If you ask Ruff Yeager how he manages to portray the larger-than-life Ghost of John Barrymore in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s current show, “I Hate Hamlet,” without getting distracted by the audience who practically sits onstage, he will tell you that he has a very simple strategy.
“I picture them as ghosts,” says Ruff.
With the inauguration of Intrepid’s new black box space, this summer’s offerings are being produced in an intimate theatre-in-the-round setting, which gives audiences the chance to be up close and personal with the action.
“We can see people in the audience,” says Ruff. “If I really look, I can see their faces.”
In an effort to incorporate this intimacy into the imagined world of the play, Ruff has figured out a way to makes sense of their presence. Because they are sitting on old-fashioned chairs and couches, a beautiful detail that expands the world of John Barrymore’s apartment further into the theater, it is not difficult.
Leave it to the character of John Barrymore to crave applause from the afterlife. But that’s exactly what he does in “I Hate Hamlet” – and Ruff’s portrayal of the grandiose Barrymore has audiences and critics raving. It’s not every day an actor’s performance review includes words like “mercurial,” “ebullient” and “charismatic.” But Ruff wouldn’t know, of course, because he doesn’t read them. All he knows is how much fun he’s having.
“I love playing the Ghost of John Barrymore,” he says without hesitation. “Playing a character of this scope and magnitude of spirit…it’s just really joyful.”
That joy is evident during the performances, as Ruff pounces from chaise lounge to mantelpiece to potted plant, pulling out rapiers and bottles of wine as he sees fit. One can’t help but be caught up in his lust for life, even considering his ghostly circumstances.
Even though Ruff had done quite a bit of research coming into rehearsals on this uproarious personality, there was still a lot of discussion with director Christopher Williams about bringing the Ghost of Barrymore to life – and specifically, how big is too big when it comes to this character’s personality. Surprisingly, the new theater space played a large part in that characterization.
“We did a lot of work on volume and articulation,” explains Ruff. “With that, comes larger physicalization, because it takes a lot of energy. In the end, I have to trust Christopher and that what I am directed to do is going to work.”
Mercurial…ebullient…charismatic…that it “works” might be an understatement.
“I Hate Hamlet” must close July 19 and Ruff is already anticipating the loss.
“I’m going to be very sad when this is going to be over because it’s been so much fun,” he admits. “But I’m looking forward to the last two weeks as a real celebration of this character and this play.” – TT
I Hate Hamlet runs through July 19, Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 4pm & 8pm / Sunday 2pm. Purchase tickets here.
Photo credits: DAREN SCOTT
Walk down any crooked street in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and you will stumble upon a variety of historical placards mounted to random townhouses celebrating their past creative inhabitants: “Edgar Allen Poe wrote ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ here” (85 W 3rd Street) or “Thomas Paine died here’” (59 Grove Street). This particular neighborhood brims with artistic ghosts, and that is exactly what inspired Paul Rudnick to write his comedic play, “I Hate Hamlet.”
Rudnick’s muse is legendary actor John Barrymore, who occupied the penthouse of 132 West 4th Street in 1917. The playwright leased the space 70 years later, admittedly becoming more and more fascinated by Barrymore’s history with the apartment. As he wrote in The New Yorker in 2007, “The more I absorbed, and the more months I spent under Barrymore’s bastard Jacobean roof, the more I felt moved to write something set at the address. Someone or something had led me to these quarters and would not be denied.” Enter the characters of television actor Andrew Rally and the ghost of John Barrymore.
While it is significantly Shakespearean to introduce a ghost-haunting to a story – especially one revolving around playing the role of Hamlet – the spirit of John Barrymore is not one to utter a vague command and then disappear, trusting that his charge will be carried out. No. John Barrymore will always plot to steal the spotlight, even from the afterlife. And while he does not task Andrew Rally with avenging his death, per se, he does prompt the character to carry on his legacy by playing Hamlet. Or rather, by playing Hamlet well.
“Andrew, who is Hamlet? A star,” says John Barrymore in the play. “The role is a challenge, but far more—an opportunity. To shine. To rule. To seduce. To wit— what makes a star?”
