Monday, July 21, 2008

Theater Comes to Life: Literally

Eugene O'Neill describes the setting for "A Long Day's Journey into Night" and suddenly dark wood panelling, a bookshelf under a portrait of William Shakespeare, a round table and chairs with three windows from which you can overlook the water surround me, not because I'm imagining the room as I read, or admiring set work while viewing the play, but because I'm sitting in the room itself, where J Ranelli directs a reading from the classic.
The room, exact in detail as described in the stage directions of the play, is in O'Neill's boyhood home and the reading is the first event in which I'm participating as a fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT.
Ranelli, one of the most skilled directors I've ever worked with, brings O'Neill's words to life as he guides the actors through selected scenes. The idea is for us critics, who review plays, to get a better understand of how a performance comes to be. I get even more than that out of the experience.
Ranelli suggests that the two actors playing Edmund and Jamie go out into the kitchen and enter the room laughing, just as described in the play's stage direction. They do, and the effect is chilling. I feel as though I'm living inside the pages of O'Neill's autobiographical work and expect to hear the melancholic foghorn. I can feel his pain, the frustration of a disfunctional family trying to make it through the day while denying, then trying to deal with the mother's drug addiction.
It's gripping and I realize that this is why I do theater: to move the people watching. To try to touch them with the material in a personal way and, in our case at Masterwork Productions, where our projects carry a message of hope, to offer them something to think about and in some cases, a solution.
The experience leaves me with a strong sense of confirmation and a bag full of directing techniques gleaned from Ranelli's years of experience in theater and television that hopefully will make me a better director, both of theatrical endeavors and of this performing arts organization. He stresses a mentoring relationship between director and actors and I realize that this type of relationship is what brought me here in the first place. Friend and Broadway critic Retta Blaney has encouraged me to pursue writing reviews of Broadway shows from a Christian perspective. A few of those reviews earned me a spot as a follow at the institute and now God has opened the door for mentoring from some of the nation's top critics.
It's amazing how many doors God can open and not surprising that he uses mentors like Retta to turn the door knob.

1 comment:

Retta Blaney, M.A., M.F.A. said...

God will be well served through this new ministry of yours, Lauren.
Blessings on all that you do -- and all that you are!

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Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light ( and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

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All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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