February 1999

CHICAGO ALIVE by Kathleen Tobin
The Beverly Review

The remarkable production of Eugene O'Neill's 1928 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Strange Interlude by Equity Library Theatre Chicago requires an investment in time. However, it's an investment that brings with it many surprises. And there are only two more performances--Saturday and Sunday, March 27 and 18, starting at 2PM.

O'Neill's introspective play runs almost five hours in length and spans 26 years of one family's history. This lavishly lyrical production follows the life and loves of Nina Leeds and her family in a small university town in New England. There is a one-hour dinner break at the Sesi Cafe, one of the delightful unexpected rewards.

This charming little "seaside surprise" rests right over the Lake Michigan breakwaters in back of the Gunder Residence at 6219 N. Sheridan Road, where the drama is performed. Over Turkish tea and a choice of menu (ordered in advance for $10 extra), you can share insights about the drama with other members of the audience. Only 20 tickets are sold for each performance because the scenes are performed in the various rooms of the mansion with the audience on the sidelines. Another of the perks is watching Connie McGrail, a local thespian, play Nina. She digs into a role of great emotional and psychological depth with amazing capability and sensitivity;. McGrail must conquer countless pages of dialogue and span a lifetime of emotions as she portrays this unsettled woman. The play opens immediately following World War I. Her obsession with the death of her fiance, who was killed in the war, unhinges her mental stability and colors her relationships with her father and their "mama's boy" bachelor friend Charles Marsden (who has always harbored some unexplainable affection for her). It also influences her relationship with three other men: Edmund Darrell, a dedicated doctor who tries to help her mental illness and eventually falls in love with her; Sam Evans, the husband who adores her; and Gordon Evans, her son. Nina is a manipulative woman who harbors family secrets and considers her happiness to be her only moral code. This "Strange Interlude: is truly a fascinating one. The scenes are played out in various rooms of the mansion, adding to the intimacy. And the play is written with constant aside conversations addressed to the audience, giving us insights into their private thoughts.

The all-Equity cast is splendid. Frank Farrell, with great touches of humor, excels as Charles Marsden. Richard Henzel has great emotional depth as Prof. Henry Leeds, Nina's father. As Edmund Darrell, Andrew Thomas Schlessinger changes before our eyes. Jonathan Cantor is an exuberant, sincere Sam Evans. Leah Roshal is Sam's forbidding mother; Chuck Raucci, Nina's son Gordon; and Karyn Lynn Dale, Gordon's fiancee.