The banter between modern day actor and acting legend ghost is endless, and one can imagine Paul Rudnick carrying out similar conversations while wandering through Barrymore’s New York apartment. For Intrepid’s part, Fran Gercke will be giving voice to Andrew Rally, while Ruff Yeager will step into the role of John Barrymore. The two will be joined by the powerhouse talents of Dagmar Fields, Brooke McCormick Paul, Gerilyn Brault and Tom Stephenson.
While Ruff Yeager adds a very specific dramatic flair to the role of Barrymore, the part of the legendary actor has historically been difficult to cast. As Rudnick explained it when discussing his own Broadway opening of the show, “The audience needed to believe that whoever played Barrymore, from the instant he stepped onstage, was an Olympian Hamlet, a devastating seducer, and everyone’s favorite scoundrel.” Unfortunately for Rudnick’s production, this meant employing a notoriously ill-behaved British actor named Nicol Williamson. Despite Williamson’s dramatic similarities to the theatrical icon he would be playing, the actor’s catastrophic temperament eventually upstaged his own acting credentials. The play closed after a one-month run in a cloud of scandal.
“I had never spent time around a world-class, drain-the-keg loon before,” writes Rudnick, after detailing an account of Williamson physically striking the actor playing Andrew with a sword during a sequence of onstage dueling. That actor not only immediately left the stage, but also the entire production. It was the last in a series of already unbelievable events, that included, among other things, midnight phone calls demanding script revisions and entirely missed performances.
While Intrepid anticipates that its summer season opener will no doubt be riddled with noteworthy behind-the-scenes stories, it is safe to say that the drama on the stage will be enough entertainment for any audience. – Tiffany Tang
“I Hate Hamlet” previews June 27 and runs through July 19.
Tickets on sale now.
One would assume that a “comedy of manners” written in 1930 would seem rather tame by our modern standards. However, reactions and reviews of Noël Coward’s Private Lives, which will be read on Monday night as the next installment of Intrepid Shakespeare’s Staged Reading Series, have been anything but that.
“The critics described Private Lives variously as ‘tenuous, thin, brittle, gossamer, iridescent, and delightfully daring,’ said the playwright. “All of which connoted in the public mind cocktails, repartee and irreverent allusions to copulation, thereby causing a gratifying number of respectable people to queue up at the box office.”
The story of Private Lives revolves around the dissolved marriage of Elyot and Amanda, who chance upon each other while on their respective honeymoons with their new spouses. As luck would have it, they are rooming next door to each other in the same luxurious coastal French hotel, and even though they are seemingly outraged at the other’s presence, it is soon evident that the flame of their former relationship is not completely smothered, but merely smoldering. Chaos and hilarity ensue as the play moves from the Deauville shore to a Paris city apartment and Elyot and Amanda attempt to sort out both their feelings for each other and their actions with regards to their new spouses.
“What makes this script so wonderful and funny,” says Jonathan Sachs, who will be portraying Victor, “is that it touches on some truly real feelings about marriage, divorce, infidelity, remarriage, abuse (verbal and physical) and most of all whether a past love will consume the present relationship.”
The play premiered in London in 1930 to some controversy, as it was almost banned because of the romantic portrayal of characters who are divorced and married to others. Coward had to plead his case to the Lord Chamberlin to be granted permission to open in the West End. The play moved to Broadway a year later with Coward playing Elyot opposite Gertrude Lawrence as Amanda. Jill Esmond and Lawrence Olivier (who would later marry) rounded out the New York cast as Sybil and Victor. Private Lives has since enjoyed numerous revivals in both cities, with varying notoriety depending upon the cast.
But what reviewers have found most fascinating about the play is its dialogue. Colleen Kollar Smith, who will be playing Amanda, compares her scenes to something lifted from “The West Wing.”
“I was trying to place my finger on what about the pace and wit of this piece felt familiar,” says Colleen. “It dawned on me later that Coward’s dialogue feels a lot like Sorkin to me. It is so intelligent and there are many layers of wit. So many, in fact, that I found myself trying to NOT laugh because I was afraid I would miss the next joke around the corner.”
