Tuesday, January 27, 2009

High Praise for Desire Under the Elms

The reviews are rolling in after last night’s opening night performance of Robert Falls’ Desire Under the Elms.

The Chicago Tribune hails Jeff-recommended Desire Under the Elms “an enormous, bold…colossal, eye-popping, unabashedly sexual and overtly expressionistic” production and praises Carla Gugino’s “careermaking performance” as Abbie.

The Chicago Sun-Times raves, “Falls’ vision…is fierce and relentless...You will not soon forget this thunderous production.”

And Newcity states, “this exceptional revival…is currently the best thing on a Chicago stage and deserves a place on every critic’s ‘Best Of’ list twelve months from now.”

We are very excited about the critics’ reviews, but we want to know what you think!

Share your thoughts about Desire Under the Elms by clicking the comments link below.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Hairy Ape and Chaos Theory

Posted by John Byrnes of The Hypocrites

John Byrnes
If you're following The Hypocrites’ blog posts—yes, our rehearsal hall still feels like a remote outpost in Kamachatka. (I think I just like saying Kamachatka.)

If you’re familiar with The Hairy Ape, you know that on a very basic level, it’s about a man named Yank who tries to find his place in society. Early in the script, his entire world is shattered. Yank must then reconstruct a new world view for himself, one into which he fits. Through this journey, he repeatedly identifies what does and what does not “belong.”

Last week, my fellow Critter* Rob McLean blogged about the excitement of the first read-through. Well, first run-throughs are usually a different story. They tend to be rather clumsy and lack the idyllic optimism of new beginnings. It’s the kind of event that can inspire a lot of stress and bouts of insomnia for actors. The whole cast scurries around, frantically grasping for a clue as to what comes next. The creative team respectfully tries not to cringe at the flailing about on stage. We had our first run-through the other day, and while it was not the stunning production you will see in a few weeks, it went pretty well.

If you have ever seen a show helmed by Sean Graney, you know that he pulls production elements from a wide variety of sources. The Hairy Ape is no exception. Without giving too much away, the show sources elements from sea shanties to John Coltrane, Vaudeville to expressionism, King Kong to Saturday Night Fever and more. This is my 11th or 12th production with Sean and I’m always amazed by his facility for blending seemingly unrelated ingredients into a cohesive whole.

Perhaps because our first run-through was not a train wreck (as I must admit, I somewhat expected it to be), I didn’t leave the rehearsal hall in a state of panic. Instead, I wondered about the role chaos plays in the creative process. So, I went home and googled “chaos creative process.” I was surprised by the vast amount of research that has been conducted on this topic. The two quotations below particularly struck me, especially in relation to this rehearsal process:

“The main dynamic growth in the creative process comes about from linking new
ideas with aspects of already accumulated knowledge...This stage of the process
leads to an emergence of inner understanding, reflecting order emerging...into
an infinite world of complex, unfolding change...In viewing the creative process
as a 'chaotic' system it is possible to understand how the process works...It is
a way of envisioning holistically the component parts and their interdynamics
that lead to the creative product.”
—Barbara Regent, Reflective
Qualities of the Artistic Creative Process and Chaos Theory

“I say to you: one must have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a
dancing star.”

So, I guess a personal goal for me is to more whole-heartedly embrace the chaos. It sure makes for exciting theater! As Yank would say, “That belongs.”


* “The Critters” is actually the name of The Hypocrites' softball team. Yes, we have a softball team. And we’re pretty good. Certainly better than the Goodman’s softball team ;)
(I don't think we've ever played the Goodman’s team, but I may have just instigated a new crosstown classic.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Desire Under the Elms Begins Performances

Posted by Robert Falls

We are now in the midst of preview performances for Desire Under the Elms, the first great tragedy by the playwright who I consider to be the American Shakespeare: Eugene O’Neill, our country’s greatest and most influential writer for the stage. Desire is a passionate, brutal and ultimately tremendously moving play, one which generated a storm of controversy when it premiered in 1924. It is a landmark in the evolution of O’Neill’s work, a play that I feel is every bit as compelling today as it was nearly 90 years ago.

