Tales From the O'Neill: Celebrating the Summer Gala With Michael Douglas

By Sophia Saifi
24 Jul 2013

Sahr Ngaujah performs at the gala

"It's emotional being here," Hendel said. "This is where my parents were involved for 50 years. This is where we went on dates when we were in high school. Performers like Meryl Streep performed here."

For Hendel, attending the gala was like a homecoming. "It is a really important institution for American theatre. This is the place that is our home."

The gala saw performances from shows that the Hendels had produced. Recent National Music Theater Conference participant and lyricist Christopher Dimond rewrote the lyrics of the song "In the Heights" to honor the Hendels, and the original cast members from the time the musical In the Heights was workshopped at the O'Neill were at hand to perform the song.

Merwin Goldsmith and Kathryn Grody performed an excerpt from Old Jews Telling Jokes while Sahr Ngaujah, Oneika Philllips and Malaiyka Reid got the guests dancing to songs from Fela!

Speaking to Playbill about being back at the O'Neill, Ngaujah said, "The O'Neill is a benchmark and turning point in my life. Most of the work that I have done in my life, I feel is quite significant, but nothing has the impact on my relatonshop to art and the rest of the world like Fela! The birth of it for the mainstream was at Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. To come here and participate in honoring Ruth and Steve Hendel, who I love deeply, and their family, it is wonderful."

Bill T. Jones, dancer and director of Fela!, sent a special video message in honor of the Hendels, in which he he thanked Steve for his patronage and performed a specially choreographed dance to Nina Simone's "Take Me to the Water." 

Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group, was present at the gala and was full of praise for the O'Neill's place in American theatre.

"I always think of the O'Neill as the first place that recognizes the importance of focusing on the process for a playwright, of finding the play and not selling the play. It has been a respite where a playwright can find his/her own voice," she said. "This place has clearly been an incubator and a nourisher of the great playwrights."

As the night continued, the guests continued to dance to "Everything Scatter" from Fela! George White, the founder of the O'Neill, was in the crowd moving along with the students from the National Theater Institute. Executive director of the O'Neill, Preston Whiteway, conversed with Myron Hendel.

The generations mingled as music from Nigeria blared into the sky and the spirit of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center kept its spark alive. With the Center due to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2014, it looked like its future was in capable hands.

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