Given that Colleen is playing opposite Phil Johnson as Elyot makes trying to maintain a straight face a bit of a challenge.
“It was a futile attempt,” she admits.
Even though the play does tackle seemingly serious themes, the levity of the piece remains unaffected – or perhaps even more enhanced – by the gravity of the situations.
“There’s a knowledge that the world is askew, and with that everything becomes humorous,” explains Phil.
“Reading it out loud is so fun,” says Jo Anne Glover, who will be playing Sybil, “just the rhythm he writes in and the wordplay back and forth between the characters. And, it’s fascinating how progressive this play is.”
Perhaps that is why this 84-year-old play is not only still performed, but still evokes the laughter of familiarity.
“The play takes some of the finer points of farce and weaves them into a wonderful tragic comedy,” says Jonathan. “The audience will find something very personal in what they see and that is what make this piece so special.”
Private Lives by Noël Coward, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, June 23. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
Participants in the first session of the Young Actors Theatre Camp finished their final performance at the end of that first week with great aplomb. But, instead of continuing on with their summer activities elsewhere, they decided to sign up for another week of Camp Intrepid. And then another.
“The camp surpassed our expectations,” says Sean Yael-Cox, Intrepid’s Co-Founder and Director of Education. “We were all amazed at how much the kids could accomplish in such a short amount of time. We are going to do our best to deliver what they are asking for.”
To that end, the Young Actors Theatre Camp has expanded this summer, with more than twice the number of sessions being offered. Additionally, each of the eight weeklong Young Actors camps will focus on a new play, so that campers can repeat sessions without repeating a production. Sessions will take place at the Encinitas Community Center. Click here for a Young Actors Theatre Camp schedule, beginning June 23.
“Kids can expect a lot of fun but also a great learning experience,” says local theatre talent Abby DeSpain, who recently received the Craig Noel Young Artist Award, and attended three sessions Camp Intrepid last summer. “I especially liked learning stage combat from Lance Arthur Smith,” she says of the local professional actor and fightmaster, who is one of a slew of guest artists invited to teach campers during their sessions.
“It is a fun-packed week,” says Rachel Kanevsky, who has attended five Camp Intrepid sessions over the last year. “Camp Intrepid is a new way for any kid to get involved with theater, gain important skills, and make new friends.”
In addition to the Young Actors Theatre Camp, both the Musical Theatre Camp and the Shakespeare Camp will return – each for two-week sessions held at the Performing Arts Center at San Dieguito Academy. Into the Woods and King Lear are on the docket, with sessions beginning June 30 and July 14, respectively. Registration is now open.
While these particular selections of musical theatre and Shakespeare may seem daunting for two-week camp sessions, Sean is confident that the campers will be up to the challenge, especially those who are returning for their second summer.
“We choose plays that inspire young actors to be creative and use their imaginations,” explains Sean. “Both Into The Woods and King Lear are incredibly complex pieces, and we wanted to challenge the students and raise the bar for those who attended last year.”
Parent Heidi Maretz, whose daughter, Tess, attended the Musical Theatre Camp last year, agrees. “Tess has had lots of performing experience, and Camp Intrepid provided a great experience for both new and more experienced performers.”
While the Young Actors Theatre Camp is geared towards ages 8-14, both the Musical Theatre and Shakespeare camps focus on teenagers 13-18. Sean feels it is important to inspire the campers in both their passion and their commitment to the work, and this summer’s repertory reflects that.
“These are plays that we love and are passionate about,” says Sean. “I think Into The Woods is one of the greatest musicals ever written. King Lear is a fantastic ensemble show filled with amazing characters, greed, revenge, sword fights, honor, madness, insults, a storm, betrayal and, in the end, unconditional love and forgiveness.”
In addition to honing the theatrical talents of the students, parents of previous campers have also reported that the camp sessions have strengthened other skills, including public speaking and academic collaboration. While drama camp is memorable for being fun and entertaining in the moment, its lasting advantages cannot be denied.
