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.