Playwright Sean Farrell has spent the best years of his life daydreaming. A self-described late bloomer, Farrell bounced around boarding schools in the northeast during his teenage years and reluctantly came to Chicago in 1987 to attend Loyola, the only college that accepted him. During his first year he came so close to failing that he took the next year off, moved back home to Boston, and drove a cab. “The structure of school just wasn’t for me,” he says. “I think I was looking for any way I could to get some distance from it. I probably learned more about myself during the year I spent driving that cab than I had in all of my high school years. It provided a tremendous opportunity–at a very young age–to just see and experience life. And it bought me the time I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with myself, namely to try my hand at writing.”
Farrell returned to Loyola in 1989 as an English major, but later that year switched to theater. He worked on the technical crews for a pair of Brecht and Shaw productions, faithfully attended class, and immersed himself in the works of playwrights his professors suggested he read. David Mamet, in particular, made a strong impression. “Reading Mamet helped me to realize that everyone has a voice that they can develop into his or her own,” he says. “I read somewhere that a lot of inexperienced writers gravitate toward playwriting because it’s such a dialogue-based form, and I was right there in that group. It’s easy to underestimate how complex plays really are. I don’t even know if I realized how difficult it was going to be.”
After graduating in ’94, Farrell holed up in his cramped Rogers Park apartment to work on developing as a playwright. Aside from a series of jobs selling corporate phone systems, tending bar, and waiting tables, he devoted himself almost exclusively to reading and writing. “It was a rough time,” he says. “I didn’t hang out with my friends, I didn’t drink, I didn’t do anything. I was terrified of getting sucked right into the system.”
In two and a half years he amassed a substantial body of work, including a 700-page novel he says will never see the light of day and several dramatic scripts, one of which, Car Martyr–Alaska, he staged at Red Bones Theatre (now Profiles) in 1995. Over the following three years, he wrote and directed another half dozen original works at small venues like Cafe Voltaire, the Heartland Studio Theater, and Urbis Orbis. After Lost Child! Fifty Dollar Reward–his tight, economical monologue based on actor David Patrick’s experiences in the navy–premiered at Mary-Arrchie in 1999, Farrell had a revelation: he needed to stop directing his own plays.
He slowed down and spent the next two years preparing his latest work, a parable about a pair of women in their 30s who are bound to each other by circumstance and the presence of two smoking guns. The first draft of the script, entitled What It’s About (after a fictional film treatment the characters are writing), weighed in at 147 pages. After extensive workshops and rewrites, Farrell whittled it down by half and rechristened it Blind Faith. Staying true to his promise to himself, he asked producer Tim O’Hollearn to enlist Andrea J. Dymond as director.
“The best moments were when we were sitting around the table, listening to the actresses relate their own stories about how they could empathize with the denial, confusion, and pain the two characters were going through,” says Farrell. “The self-consciousness of the script is more or less an exhibit of what these characters have repressed for their entire lives. Blind Faith is kind of like a 12-step program, except it halts after the first step, when the two women acknowledge that there’s a problem. It’s kind of an odd thrust, but once the play ends, the characters’ lives begin.”
Blind Faith opens Thursday, May 3, at 8 PM and runs through June 9 at the Acme Theater, 1444 W. Chicago. Tickets are $15; call 312-850-1444.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.