“Rachel’s theater classes and camps have made her a very proficient public speaker and let her do things she might be too reserved to try otherwise,” says Inna Kanevsky, Rachel’s mother. “This year, Rachel won a high level award at the County Science Fair, where she made a very good impression on the judges by her presentation skills and confidence. It was pretty much all acting, as Rachel reported being nervous the whole time.”
“The kids learn about everything that goes in to putting on a production, but they also learned about teamwork and being responsible to each other,” agrees Whitney DeSpain, Abby’s mother. “The teachers at Intrepid are fantastic.”
Camp Intrepid is helmed by Sean, as well as by Erin Petersen, an Intrepid Associate Artist and the company’s Internship Program Director. It is no secret that these two are the main reasons why campers are repeatedly returning to this program.
“Erin is a wonderful teacher and encourager, and there is never a dull moment,” says Inna. “Intrepid is one of the very few programs with the focus on acting, as most everywhere else children do musical theater only. Even though most summer ‘shows’ will be musicals, we know that acting skills will be given attention, which is what Rachel and I want.”
Andrew Moore, a student at San Dieguito Academy, participated in the Shakespeare Camp last summer, and continued his exploration with the SDA internship program, playing the title role in the intern production of Macbeth earlier this year. Throughout this process, he was able to work side-by-side with Sean to explore one of Shakespeare’s darkest villains, applying the seeds that were planted during Camp Intrepid.
“I was surprised and amazed at the amount of knowledge I took from the camp,” says Andrew. “I went in expecting a bit of fun, and I came out with a level of self confidence I didn’t think I would ever have.”
Jennifer Moore, Andrew’s mother, appreciates that the Camp Intrepid instructors become mentors to the students they have in repeat sessions. “Andrew liked the way that Sean approached Shakespeare’s writing and seemed to gain a better understanding of the play and the author,” she says. “He also had a good time putting the play together, studying the stage fighting and working with the other teens.”
However, those hoping to take part in Camp Intrepid this summer should hurry. Returning campers are already planning their summers around Intrepid’s camp sessions and spaces are filling up quickly.
“Rachel has signed up for almost every session this summer,” says Inna. “She is super excited to be with the company all day and to be able to have a show at the end of each week.”
For Sean, it is important that the kids not only learn what a theatre experience involves, but also recognize that the skills which go into theatre production are the same skills that will be useful in other aspects of life. For this reason, campers tend to have all levels of experience and a wide variety of future ambitions outside of the world of theatre.
While Rachel confides that she loves the theatre, she is not looking to make it a career. However, she looks forward to experiencing the energy and magic that comes with pulling together a performance.
“I like the final dress rehearsal,” says Rachel, “because everybody is really energetic and excited to perform and we get to be in our makeup and costumes…it’s an unforgettable experience.”
Registration for all sessions of Camp Intrepid are now open, with limited availability. Click here for answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
Fran Gercke, one of the actors in Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading of Caryl Churchill’s A Number, ponders the numerous themes of this multi-layered play. Taking the stage on Monday night with Old Globe Associate Artist Jim Winker, the two will tackle this dynamic piece that explores the controversy surrounding human cloning while folding it into the complexity of father/son relationships.
Written in 2002, during the height of the Dolly sheep-cloning foray, Churchill’s story revolves around a father who has cloned his son, and the potential fallout of his actions. Fran portrays the son – in the various cloned incarnations. While the premise seems dystopian at best, the central conflict of the play remains ultimately relatable.
“I think of A Number as a play set against a backdrop of cloning that’s not about cloning at all,” says Old Globe Literary Manager and Dramaturg Danielle Amato, who will be directing Monday night’s staged reading. “It’s about fathers and sons, about parenthood and regret, about what we inherit and what we create for ourselves. It’s about all the same questions that have obsessed playwrights from Aeschylus to Ibsen to O’Neill. The cloning is just another context, revealing slightly new facets of an age-old story.”