When I first began to think seriously about directing Desire Under the Elms, I naturally assumed that I would be working with my great friend and longtime collaborator Brian Dennehy. Through more than two decades, our work together has included a number of O’Neill’s greatest plays, including The Iceman Cometh, A Touch of the Poet, Long Day’s Journey into Night and Hughie; and Brian is now widely considered to be among the finest interpreters of O’Neill in the world today. For this production, I was fortunate in finding two other highly respected actors to share the stage with Brian: Carla Gugino, whose work in film and in such recent Broadway revivals as After the Fall and Suddenly Last Summer has brought her great acclaim; and Pablo Schreiber, one of our most dynamic young actors and a recent Tony Award nominee for his Broadway debut in Odets’ Awake and Sing! The work of these three performers (and that of the other two fine actors in the cast, Boris McGiver and Daniel Stewart Sherman) is astonishing, as I hope you will agree.

This production serves as the centerpiece for our exploration of the early works of O’Neill, all of which drew on 19th century theater traditions and all of which were first produced in the first half of the 20th century. How vital are they today? What resonances do they have for contemporary artists and contemporary audiences? How can the works of a playwright writing nearly a century ago remain as provocative today as they were in their own time? These are the questions that are central to this Global Exploration, questions that are being addressed by some of the world’s most exciting theater artists. I look forward to hearing your responses to our work, and to your ideas concerning the fascinating, passionate world of Desire Under the Elms.

See you at the theater,

Robert Falls
Artistic Director

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Homens ao Mar (Sea Plays)

Zona de Guerra, Longa Viagem de Volta pra Casa and Cardiff are Homens ao Mar—O’Neill’s Sea Plays. In their first time performing outside Brazil, Companhia Triptal explores O'Neill's lifelong obsession with the sea.

Are you going to Homens ao Mar, or have you just come back from a performance?

Thoughts? Comments?

We want to hear from YOU!

Provide feedback on Homens ao Mar by clicking the comments link below.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Hairy Ape Gets a Chill

Posted by Robert McLean of The Hypocrites

Robert McLean
I’ve always been a fan of the first read-through, when the cast and director gather together to read through the play for the first time. No one is tired yet. No one is frustrated. Nothing has failed, nothing is behind schedule and every joke is funny.

I was looking forward to the first read-through of The Hairy Ape for all those reasons, and also because it’s a project I’m especially excited to be working on. It’s the kind of production I think you could really only do in Chicago: a classic (but rarely produced) work of a major playwright utilizing a cast of great actors with a director who has an uncanny knack for finding a visually stunning piece of truth in an otherwise familiar script—all as part of a highly visible festival in a downtown theater. And The Hypocrites get to maintain our reputation as a scrappy young (cough) company by rehearsing in a building that is cold enough to cool sides of beef.

It’s always a thrill to hear the words of the play spoken aloud for the first time, and to see the costume sketches and set models, which give us our first glimpse into the visual reality of the world we’ll all be creating together. The first read-through is when you learn little details about the production, like the fact that we’ll be turning the Owen Theatre around 180 degrees, utilizing the three levels of balconies as playing spaces. And you learn the subtleties of the space you’ll be spending your rehearsal weeks in. You know, the little things, like that it’s as cold as a brass monkey.

Ok, I promised myself I wouldn’t dwell on how cold our rehearsal space (known as The Horn) is in this post, the first in a weekly series of blog entries that will take you behind-the-scenes of The Hairy Ape. But I think the temperature of the space plays a significant role in our rehearsal process…

I knew it was coming. I mean, after all, I rehearsed The Three Penny Opera in The Horn just this last summer, and it was just as hot then as it is cold now. We were drenched in sweat, downing water like mad and flocking outside for fresh air during the breaks. It was miserable. Nonetheless, I promise you that I will wax nostalgic over how good all that hot, humid, sweaty misery sounds before The Hairy Ape rehearsal process is over. Our fearless leader Sean Graney has assured us that this will be a very physical show and that we will definitely be moving around a lot, so that should help keep us from freezing to death. But a first read-through isn’t the most physically demanding of activities, so during today’s meeting there were a lot of scarves and gloves and fleece-lined hats with ear flaps.

Ultimately, I don’t really care how cold it was today, and how cold it’s going to be over the next couple weeks. The discomfort will fade eventually. When I think about Three Penny, I remember the people and the performances first, not the hot rehearsal room. I remember the discomfort, but I don’t still feel it. I do, however, still feel the pride that I took in being a part of that show. It was worth it then, and it will be worth it this time. If we do our job right, The Hairy Ape will be visceral and immediate and speak to the need in all of us to belong—and that is what I will remember in August when it’s hot again.

Besides, when we see our friend and fellow actor Greg dressed like a gorilla, we all forget how cold we are.

