Theatre folk are prone to hyperbole. Everything is "grand," everything is "fabulous" and "magic" is a word that is used often at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.
But when describing the center's seventh annual summer gala, held July 20, "magical" is the only word that can capture the ambience of the evening.
Held to honor the Hendel family and their contributions to the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, the gala was attended by members of theatre community, all of whom had, in some way, been touched by the O'Neill and the work of the Hendels.
Actor Michael Douglas, who was once an intern at the O'Neill and has long been a patron of the center, was in attendance. Speaking to Playbill.com about the O'Neill's legacy to American theatre, he said, "It's a reflection in all of the shows that have come out of here, both Off-Broadway and on Broadway and through regional theatre, so it's really become one of the epicenters for developing new material, and it is extremely important. I am really proud to have been a part of this place."
The morning of July 20 had seen a flurry of constant activity at the O'Neill. Interns were hard at work transforming the grounds into a summer wonderland. Tiny fairy lights twinkled along the stone walls of the sunken garden where a giant white marquis shone under the full moon. A thunderstorm had been predicted and giant golf umbrellas were at hand in case of a downpour.
The night, however, went on without a hitch and clear skies reigned supreme. The Summer Gala at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center is the highlight of the regional theatre's summer season, and the Connecticut-based Hendels have strong ties to the institution. In the 1970's, Rita and Myron Hendel served as trustees of the organization. Their son Stephen Hendel is the current treasurer of the board and his wife Ruth serves as vice-chair. Ruth and Steve have produced many Broadway shows, including Fela!, In the Heights, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The House of Blue Leaves, several of which were born at the O’Neill.
Praising the Hendels, chairman of the board Tom Viertel said, "Rita Hendel was a terrific friend, someone who genuinely loved the O'Neill and its place in her community. She served through good times and not so good times, all with a great spirit."
He described Hendel as an exceptional producer with, "the enthusiasm of a teenager and the expertise of a college professor."
Rita Hendel shared her memories of the O'Neill, saying, "When I was a 16 year old, I would drive down here in my old bomber and it was the coolest thing I had ever done, and that just really inspired me."
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