Saturday, October 31, 2009

Brian Dennehy to host LETTERS HOME at Westport Playhouse

Award-winning actor Brian Dennehy will host Westport Country Playhouse’s presentation of “Letters Home,” a dramatic production of actual letters written by U.S. troops serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Veteran’s Day, Wednesday, November 11. Produced by the Griffin Theatre Company of Chicago, the initial production last winter was critically acclaimed and nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for “Outstanding New Play.”

In conjunction with “Letters Home,” the Westport Arts Center (WAC) will install an exhibition in the Playhouse lobby, “Daily Exchanges: U.S. Soldiers in Iraq - The Ordinary in Images.” Curated by WAC's Director of Visual Arts Terri C. Smith, with the guidance and input of artist and "Operation Enduring Freedom" veteran Paul Kaiser, "Daily Exchanges" will feature photographs and videos depicting the everyday lives of troops serving in war.

A reception and guided tour of the art exhibit will begin at 6 p.m., followed by the performance of “Letters Home” at 7 p.m. A panel discussion will follow the play at approximately 9 p.m., moderated by Lisa Chedekel, an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 20 years experience writing for Connecticut newspapers. After the discussion, Smith and Kaiser will be available for comment on the exhibition.

“The Playhouse is pleased to present ‘Letters Home’ as a powerful reminder around Veteran’s Day of the hard work and sacrifices of our nation’s servicemembers. We are delighted to work with the Westport Arts Center to create an immersive experience in the portrayal of our troops in both drama and the visual arts,” said Angela Marroy Boerger, the Playhouse’s Education and Community Programs Coordinator.

“Letters Home” paints a powerful portrait of servicemembers’ experience in the ongoing war, and, without politicizing, gives voice to the people who are still fighting and dying far away from home. The production is inspired by the New York Times Op-Ed article, “The Things They Wrote,” and the subsequent HBO documentary, “Last Letters Home,” and additionally uses letters and correspondences from Frank Schaeffer’s books, “Voices from the Front: Letters Home from America’s Military Family,” “Faith of Our Sons” and “Keeping Faith.”

The art exhibition, “Daily Exchanges: U.S. Soldiers in Iraq - The Ordinary in Images,” is in dialogue with the Westport Country Playhouse’s “Letters Home” performance and includes artist interpretations of the daily lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq – as well as projects relating to their loved ones at home. The exhibition will also feature photographs, videos and emails from soldiers themselves. Direct documents and artworks are exhibited in tandem to provide a variety of viewpoints. By emphasizing the quotidian – the everyday routines, environments and stories of U.S. soldiers – the hope is to avoid “newsworthy” portrayals of a soldier’s life in a deliberate attempt to circumvent stereotypes of troops and war. In addition to Wednesday afternoon and evening, the art exhibition will be on display Thursday, November 12, 1 to 6 p.m. and Friday, November 13, 12 to 6 p.m.

Brian Dennehy, host and panelist, has maintained a strong presence in film, theater and television for three decades. He has twice won the Tony Award for Best Actor: honored for playing James Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's “Long Day's Journey Into Night,” and for playing Willy Loman in “Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.” The latter production was also filmed for Showtime which subsequently earned Dennehy a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy Award nomination. He revived the role of Willy Loman in London's West End for which he received the coveted Olivier Award for Best Actor. Dennehy is well-known to audiences worldwide for his performances in many popular films and a wide range of television projects.

Lisa Chedekel, panel moderator, is a former staff writer for The Hartford Courant, where she won a number of national awards, including a 1999 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news which she shared with a team of reporters. As a member of The Courant’s investigative team, she co-authored a series of stories in 2006 on soldiers’ mental health that led to sweeping reforms in the military’s system of screening and treating troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The series was a finalist for the Pulitzer in investigative reporting in 2007 and won a George Polk Award for military reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize, and the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting. Chedekel previously covered the state Capitol, education and immigration for The Courant, and was a reporter and columnist for the New Haven Register. She now writes for publications in the Boston area.

