BWW Interview: Jeanie Hackett on Her LONG DAY'S JOURNEY Into O'Neill's NIGHT & Into the LA Theatre Scene
A long-time Los Angeles Theatre contributor, Jeanie Hackett has acted, directed and overseen two theatre companies (so far) - Antaeus and The Classical Theatre Lab. Before her latest directorial project LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT opens January 31 at The Geffen Playhouse, Jeanie took some time out of rehearsals to chat with BroadwayWorld and myself.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview.
How did you become attached to LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT?
Jane Kaczmarek and I have been friends since we were both part of the non-equity company at Williamstown Theatre Festival in the 1980s. We have worked together as actresses and I've directed her in readings and productions for L.A. Theatre Works. But we have long wanted to find a great big play to do together. Alfred Molina and Jane met last year doing a recording of VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE and fell in artistic love with each other, and Alfred and I have known each other for years. So, the three of us got together with a great big stack of plays and began reading and exploring, trying to find a project that we all loved. We kept dancing around it, and it was Alfred who finally stepped us up to the plate by insisting we tackle LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT.
What part of LONG DAY'S did you find most enticing to work on/with?
I have spent most of my career as an actor and acting teacher, so I'm most in my element working with actors. This play is about the complex dynamics and nuances of family relationships. I'm fascinated by all the different ways people argue with each other in this play - and that no matter how much they argue, Mary, James, Jamie and Edmund don't ever really want to leave the room. They want sympathy, they want understanding, they want love, and they want to explain and justify themselves. Hostility is much more preferable for all of them than withdrawal and isolation.
What productions of this classic LONG DAY'S have you seen before?
I saw Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst in a long, and as I remember it, slightly numbing production at Circle in the Square Theatre when I was in acting school. Looking back, it might have been my own inexperience with life that made it seem that way to me. In preparing for this production, I watched everything out there, including the 2006 Robert Falls Broadway production with Vanessa Redgrave and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And last spring, I saw the Broadway production with Jessica Lange and Gabriel Byrne. Plus, the Sidney Lumet film and all the others out there on tape: one with Laurence Olivier, another with Laurie Metcalf, another from Stratford. I think I saw all of them over the last six months.
Will your take be radically different? Reverent to the author's original intentions?
I have spent my life working on classical plays in one way or another, and for me always, the text comes first. So, no, on a horizontal level this one is not radically different. On a vertical level, though, I hope it will mine layers and depth. It's not dysfunction that interests me as much as how the artist uses the raw material of pain and loss to make something that transcends suffering. No one wants to sit with unfiltered pain and loss - in life or on the stage. Eugene O'Neill took his personal history and made a story about empathy, forgiveness, connection and love. He wrote this play, I think, to celebrate his love for his parents and his brother as much as to exorcise the searing pain of his family life.
What aspects of a project initially attract you to tackle it?
The people involved. For me it's all about who I'm working with. The more history, the more knowledge we all have of each other, the more creative "fun" is available for us all.
You are a successful hyphenate actor, director, author and teacher. Which would you pick as your primary passion and why?
I realized about five years ago that what was most important to me was to do everything. And that everything - acting, directing, teaching, writing - feeds me equally. I'm happiest when I rotate from one to the other. My goal is to stay at the center of the creative process and to spend as much time as possible in my virtual world, "The Workroom." As long as I'm there, it doesn't matter what capacity I'm operating in. I've also always been an avid curator, and the rise of social media gives me all sorts of platforms to satisfy those urges.
Would you consider yourself an east coast or a west coast person?
I feel firmly planted on both coasts.
You were artistic director of Antaeus Theatre Company from 2003 to 2011.
What would you say would be your proudest achievement in that position?
Antaeus was basically a club for terrific actors when I took the helm. Along with a coterie of company members, I helped turn this club into a professional theater. And yes, I do believe that many of Los Angeles' 99-seat companies deserve to be called professional, as their work is as high a caliber as some of the top regional companies in the country. I am very proud of Antaeus' first and second full seasons, and The Academy, the acting training program I led and brought into being.
You were also artistic director of The Classical Theatre Lab. What would you say was your proudest achievement with them?
I loved running The Classical Theatre Lab along with two terrific actors: Fred Sanders and Jessica Hecht. Antaeus and CTL were founded at about the same time, one at the Taper, the other at LATC, with diverse groups of top-notch LA theater actors. The best aspect of both of these organizations was the opportunity to come together on a weekly basis to discuss, debate, read, research and work on the greatest plays of all time with a roomful of peers.
What are your thoughts on Antaeus' move to its new Glendale home?
I think it's exciting. I'm very invested in LA as a theater town and this is another step up for our community.
Is your latest book "Talent & Personality" ready for the public eye?
Ah - I wish! And so do my publishers!
What goals in your various fields would you still like to accomplish?
Oh, wow!. That would take up far too much space. One is that I'd like my floating concept of "The Workroom" to become a brick and mortar space, as well as a virtual space. A space for theater artists to have access to all things conducive to making great work: classes, community, performance opportunities, killer aesthetics, body and soul resources and values. And food and drink!
My ambition is to mirror in Los Angeles the philosophy of the great French company "Theater du Soleil" - making theater not a job, but a way of life.
Anybody that you haven't worked with that you would love to collaborate with in the near future?
So many! But if I started giving you names, I would inevitably leave someone out, and then I'd have all kinds of sleepless nights and gnashing of teeth every time I thought back to this.
What would you like your Geffen audiences to leave the theatre with after experiencing your LONG DAY'S?
I would love for audiences to feel like the three hours flew by, and at the end, wish for even more. I want our audiences to feel like the audiences did on first seeing this play - exhilarated and entertained and moved and shook up to the core of their beings. Most of all, I hope they experience a visceral sense of recognition: of themselves, of their own family's journey, and maybe a deeper sense of the "why" of loss and suffering. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is a place to bring the seeking questions we all carry with us. Like all great plays, it addresses these questions, not necessarily with answers, but with insight and understanding.
Thank you again! I look forward to experiencing your LONG DAY'S!
For scheduling and ticket info through March 18, 2017; log onto www.geffenplayhouse.org