Stay warm and check back soon for our next post about The Hairy Ape,

Companhia Triptal’s Homens ao Mar Starts Today

Posted by Robert Falls

Our exploration of Eugene O’Neill in the 21st Century got off to a provocative start last week with the Wooster Group’s compelling production of The Emperor Jones. As the best works of art will do, this presentation has sparked a lively debate on this blog among Goodman patrons and others in the Chicago community. I’m now very much looking forward to your response to the next featured company in our O’Neill Exploration: Brazil’s Companhia Triptal.

This marks the first performance of this São Paulo-based company outside of their home country; under the dynamic leadership of their Artistic Director André Garolli Companhia Triptal has received critical accolades for their site-specific, environmental stagings of a variety of works, notably the early “sea plays” of O’Neill, which were based on his own experience as a sailor in the merchant marine. The first of these plays, Zona de Guerra (In the Zone), focuses on the crew of the S.S. Glencairn and the atmosphere of distrust and paranoia that erupts during wartime. This production received the prestigious APCA Award in São Paulo for its evocative, gritty staging, as well as nominations for the Premio Shell de Teatro.

I hope you will join me in welcoming this electrifying young company to our Owen Theatre—it is an experience that you won’t want to miss.

Robert Falls
Artistic Director

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Emperor Jones

Thoughts? Comments?

We want to hear from YOU!

Provide feedback on The Emperor Jones by clicking the comments link below.


Posted by Robert Falls

Welcome to the Goodman’s blog for A Global Exploration: Eugene O’Neill in the 21st Century, a celebration of the greatest American playwright.

I am thrilled to curate this exploration of Eugene O’Neill which includes more than 100 artists from six theater companies around the world. The Wooster Group (New York City), Companhia Triptal (Brazil), The Hypocrites (Chicago), Toneelgroep (Amsterdam) and The Neo-Futurists (Chicago) bring their highly contemporary, inventive interpretations of O’Neill’s dramas to the Goodman’s Exploration through March 8. The centerpiece of the Exploration will be my production of Desire Under the Elms starring Brian Dennehy, Carla Gugino and Pablo Schreiber.

This is a project that no other theater in the country would ever do or has thought of doing or would be crazy enough to even contemplate. We are able to do this exploration because we have more than 20 years of experience producing the work of Eugene O’Neill, who I think of as the American Shakespeare. He is America’s most influential and greatest playwright and we have had tremendous success with our productions of O’Neill’s difficult and complex plays. I wanted to force myself to think in new ways, so this production of Desire Under the Elms is a bit more extreme than some of my other work with O’Neill.

In my travels throughout Western Europe, I found theater that is a little more adventurous and less conservative and continues to push the envelope in directing, in design and in playwriting. What I wanted to do was to work with some of the artists who I think are the most interesting artists around and invite them to make the exploration with me about what Eugene O’Neill means in the 21st century.

I’m tremendously excited about the artists who will be visiting. From Amsterdam, Toneelgroep presents their production of Mourning Becomes Electra, directed by Ivo van Hove. This is going to be very exciting show for our audiences—it’s a unique chance to see the original Dutch actors working on a great play under a celebrated director. I also think that Companhia Triptal from Brazil is an extraordinary group of artists who have never performed outside of their native country. They have been committed to making the work of Eugene O’Neill for a number of years. They have presented their work in a variety of found spaces: garages, warehouses, lofts and alleys, and they have a profound, moving relationship with Eugene O’Neill that I think is extraordinary.

None of this would be possible without Elizabeth LeCompte and The Wooster Group, who is one of the premier American theater companies and a world-class theater devoted to avant-garde work. I think O’Neill would love Elizabeth LeCompte’s production of The Emperor Jones—and her work with Eugene O’Neill in general. She has been completely faithful to what he was trying to do, while bringing his plays into the 21st century using the experimental spirit of his work.

I thought it was very important to commission our own theater companies in Chicago to respond to the work of Eugene O’Neill. I am thrilled that Sean Graney of The Hypocrites and Greg Allen of The Neo-Futurists will be producing plays as part of the exploration. Their participation came out of a conversation with each director where I asked, “Which Eugene O’Neill plays do you love?” Sean Graney said, “I really, really love The Hairy Ape” and I said, “Fantastic, let’s work on The Hairy Ape together.” And much to my shock and horror, Greg Allen wanted to work on Eugene O’Neill’s longest and most difficult play, Strange Interlude, which is hysterical on every level. It’s really funny and it’s really over the top.

I hope to see you at the theater!

Robert Falls
Goodman Artistic Director

For more information about A Global Exploration: Eugene O'Neill in the 21st Century,
click here or call the box office at 312.443.3800.