Building a Community Of Spectators

Last night we attended the Robert Fall’s production of The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill at Goodman Theatre.  It was a privilege to see this play since it is rarely produced, mainly due to the length of the work; four acts and almost five hours running time.  The production starring Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy was spectacular with an outstanding cast of shining performances that made the time fly by.  We had previously seen Nathan Lane in The Producers and The Addams Family here in Chicago, as well as Dennehy in Death of a Salesman at the Goodman, so we were aware of their craft and magnetism on stage.  But the supporting cast was so brilliant as to really bring this story of the power of personal illusions to life for us.  This is also a story of community, as these lost souls living out their lives and delusions, tell each other their lies at Harry Hope’s bar in 1912 New York City.  They come to learn that there is only joy in the hopes of tomorrow, not the realities of today.

What strikes me this morning as I ruminate on last night’s experience is, that, within those five hours, there became a community of fellow spectators in the theater.  We have season tickets to both the Goodman and Steppenwolf, and have been regular theater goers for years; this being one of my true passions, but I have never before experienced the sense of camaraderie that was established during last night’s three intermissions.  We usually sit in a dark theater with our companions and share only necessary courtesies with other audience members, but last night was very different.  The shared experience of this production brought out a sense of openness and candor between the spectators.  Personal details were shared.  One woman talked to me about her grandmother who was almost a casualty on the Eastland, and another couple of the challenges of holding season tickets and seeing plays because of their four year old daughter.  It was so interesting that this powerful O’Neill play produced a need in the audience to validate this shared experience and share something of themselves in the process.

I find that the building of “community” to be an interesting phenomena.  Being a real estate broker for the last twenty four years has given me an insight into “community”: in condo buildings, in neighborhood associations, in block clubs, in schools, but I find that “community” really has little to do with real estate and everything to do with people.  There is no bricks and dirt in community, only a shared experience.  The need to express a passion or understanding of time or events creates a community.  Community can be found across time and space from a common exposure.  It is the bond that springs organically from the human experience.  Community is a powerful connector between peoples and is a joyful creation that can happen anywhere, even in a dark theater.


Karen Breen Elia & Louis M. Elia, REALTORS®, are brokers for homes, condos, and multi-unit properties on Chicago’s North Side.

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