University of Illinois student theatre group, The Penny Dreadful Players, kicks off their spring semester season this weekend with a two-play program showcasing what the group does best-provides a stage and resources to ambitious students with extracurricular theatrical projects. Room 112 in Greg Hall will act as backdrop for the double feature, which includes Eugene O’Neill’s one-act Hughie and David Mamet’s comedy Bobby Gould in Hell.
Hughie is a two-man show put together by PDP board members Dan McArdle and Ryan Hurth, who are acting, directing and producing the 3 a.m. hotel tale of a gambler and a night clerk pondering the life of the last clerk to work the desk-the deceased title character Hughie. The two have been rehearsing for the last month, since submitting their show and getting it approved by the theatre troupe’s board.
“I had seen a Goodman production of it last year. And I knew we had sort of a throw-away space in January,” says McArdle. PDP usually gets at least one large campus space per month. Since their January space fell so early in the semester, pairing the two shorter plays made practical sense due to time and production demands.
Hughie was first staged on Broadway in 1964 and starred legend Jason Robards. Recent revivals have been seen over the last decade featuring Al Pacino and the Goodman Theatre’s production with Brian Dennehy.
The set will be fairly sparse, but indicative of the bleak and shabby atmosphere. “Sort of the dank 1928 hotel, long desk, key box in back and a couple of chairs, a pitcher of water and a bottle of whiskey up on the desk,” McArdle explains.
Rounding out the bill will be the significantly more lighthearted comedy Bobby Gould in Hell. The show takes a different tone than the Mamet dramas many are familiar with, such as Glengary Glenross and Oleanna. University of Illinois acting sophomore Partick Galvin is directing the show, an absurd exploration of the technicalities of Hell, which he also submitted to PDP.
“It’s my favorite play,” says Galvin. “I’ve read it a million times, and every time I read it, it just got better to me.”
Looking for a means to produce the show, Galvin answered PDP’s semesterly email calling for directors and writers to submit their proposals for the upcoming season. Since students do not have to be members of the troupe to submit projects, the troupe operates as a great resource to students like Galvin, who would like to have support for their visions.
“We met with him and really liked the idea,” Hurth says. “And Rachael, our managing director, really wanted to see the show done, so we decided to do it.”
The director’s plans for the show are simple. “It’s a fairly minimal set. Just everyday stuff. And the acting is fairly minimal itself. The acting’s simple. It’s supposed to be as real as possible in these comedic circumstances where you’ve got these people with these huge wants, and they’re just doing whatever they can to get it. But Bobby isn’t really doing everything he can. He’s a little insane.”
McArdle nods that these shows are not typical partners one would see on stage. “It’s not so much that they couple each other well,” he states, “but they offer a good amount of contrast and variety to give someone who might not enjoy one of them as much certainly something else.” And variety is what PDP strives for.
“The Penny Dreadful Players, established in 1992, is quite a fine organization on this campus,” McArdle says. “We’re working on building full seasons. This is a nice opportunity for us to not only showcase some our in-house acting talent with our board members, but to be able to perform such well-established works by well-known authors such as David Mamet and Eugene O’Neill; whereas our main focus is always going to be for student writers.” Student-written plays are probably what PDP prides itself most on, and their current season-set to be finalized at the end of January-may include as many as three original productions.
“I heard about this great student-written show called Beneath the Trees,” he smiles. “Then, we have the very well-known Death of a Salesman going up March 10, 11 and 12. We likely have some other student-written shows in the works.”
Hughie and Bobby Gould in Hell will be performed together Jan. 28 and 29 in room 112 of Greg Hall. Tickets will be $5 at the door.