Caryl Churchill is a playwright known for taking risks – both in thematic exploration as well as with her writing style. That this play revolves around a controversial issue is no surprise. However, that the writing offers opportunities for the characters to approach these issues from a diverse spectrum of emotional perspectives is a gift for the actors. This gift is inherent in Churchill’s writing style – abstract yet casual, fragmented yet thoughtful.
“The style Churchill has chosen for A Number is very elliptical,” explains Danielle. “She takes the gaps and half-sentences that mark our normal, everyday speech and heightens them into something like poetry.”
Jim agrees that this distinctive writing style makes this play ideal for a reading setting and the audience should be prepared for “active participation in the unfolding of a fascinating story.”
“The fragmentation of language also adds to the searching quality of the story,” he says. “There are no easy solutions or quick fixes in this plot. The humanity of the characters continues to be revealed with every reading.”
Even though the writing may seem challenging on the surface, it is apparent that the actors are quick to embrace its realistic nature. The audience will be able to navigate it as well, finding the familiarities that may seem too elusive in typical dramatic realism.
“I think Churchill is a great observer of the way in which we try to behave in any given situation,” offers Fran. “So the character is dealing with any number of vibrant reactions to the situation but is choosing to express something on the surface that is entirely different. Like we often do in life.”
Pairing this particular writing style with such sweeping themes also creates a terrific dramatic tension for the audience, say the actors, as they try to anticipate where the play will take them. The through line of this piece is anything but typical, although the ending is very powerful.
“Churchill leaves the audience with questions to consider, but not just as an intellectual exercise,” says Fran. “If the actors do their jobs, I think the audience is left wondering about these people, and wondering what happens next even though Churchill does a great job of ending a play just where it needs to end. It’s a complete experience that takes up residence in the back of your mind.
As happens with Intrepid’s readings, the success of the performances resides in the audience’s willingness to engage and experience theatre in a new and imaginative way. Danielle says that A Number is the perfect choice for a reading series.
“Churchill’s imagination is incredibly powerful and theatrical, and the piece is inspiring in the depth it achieves in such a short period of time,” says Danielle. “The audience can expect to be surprised, to be swept along, to puzzle out a compelling mystery. They can expect to hear two fantastic actors bring to life a unique and fascinating play.”
“If plays were coffee,” she adds, “this one would be something strong and Turkish in a tiny cup.”
A Number by Caryl Churchill, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, May 19. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
Brian Mackey, director of the next installment of Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series Monday evening at the Encinitas Library, says this is the main reason he chose to include Twelve Angry Men in this year’s lineup.
“When I was asked to come up with a list of plays I would like to see read, Twelve Angry Men was one of the first on my list,” he says. “The thought of getting together twelve of some of my absolute favorite male actors in San Diego was too much to pass up.”
The play features in “juror order” (hold on to your seats!) Eddie Yaroch, Robert Biter, Matt Scott, Eric Poppick, Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Danny Campbell, Brian Rickel, Tom Stephenson, Jim Chovick, Tim West, Patrick McBride and Jonathan Sachs. San Diego has never seen a theatrical experience quite like this one.
Written by Reginald Rose in 1955 and made famous with the 1957 film adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, Twelve Angry Men remains one of the cornerstones of American theatre, tackling issues of democratic justice as well as the inner workings of the process that delivers that justice. The entire piece is set in the jury room of a murder trial where the fate of the defendant is deliberated over a 90-minute time frame.
But according to Brian, this play is less about the trial and more about the jurors themselves.
“There is something very primitive about this piece,” says Brian. “It deals with how men interact with each other. Who is the top dog? How do you prove yourself to the rest of the pack? Do you have the courage to stand alone? Those questions are timeless.”
Eric Poppick, who will be portraying Juror #4 (the characters are all identified by their numbers), agrees that the story is an analysis of the ensemble of actors and what their dialogue – or silence – may reveal.
“What I’ve always loved about the play is that there are very different personalities involved,” says Eric, “and even the quiet ones can stand out because they have a vote and they can make or break our decision.”
The setting of the jury room provides the structure in which these personalities can be revealed, while also uncovering the power play of the justice system. For this reason, Twelve Angry Men has remained significant for analysts of both American theatre as well as the American legal system.