The Playhouse’s presentation of “Letters Home” is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and Pitney Bowes. Tickets are $15 for the general public and $10 for veterans.

For more information or tickets to “Letters Home,” call the Westport Country Playhouse box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529, or visit the box office at 25 Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport, or For more information about the exhibition, call the Westport Arts Center at (203) 222-7070 or visit

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Rob Fenton & Sara Sevigny

Donna McGough & Eammon McDonagh

The cast of The Hostage break into song.

Rob Fenton & Nora Fiffer.

The cast of The Hostage.

All Photos by Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Note From the Director on THE HOSTAGE

Finally, with some time on my hands, I’m able to sit down and write a bit about THE HOSTAGE process, with a little perspective and, hopefully, a little insight into the work and our intentions.

I recognize that this play can be a little challenging to grasp. Lord knows in rehearsals, moment after moment, good intuitive actors had to stop and have a discussion about “why am I doing this now?” Just to grasp the history, and political beliefs of each of these individuals takes a whole lot of charts and diagrams and trust to just get the basics of the shifting allegiances brought about by the fight for Irish independence. I was grateful every day to have both Stefka, our dramaturg, and Eamonn McDonagh (playing Pat) in the room to provide guidance and insight and a vague road map of where Behan was coming from.

Even then, the shifts remain challenging. As Eamonn kept reminding us, there is a legend where Freud said that the Irish were the only people on the planet who are completely impervious to psychoanalysis. They love to fight and argue and sing and joke and dance and will do all of them within moments of each other – two folks can be fighting fiercely for their opposing political opinion one moment, then singing raucously the same freedom fighting song the next. They are, as a people, made up of a bag of impossible contradictions – so to represent them on stage is to embrace these contradictions, and hope that people spend less time looking moment to moment, and rather attepmt to grasp the whole picture at the end. One has to check one’s linear mind at the door. You cannot solve this play (or the Irish) with your heads. You have to use your heart.

And ultimately that’s why I love this play. It is a collection of such beautiful, flawed, painfully real individuals who embrace these contradictions and embrace the fullness of life in every moment. They are the people that were left behind, the fringe – none of these people will be important to the course of Irish history, or the movement – they aren’t particularly gifted poets – they are the everyday people of Ireland, fighting for their beliefs, or the next pint of Guiness, or the two pounds for the rent. But, despite their ordinariness, they fight for life with ferocity and a fullness of spirit of the greatest of Irish heroes.

No one feels that their life is unimportant. Behan wrote this for the people he knew from the neighborhood, those nameless, faceless people who he saw every day growing up in Dublin’s Fringe. We try to honor those people with this production.

Similarly, Behan looks at the cost of war – and that the people who pay the price aren’t the high up decision makers, not the generals making the plans, but the every day. As Meg says, “Old women and mother’s with their infants” – or in Leslie’s case – a 19 year old Cockney boy without a family, who has no real prospects and nothing much to look forward to. But Behan knows that, to him, he’s just as important as any Duke or Lord of the manor.

For the tragedy of the play to come from a chaotic misunderstanding is a strong comment on the absurdity of a war effort. Talk to some of our returning soldiers even now – the mission may be clear, but anytime you try to lay a black and white morality over the intricate grayness of our human existence, you are going to have trouble reconciling the differences. Our lives are not neatly ordered and regimented in sharp clear ideology. This play celebrates those contradictions and asks us to recognize that THAT is what makes us human, and brings us together, and that life must be cherished above all things.

Yes, the play is messy. It’s too much. It shifts to quickly. Sometimes it’s confusing and, when you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. But that is so often my experience of life as well. And I believe that, if you come to this play with your heart, instead of your head, you’ll find a richness of experience that feels to me remarkably human.

I love this play. I hope you do to.


Friday, August 28, 2009

The Hostage opens Griffin's 21st Season!

