College of Lake County grad discusses his long career and current project 'A Shayna Maidel'
All his life, Charles Stransky wanted to be an actor. Mostly, that's what he's done.
"I never learned to wait on tables, drive a cab or tend bar," joked Stransky, referring to side jobs some actors take to make ends meet. "I'd be terrible at those things."
The desire took hold at age 9 after he watched Laurence Olivier play "Hamlet" and "Richard III" and Errol Flynn play "Robin Hood" and "Captain Blood" in movies.
"So, an actor gets to be a king, an evil king, a hero and a pirate," Stransky recalled at the time. That realization sealed the fate of the 1971 College of Lake County graduate, who co-stars in TimeLine Theatre's "A Shayna Maidel" by Barbara Lebow.
Born in Boston 72 years ago, Stransky moved when he was 6 months old to Berwyn with his father, a first-generation immigrant from Czechoslovakia, and his mother, a native of England.
Stransky's mother introduced him to William Shakespeare after she caught him reading comic books.
"At 11, I wanted to read all the plays with ghosts," he said.
The family eventually moved to the Grayslake area where Stransky attended what was then Grayslake Community High School. At 15, he performed in his first play, Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest."
After he graduated in 1964, Stransky spent a couple of quarters at Western Illinois University before enlisting in the army in 1966. After serving in Europe and Vietnam, he returned home in 1969 and worked for Illinois' highway department. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he enrolled at the newly established College of Lake County where he studied under theater department founder Frank Harnish before graduating in 1971 as a member of the college's first graduating class.
After earning a bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University and a Masters of Fine Arts from Brandeis University in Massachusetts, he did theater in Boston for a few of years. In 1977, he returned to Chicago and its burgeoning theater scene. He had been working steadily for several years when he got a call from Goodman Theatre asking if he'd replace William L. Petersen in the Broadway-bound production of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross."
"I whooped with joy on the phone," said Stransky, who assured producers he was "free for the rest of his life."
"'Glengarry Glen Ross' was special," he said. "Every role has a bravura moment."
After the Broadway run, Stransky did the national tour then spent 15 years doing theater in New York and about a decade in Los Angeles, playing "bread-and-butter" roles on series including "All My Children" and "Law & Order." He returned to Chicago in 2010.
Although he supported himself and his family mostly by acting, Stransky says there were times when he wished his passion had been plumbing or air conditioning repair.
"Making a living has its ups and downs, but its ups are amazing," he said.
Stransky said he's especially proud of "A Shayna Maidel" and adds that director Vanessa Stalling "brings things out of me I didn't know were there."
"I don't have a bucket list of theaters where I'd like to work. But if I did, TimeLine would be on it," said Stransky.
He plays Polish immigrant Mordechai Weiss -- father of daughters Rose (Bri Sudia) and Lusia (Emily Berman), whose family was separated during World War II.
"It's about a family broken apart by war, by the Holocaust, by the Depression seeking to rebuild and re-create that (bond)," Stransky said.
He said the play parallels current events and offers theatergoers catharsis. And, if nothing else, Lebow's play teaches audiences of the meaning of humanity, he said, that "the first race is the human race ... the race we're all part of."
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"A Shayna Maidel"
When: Begins previews at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22. The production opens Aug. 29 and runs through Nov. 4
Where: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago
Tickets: $35-$54. (773) 281-8463, ext. 6, or timelinetheatre.com