“…The processes of social influence and persuasion that take place during deliberation are intricate and powerful,” says Dr. Brian Bornstein in his article The Jury’s Trials. “The jury is not just the sum of its parts…the deliberation process itself illustrates the importance of understanding how groups reach a consensus, as well as how individual jurors form impressions and judgments.”
“For someone who’s never sat in a jury room, it is quite interesting to see the dynamics and see how the decisions are made or change and are re-made,” says Eric, agreeing that the setting provides for the tension of the play. “Trial scenes are riveting especially when you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
How this dramatic tension unfolds theatrically and accessibly is a testament to the quality of the play’s writing. According to Brian, it is the tempo of the conversation and the musicality of the dialogue that heighten the action of the play – and expose the inner thoughts of each character.
“They are forced to look at inside themselves and confront who they are and what they believe,” says Brian. “That can be a difficult thing. Many of the men discover things they would rather see buried.”
Having to do that in a room full of strangers would probably make any of us a little bit angry. Thankfully, we have a room full of amazing actors to do it for us.
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, April 28. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
For a company whose primary goal is to invigorate the work of Shakespeare, it might seem a curious choice to open the fifth season with a quintessentially American play.
“All My Sons still resonates,” says director Christy Yael-Cox, who chose this play partly because of her love of Arthur Miller and partly because the themes of wartime struggle, family loyalty and ethical dilemmas are still important issues in our modern day society.
“This play is just as relevant now as it was in 1947,” says Brian Mackey, who is portraying Chris Keller, the only son from his family to have returned from the war when the play begins. “The issues that it raises of family and sacrifice and idealism, it’s the same thing that we are dealing with right now.”
The crux of the play is this. Everyone is trying to create and maintain lives of stability and happiness and success. How each character goes about achieving these things is where Miller focuses the microscope. The lines between right and wrong, good and bad, and family and foe become blurred very quickly.
“It’s a plate spinner,” says Tom Stephenson, who is portraying Joe Keller, whose actions in both the past and the present largely determine the direction of the story. “It’s a time when the American Dream is coming to fruition and it’s a very attractive thing and family is really important. Joe Keller sacrifices virtually everything for his family – but he sacrifices others, not necessarily himself.”
Aside from the ethical issues raised by the story, there is also the question of how to continue the pursuit of these idyllic dreams once the truth is unveiled. Iis it possible to forgive? To forget? Is it denial that moves us towards our next moments in life, or is it hope?
Savvy Scopelleti plays Kate Keller, the mother whose character embodies this question.
“Kate totally believes that her lost son is going to come home,” she says. “That causes a lot of undercurrents of tension in the family.”
To watch these characters navigate these bumpy roads while maintaining the veneer of suburban charm is to witness a very intricate dance. How much truth is too much? How authentic is the American Dream? How much of our character does it cost to maintain it and is it even worth it to do so?
“This play is a gigantic mirror that was sent here from 1947,” says Brian Rickel, who plays Frank Lubey, an optimistic, bowtie-sporting neighbor in this suburban town. “There’s a lot in this play that is incredibly relevant today and I think Arthur Miller is really important in the way that he wrote because of that.”
“Arthur Miller wrote for a time beyond himself,” says Tom. “And that’s why this play is the incredible thing that it is.”
All My Sons plays through April 19 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.
“Can we put a curtain in that window?” he asked, pointing to the second story of the onstage house façade. “It will help with the mood we’re trying to create.”
If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a designer on a production of an Arthur Miller play, the answer lies somewhere between realistic authenticity and sneaky, subliminal messaging.
“We’re in the subconscious of the audience,” says Curtis, referring to all of the production design elements that go into making a play come to life onstage. “But hopefully, they won’t know it.
The audience, says Curtis, is not supposed to notice something in particular, like his lighting design. Hopefully, he says, it just blends in with all of the other elements to help tell the story.
