin L. White’s lighting and Aaron Stephenson’s sound design, the spatial logic of scenes is always clear, maintaining the important distinction between private and public life as well as that between individual conscience and societal responsibility.

–EDGE Chicago

The story focuses on the eldest daughter of the family, Clare Connelly. Clare is a nun, but not in the sweet Sally Field style, but rather more like an angry, lost character that could have escaped right out of Edward Albee’s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Laura Berner Taylor throws herself entirely into bringing Clare to life. She completely commands every scene she’s in and gives a powerhouse performance…The more we learn about Clare and the more Berner Taylor has to draw on the more riveting she becomes.

"Wellisch really sinks his teeth...played to perfection" -Chicago Stage Standard

“Wellisch really sinks his teeth…played to perfection” -Chicago Stage Standard

[Fred A.] Wellicsh really sinks his teeth into playing his character’s alcoholism and Parkinson’s, both difficult tasks for sure…his outbursts are theatrical and played to perfection….

Rian Jairell (Fr. Lentine) and Mickey O’Sullivan (Charlie Connely) both bring as much to their roles as possible early in the proceedings and truly shine later as their characters become more developed….

Charles C. Palia’s set worked nicely in a small space considering the number of locations that were needed…Benjamin L. White’s lighting design and Jessica Smith’s Costumes and Props were spot on and added to the feel of the piece and the period.

–Chicago Stage Standard

It’s hard to imagine a richer setting for an American problem play than the home of a working-class Irish-American family in Detroit in the autumn of 1968—all those complicated Irish-Catholic personal problems (alcoholism, sexual repression, hair-trigger tempers, free-floating anger) and heady issues of the day (race riots, Vatican II, Vietnam, intergenerational strife, not to mention the 1968 World Series) almost literally at the doorstep….

–Chicago Reader

"The angst and noise that’s generated in the first act is performed with fearless commitment and energy by the cast under Richard Shavzin’s direction" -Chicago Theatre Beat

“The angst and noise that’s generated in the first act is performed with fearless commitment and energy by the cast under Richard Shavzin’s direction” -Chicago Theatre Beat

O’Connor has a good ear for dialogue, though, and Aaron Stephenson’s sound design incorporating audio of Tigers’ broadcasts and jingles provides a sense of period authenticity. There’s something appealing about a play that brings the traditions of Irish family drama to a Midwestern setting and an era many in the audience will remember.

–Chicago Theatre Beat

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The Road to a World Premiere

Monday, September 1st, 2014

by Rachel Ramirez

The Polarity team eagerly awaits the opening of the world premiere of Miracles in the Fall (Saturday, 9/6/14). For playwright Chuck O’Connor, Miracles in the Fall has been a labor of love for the past four years.

The play began as a writing project in a class with Chicago Dramatists, and has grown, with the influence of a variety of theater artists, to become the World Premiere ready to launch September 6.

The work with Polarity over the last 15 months, between the play’s acceptance in the 2013 Dionysos Cup and into the pre-production and rehearsal process has helped clarify the story’s context and deepen its themes.

Much of this work has come from a mutual respect with Richard Engling, Artistic Director, Polarity Ensemble, who, as a fellow writer, has helped encourage and challenge Chuck’s writing, so the work could meet its potential. The shaping of the script has continued with the influence of Director, Richard Shavzin. “It’s been an exciting process,” Engling said. “Chuck has written entirely new scenes. We’ve seen almost daily line changes in rehearsals. A really good script becomes so much better.”

Miracles Dream Team: Stage Manager Jamie Crothers, Playwright Chuck O'Connor, Director Richard Shavzin

Miracles Dream Team: Stage Manager Jamie Crothers, Playwright Chuck O’Connor, Director Richard Shavzin

Collaboration with a dedicated and visionary director is essential for a world premiere. When asked about his collaboration with Director Richard Shavzin, O’Connor had many wonderful things to say: “[Richard] has been a selfless leader in the theatrical unions and has lobbied Congress in support of the arts. He is a mensch who seems to put his community above himself. He is a talented director but his personal character is probably more beneficial to me than his technical expertise. Knowing him has inspired me to be a more generous collaborator and I hope to follow his lead in becoming a servant-leader to our theater profession.”

Shavzin and O’Connor share a similar history as actors and have worked very hard to ensure that the talented cast of Laura Bern Taylor, Riann Jarrel, Mickey O’Sullivan and Fred Wellisch have a sound basis for making creative choices. “As the play moved into the Greenhouse for the final rehearsals, it has been a revelation,” Engling said. “We saw the actors thundering the climatic scene. Electric. And you think: ‘Yes, bring on the audience!'”

Fred A. Wellisch and Mickey O'Sullivan

Fred A. Wellisch and Mickey O’Sullivan

O’Connor began to fully focus on Miracles in Will Dunne’s class at Chicago Dramatists from 2010-2012, though the idea for the story had occurred to him several years prior. He then joined the Chicago Dramatists Network, taking advantage of their Script Lab program and worked closely with Resident Playwright Margaret Lewis, who offered an in-depth, dramaturgical analysis of the script. Both Dunne and Lewis were instrumental in helping O’Connor find his voice as a writer. Says O’Connor, “The process of writing Miracles in the Fall gave me permission to call myself a writer. I had written many plays, poems and stories that had been produced or published over my life, but always felt like someone playing at writing, not writing. The intensive work of writing Miracles, taking constructive criticism, and applying the technical wisdom I was receiving, gave me a personal craft. My work on Miracles made me a writer.”

After much work on the script, O’Connor began submitting the play. It was well received and was offered Actor’s Equity staged readings with The Performance Network Theater in Ann Arbor and The Williamston Theater in Metro Lansing.

A turning point for O’Connor and the script occurred when Miracles in the Fall was then submitted to Polarity Ensemble Theatre, where it was accepted into the 2013 Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays, and was awarded that year’s prize.

This began the process that O’Connor and the play have enjoyed over the balance of the last year-plus.

Benjamin L. White

Lighting designer Benjamin L. White at technical rehearsal

Polarity has been an ideal environment to expand his writing because at the company’s heart is the spirit of collaboration. Collaboration is key for O’Connor.

This spirit is most powerfully evident in O’Connor’s personal life where his greatest inspiration comes from his family—particularly his wife. “She also happens to be my best friend and is a talented artist. She has a depth of knowledge in philosophy, history and theology. We often wrestle with what it means to be a good person. This question has become even more important since we have started growing our family. I’ve found that becoming a father has afforded me a second childhood where I guide both my kids towards self-knowledge, and by doing that I get to know myself better.”

Miracles in the Fall has been dependent on the insights and generosity of many smart and insightful people. There is one more addition to this process of collaboration to be added – the audience, which will bring even more life to the story O’Connor, with the support of a multitude of friends, has envisioned.

Miracles in the Fall runs at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago 60614 from September 3 through October 5, 2014. To learn more about the show, visit our Miracles in the Fall page.