Chicago, IL, August 10, 2009: The Griffin Theatre Company opens its 21st season with Irish playwright Brendan Behan’s most celebrated play, The HOSTAGE. Press opening is Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 7:00pm. Tickets are on sale now at Theatre Building Chicago, (773) 327-5252, or online at

In 1959 Dublin, a young British soldier is held captive by the Irish Republican Army while an equally young IRA volunteer awaits execution for killing a policeman. Should the British carry out the Irishman's sentence, the IRA will do the same to the Englishman. Playwright Brendan Behan, himself a former IRA member, took this dire premise to mold a sly political satire.

Griffin ensemble member Jonathan Berry brings his directorial vision to Behan’s play set in a Dublin brothel and reveals it to be a rollicking, bawdy comedy, full of brawling energy, song and satire that mixes beautifully with powerful drama. Berry who last season helmed the Griffin’s hit production of Simon Stephen’s On the Shore of the Wide World will intertwine laughter, tears, joy and fear in a music hall staging of one of Ireland’s most significant Irish dramas.

Behan's absurdist tragi-comedy, THE HOSTAGE, was originally written in Irish Gaelic and performed in that language as An Giall at the Damer Hall, St. Stephen's Green in Dublin, Ireland, in 1957. Following the success of that production, Behan translated the play into English and Joan Littlewood, the innovative director of the Theater Workshop in London agreed to direct it. The premiere of THE HOSTAGE opened on the 14th of October, 1958, at Littlewood's Theater Royal in Stratford, London. The work has subsequently become one of the pillars upon which Behan's reputation rests, and the original Littlewood production has since become recognized as evidence of the Theater Workshop's important role in Postwar British theater.

The play is written in a non-realist style; characters frequently burst into song and sometimes into song-and-dance routines, and Behan consistently tries to undercut seriousness with humor. Littlewood tried to act and direct her plays in a way that would break down the "fourth wall" between actors and audience. It is a key text of the Absurdist theater movement, a movement that influenced later generations of playwrights such as Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter. The play is especially important because it represents the intersection of British and Irish theater that occurred prior to the escalation of hostilities in Northern Ireland.

THE HOSTAGE continues the Griffin’s tradition of producing rare revivals not seen in Chicago for decades—Ah Wilderness!, Time and the Conways, The Robber Bridegroom and Dead End to name a few. The Chicago cast includes, Rom Barkhordar, Ryan Bourque, Chris Chmelik, Rob Fenton, Nora Fiffer, Kevin Gladish, Pat King, Evan Lee, Jason Lindner, Eamonn McDonnagh, Donna McGough, Eddie Paul, Melissa Riemer, Sadie Rogers and Sara Sevigny.

The Technical and Design team for THE HOSTAGE includes: Stephanie Sherline (Music Director), Maureen Janson (Choreography), Chantal Calato (Costumes), Lee Keenan (Lights), Marianna Csaszar (Set), Rick Sims (Sound) and Kimberly Purcell (Production Stage Manager).

BRENDAN BEHAN (Playwright) was born in Dublin and lived his childhood in the slums of the city. In spite of the surroundings, he did not end up becoming an unlettered slum lad. He also owed much of his education to his family, well-read, and of strong Republican sympathies. Behan attended Catholic schools until the age of 14, when he abandoned studies and then worked as a house painter. In 1939 Behan was arrested on a sabotage mission in Liverpool, following a deadly explosion at Coventry. He was sentenced to three years in Borstal in a reform school for attempting to blow up a battleship in Liverpool harbour. After release, Behan returned to Ireland, but in 1942 he was sentenced to 14 years for the attempted murder of two detectives. He served at Mountjoy Prison and at the Curragh Military Camp. In 1946 he was released under a general amnesty. During his years in prison, Behan started to write, mainly short stories in an inventive stylization of Dublin vernacular. Later he lived in Paris and Dublin, writing for Radio Telefis and for the Irish Press. Behan's best-known novel, Borstal Boy (1958), drew its material from his experiences in the Liverpool jail and Borstal school (reform school). Behan's first play, The Quare Fellow, was based on his prison experiences. Behan wrote several plays, but he had difficulties in getting performed in his own country. Among Behan's other dramas are The Big House (1957) and THE HOSTAGE (1958), written in Gaelic under the title An Giall and set in a disreputable Dublin lodging house-or a brothel-owned by a former IRA commander. The play was acclaimed in London, Paris, and New York.