For the last two months, while actors have been rehearsing lines and blocking, the designers have been busy creating the world the characters will inhabit for the run of the show. Costumer Kristin McReddie has been scouring vintage clothing stores, Etsy.com and costume rental shops all over town. Prop designer Bonnie Durben has been researching the look and design of 1940s household items. Curtis has been paying a lot of attention to the play of the light throughout the course of one day.
“The play is going to be a slice of life post WWII,” says Kristin. “Hopefully, the audience will take away [from the show] what it looked like and felt like to be alive in that era.”
Set in 1947, “All My Sons” explores the dynamic of the Keller family and their neighbors as they navigate a post-war life and all of the hope and loss entailed in that particular time period. It is one of Miller’s most emotionally gripping plays.
But in order for that emotionally-charged story to unfold, it is necessary to ground the setting in a very realistic place. This means careful attention to detail on the part of the designers who are creating this onstage world.
“This time period is right at a cusp,” explains Bonnie. “There are still people that are old enough that remember the time period, so you have to be very careful about the type of props that you get – that the glass pitcher looks like the glass pitcher their mother had.”
Bonnie’s script is full of notes on these details, the specificity of each item that the characters handle throughout the story. For instance, when a newspaper appears, it is Bonnie’s job to make sure it is exactly the right one.
“The funny papers were different then,” she explains. “They were all in color and they were all brighter and boxed differently. It’s the little things that, really, you don’t notice, but the people in the audience are going to look at it and say, ‘That’s not right. That’s not how I remember it.’”
The search for period-appropriate costumes is just as specific, says Kristin, who had to research, not only the look of that decade’s fashion, but also how wartime permeated even the closets of these characters.
“In the 1940s, everything was tailored to be more fitted towards the body,” she explains. “They had to use less fabric because all of that wool and cotton was going to the war effort. So it’s going to be interesting to see how the actors are going to adapt their blocking to the costumes and the clothing.”
Arthur Miller extends this specificity into the story’s lighting design as well, having confined the play’s action to a 24-hour time period. This means that Curtis has spent a lot of time contemplating his role as the show’s timekeeper.
“The lighting design is going to drive the entire show forward because it takes place in one day,” explains Curtis. “When you think about it, time doesn’t stop, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the pacing of the show corresponds to where we are in time.”
Despite all of this intricately detailed work, at the end of the day, success for the designers means that their contribution does not stand out on its own, but rather gracefully augments the storytelling of the play.
“I think what makes a successful show in general is something that people can always relate to,” says Curtis. “I think this show does a great job of doing that along with providing an emotional story. I hope the audience leaves feeling everything that we put out there for them.”
All My Sons plays March 27-April 20 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.
Francis Gercke is thoughtful as he tries to describe the tone of Neil LaBute’s most recent theatrical offering, ‘In a Forest, Dark and Deep,’ which will be read Monday evening as the next installment of Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series at the Encinitas Library. Fran is set to direct and perform in this two-character, one-act play.
“The play opens with lightning,” he continues, “so the whole thing contains a sort of electric pop.”
While this 2011 play may not yet be as widely known as some of LaBute’s previous work, such as ‘reasons to be pretty’ or ‘The Shape of Things,’ it nevertheless contains all of the hallmarks one would expect from this particular playwright’s M.O.: compelling dialogue, intimate relationships and that general sense of dis-ease which permeates a seemingly everyday storyline.
“LaBute tends to write about regular people on the extremes,” says Fran, “and he does it without the audience ever really knowing where he’s going.”
In this play, these “regular people” happen to be siblings, which is a very interesting and very specific relationship. Brother and sister Bobby and Betty meet up in the woods because Betty has urgently requested her brother’s help to clear out her cabin that she has been renting to a student. Together, they box and bag, sort and pack. And, as with any family relationship, this activity of “cleaning out the stuff” does not solely refer to piles of books and belongings. Soon, the past begins to filter into the room as well.
“What is unique about this play is that both siblings rely on and then deny the memories they have of one another,” explains Jessica John, who will be portraying Betty. “As an audience member, you find yourself wondering which one of them has the more accurate story and then wondering whether they are manipulating one another or simply remembering things in a skewed way. It’s a terrific device for story telling because it is so disorienting and completely fascinating.”
