Project aims to raise addiction awareness in staging Eugene O'Neil's 'Long Day’s Journey into Night'

By MEGHAN PIERCE
Union Leader Correspondent
March 07. 2018 4:14PM

The Addiction Performance Project aims to spark a community conversation about addiction and how better to address it, and it’s looking to the voices of four well-known stage, TV and screen actors to help spark that dialogue.

Theatre of War Productions, a New York-based venture whose productions tackle health and social issues, is scheduled to perform two New Hampshire stagings of Eugene O’Neil’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

“It helps to have the best actors in the world on our team,” said Theater of War’s artistic director Bryan Doerries.

The staged readings in Derry and Keene, which are being rescheduled due to this week’s winter storm, will feature Kathryn Erbe (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “Oz,” “What About Bob?”), David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Lincoln,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”), Alex Morf (“The Good Wife,” “Of Mice and Men,” “War Horse”), and Marjolaine Goldsmith (“Compromise,” “AfterWords,” “Dress”).

“The play serves as a catalyst for this conversation,” Doerries said. “We’d hear audiences openly wrestling with something that is very taboo in their own community. For some communities just naming the crisis they face on a personal level is a huge accomplishment.”

The reading will be followed by a panel discussion to be led by a panel of community experts and followed by a facilitated town hall discussion about the “complex ethical and professional challenges posed by screening for, and treating, patients who are abusing drugs and/or struggling with addiction,” according to theaterofwar.com.

While actors often use their fame to attract attention to causes they support, Doerries said, “It’s very, very rare in their profession to feel they are doing something with their craft as opposed to their celebrity.”

In addition, they revisit O’Neill’s poignant award-winning work, which was an incredibly personal story for the playwright.

“The play was definitely autobiographical,” Doerries said.

He dedicated the play to his wife, Carlotta, in 1941, and instructed her to wait until after his death before publishing it. It was published in the 1950s.

Set in 1912, “Long Day’s Journey into Night” tells the story of the Tyrone family as it struggles with addiction. The men in the family, much like in O’Neill’s, struggled with alcoholism out in the open. But the family secret belongs to the mother, Mary Tyrone, who like O’Neill’s mother, Ella, became addicted to morphine after first being prescribed the drug during childbirth.

“It was an addiction that was shameful and hung over the family their whole lives,” Doerries said.

In his preface to the play, O’Neill wrote it was a “play of old sorrow, written in blood and tears,” adding he wrote it “with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones.”

After the staged reading the actors step down and join the audience. Then three or four people from the community will take the stage to tell their own personal stories with addiction. Together the staged reading and personal stories from community members will lead into a town hall style forum with the audience.

The actors involved in The Addiction Project have been deeply affected by the stories audience members tell, and they help inform their portrayals.

Though the lineup has been revealed, event organizers say they can’t guarantee that the cast won’t have any changes before tonight’s show. If, say, Stephen Spielberg comes calling — which has happened — the project has plenty of stand-ins.

“We have recruited a few hundred actors that jump at the chance to do our project,” Doerries said.

The Addiction Performance Project came about after Theater of War Productions was approached by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to create a production that would be used as outreach to physicians, physicians in training and other medical professionals.

“We were sort of commissioned by them to develop a project that would confront doctors with their own prejudices against patient’s struggles with addiction,” Doerries said.

After bringing the Addiction Performance Project to medical conventions and medical schools, Theater of War began bringing it to general audiences in communities working to address addiction and the stigma that most often prevents treatments and recovery.

“Stigma prevents us from having the conversation that we need to have,” Doerries said.

Performances of the staged reading had been scheduled to take place Wednesday at the Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy in Derry and tonight at the Redern Arts Center at Keene State College (KSC), but predictions for a winter storm led to announcements from both venues.

As of press time, Stockbridge Theatre officials were hoping to reschedule. Meanwhile, KSC had rescheduled its performance for early next month.

“We regret the inconvenience (hello New England weather!) but hope to still you on April 6th,” read a posting on the Redfern’s Facebook page.

For more information, reach the Stockbridge Theatre, 44 N. Main St., Derry, at 437-5210 or the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College, 90 Wyman Way, Keene, at 358-2168.


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