THE HOSTAGE begins preview performances Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 7:45pm. Previews continue September 17, 18, 19, at 7:45pm and Sunday, September 13, 2009 at 3:00pm. Press opening is Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 7:00pm. Tickets to THE HOSTAGE range from $18-$28, and are on sale now. The regular run performances (September 20 – November 1, 2009) are Thursday through Saturday at 7:45 pm. and Sunday at 3:00pm. Note there will be no matinee performance on Sunday, September 20, 2009. Preview tickets are priced at $18.00 each and regular run tickets are priced at $28.00 each. Tickets are on sale now at Theatre Building Chicago, (773) 327-5252, or online at Senior and student discounts and group rates are available.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

First Look Production Photos of LITTLE BROTHER

An Illegal Concert, Sadie Rogers & Mike Harvey

The revealing letter, Josh Odor & Mike Harvey

The Family, Kevin Gladish, Jennifer Lowe & Mike Harvey

The Interrogation, Ariel Brenner, Mike Harvey & Brian DiLoreto

Little Brother's gang, Mike Harvey, Jorge Silva, Denice Lee & Darren Meyers

Mike Harvey is Marcus Yallow (aka M1k3y)

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Well, the opening of Little Brother is just around the corner. It's been quite a journey. The production boast an incredible amount of technical expertise. My hat is off to director Dorothy Milne for keeping it all running so smoothly. Our sound designer Rick Sims said that Little Brother may have the most sound ques he has ever put into a play. The set in made up of a series of movable gates that simulate a caged environment--all the incredible work of the talented Alan Donahue who is designing the set. Add to that, wonderful lighting by Sarah Hughey fun, hip costumes by Branimira Ivanova and superb fights by Geoff Coates and I am sure audiences are going to have one of the most unique experiences they have ever had going to the theatre. And did I mention there is video too. Wheww! The production is bolstered by an incredibly talented cast lead by newcomer Mike Harvey in the lead role. More to come on the play....

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Robber Bridegroom - The Reviews are In!

The Robber Bridegroom opened last week and received glowing reviews from Chicago critics. Here are the links below to some of the best. Congrats to director Paul Holmquist and the cast and crew of the production! The production also received a Jeff Recommendation.

Read the Chicago Tribune review HERE.

Read the Chicago Sun Times review HERE.

Read the Chicago Reader review HERE.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Year that Was....a Great Year

We haven't posted in a while due to the fact that the company has been incredibly busy with projects both large and small. I thought I would bullet point some of the highlights.

* The Griffin touring production of Letters Home played to more than 10,000 people this fall. Stops on the fall tour included Madison, WI., Cleveland OH., Cerritos CA., Indianapolis, IN., Brooklyn NY., Westhampton Beach NY. and Peekskill, NY. The tour continues in the spring with stops in Syracuse, Buffalo, Watertown NY and Concord NH. And negotiations are underway for the production to tour to Alaska, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Seattle, Wilmington and Hartford to name more than a few.

The LH cast on the beach in Montauk, NY

* On The Shore of the Wide World concluded a great run at Theatre Building Chicago, garnering outstanding reviews. If you saw the production the Griffin is now the proud owner of 4 dozen chairs--none matching. Anyone want one?

On The Shore of the Wide World

* "Best of the Year Lists" The Griffin production of Journey's End was listed by Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune as one of the "top ten productions of the year" and one of the "top five revivals of the year" in New City Newspaper. And Be More Chill was listed as one of the "top five productions of the year" in New City Newspaper too.

Be More Chill & Journey's End