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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    For One Stony Brook Actor, A Rewarding Career Is Such Sweet Sorrow

    Last summer, before leaving for a trip to Japan, Dan O’Reilly said goodbye to his family and friends and prepared for a month of new experiences and culture shock.

    “The Sith Lord has to sacrifice the love of his life for what he feels is right,” said O’Reilly, a devoted Star Wars fan from Farmingville, N.Y. “I’ve had to sacrifice several friendships and relationships, and my Japanese minor, for theater. It was like being married to two women at once, with the demands on your time making it unable to see each other for months.”

    Living a life of moderate isolation is nothing new for the actor and theater major at Stony Brook University, as he is frequently forced to put personal relationships on hold in favor of pursuing his dream.

    O’Reilly, 23, will be playing the role of Mercutio in Stony Brook’s production of “Romeo ‘ Juliet,” which opens next week at the Staller Center.

    A chance encounter during his freshman year at Centereach High School sparked his interest in theater arts. “I didn’t originally have interest in acting,” said O’Reilly, who has come to make acting and directing his life’s ambition. As a dare from some of his friends he jokingly tried out for the musical, “Pippin.”

    “I did the Dr. Evil monologue from ‘Austin Powers’ and people loved it. I was cast as one of the chorus members, based on what was basically a joke.”

    O’Reilly’s smile screams of boyish innocence, but his powerful eyes tell a starkly different story. His wide, blue orbs become piercing and focused when he talks about the future and his words project a man wise beyond his years.

    “I want to live a thousand lives,” he said slowly, choosing each word meticulously. “As an actor I feel lucky to be able to experience something very intensely for very short periods of time. I get to do things and experience things every night for two weeks while getting to live as this person.”

    10 years and more than 20 productions later, O’Reilly is on the brink of earning a bachelor’s degree in theater arts, while simultaneously applying to graduate schools and preparing for his post-Stony Brook life. Some of the numerous productions that he had, either leading or supporting roles, include Brad in “The Rocky Horror Show,” Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath,” Christy Mahon in “The Playboy of the Western World” and Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

    As he reclines on his living room couch, he takes a swig of his Samuel Adams White Ale. His slightly curly, yet almost spiky light-brown hair looks dark next to his fair, pale complexion.

    “When I played Mercutio for the first time in high school, it made me realize that this is what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “In ‘Boys of Winter’ at Suffolk, we were Marines, and it showed me what it would take to be an actor for the rest of my life.”

    O’Reilly, almost lost in the moment, touched upon his performance in “Boys of Winter,” in which he was forced to push himself to new limits through an emotionally-charged, grisly and bloody death scene, which he proudly referred to as “one of the most rewarding performances I’ve ever done.”

    “‘Boys of Winter’ was the most emotionally grounded work I’ve seen Dan do,” said Stony Brook theatre professor and “Romeo ‘ Juliet” director Valeri Lantz-Gefroh of Rocky Point, N.Y. “Dan uses the verse very well and he is a great fighter. I needed a good combatant for the role as the rapier fight he will perform is nearly four minutes long, which is extremely difficult.”

    Lantz-Gefroh, 42, has known O’Reilly for about five years. Her husband Steven Lantz-Gefroh directed several of O’Reilly’s performances at Suffolk.

    “I can see Dan having a long career as a professional actor and later director,” said Steven Lantz-Gefroh, a director of five of O’Reilly’s performances at Suffolk County Community College. “The passion he brings to his work every time out is already professional grade. He always brought a sense of professionalism to the work, always memorized before the schedule’s due date, always emotionally connected to the work, always striving to be the best, stubborn at times but never the prima donna, always led by example and totally dedicated to the craft.”

    Lantz-Gefroh, 54, has also worked with O’Reilly at the American College Theatre Festival, a regional collection of aspiring actors and playwrights. “Off stage Dan is a naturally funny guy, smart, instinctive and a little insecure,” said Lantz-Gefroh. “On stage he is focused and driven, always going the extra mile in research and actor-homework to perfect and deepen his character. I see him as a young character actor in the vein of Paul Giamatti.”

    O’Reilly discussed the act of getting into a role, and the struggle of stepping back out of character. “It can consume you, but you make the character who the character is, not the other way around,” he said. “The greater the risk the greater the reward, and you grow throughout the entire performance. It changes you, and if it hasn’t then it probably wasn’t worth doing.”

    O’Reilly is full of advice for aspiring theater students. “If you ever think about the word ’emotion’ during a show then acting is not for you,” he said. “The trick is making it look effortless. Half of the skill of acting is being able to take what you’re given and achieve your goal no matter what.”

    The Department of Theatre Arts will present eight performances of “Romeo ‘ Juliet” from Apr. 23 to 26 and Apr. 30 to May 3.

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