Fran agrees. “As the play rolls on, you‘re trying to figure out who is telling the truth about the past and who has accurate information about what happened,” he explains. “The way LaBute writes is so compelling. Things are never explained; they are only suggested. The play holds both potential and surprise.”
As both Fran and Jessica have siblings in their own lives, they are quick to agree that a unique bond exists within a family dynamic. Jessica especially understands this bond, perhaps, because she is a twin.
“There is nothing like a sibling,” says Jessica, identifying her sister as the “living scrapbook” of her life. “She remembers things about me that I don’t remember! I find that kind of creepy and awesome all at once. But, they are also her memories of me and thus flawed in that way.”
“As sibling, we all share the same DNA, but we are all so radically different,” says Fran of his own brother and sisters. “We have had such different responses to different situations.”
It is the manipulation of these assumptions that perhaps challenges the audience’s expectations of this story. This is a familiar theme in LaBute’s work, and one that is not always embraced.
“With every play that he writes, there is a thrilling reception and also a wide criticism,” says Fran. “It’s the sign of a writer who is not afraid to enter into conversations that may not be ‘polite.’ He tends to touch upon subjects that not many playwrights tackle.”
“He seems so drawn to the darker sides of the human condition,” says Jessica. “So there is a ton of cringe-worthy, can’t-take-my-eyes-off-of-this moments in all of his plays. The thing I like about this work, in particular, is that he actually seems to be exploring the more human sides of people in a dark situation.”
This exploration is painstakingly detailed, amplified by the fact that the entire play takes place in one evening and in just one setting. The Aristotelian unities of time, place and action may not be regularly applied in contemporary playwriting, but Fran believes that the rigidity of this structure compels the right energy for this story.
“[The playwright] has basically nailed his foot to the floor and said, ‘I can’t leave this room and neither can these characters, so we are going to figure this out right here, right now,’” says Fran.
“There’s a sort of ‘slow motion car crash’ quality to his work,” adds Jessica. “With LaBute, audiences can always be prepared to see character studies of truly watchable, messed-up, interesting and complex people.”
“His writing also makes me laugh inappropriately,” Fran admits.
But as these characters move through the action of the story, it is that inappropriate laughter and that ‘car-crash’ tension that truly charge the tone of the play with the electricity that keeps audiences riveted.
“Just like any good thriller or horror movie,” says Fran, “it’s not the ‘scares’ that frighten you. It’s the quiet, quiet moments, when you’re one step closer to something unexpected happening.”
‘In a Forest, Dark and Deep’ by Neil LaBute, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, March 24. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
The theater is quiet as Savvy Scopelleti says the last line of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. And then, for a few moments, no one moves. Finally, scripts are closed, chairs are adjusted, and deep breaths are taken.
It is the first read-through rehearsal for the cast of Intrepid’s Season Five opener, and even though it is also the first time this group of actors has come together, already there is an undeniable feeling of camaraderie here.
Already, it feels like family.
Christy Yael-Cox concludes the read-through with a few parting thoughts – about Miller, about wartime, about freedom from the past. The actors adjourn, minds and hearts full of Miller’s poignant dialogue.
“This play is so important and still so relevant today,” says Christy, “which is both sad and fascinating.”
Written on the heels of World War Two, All My Sons opened on Broadway in 1947 and put Arthur Miller on the map as a legitimate voice in American theatre. Inspired by a story he heard about a young woman from the Midwest who turned in her father for manufacturing and selling defective aircraft parts to the U.S. Army, All My Sons carefully navigates the aftermath of wartime through a handful of small town neighbors discovering that soldiers are not the only ones who bear battle scars.
“We tend to romanticize the past,” says Christy of this particular post-war era. “This play tells a different story, and Miller’s ability to craft the language to tell this story is just stunning.”
Arthur Miller’s personal experiences are also palpable in the telling of this story. Even though he never served in the war (he was rejected from the Army for a medical condition), Miller wrote amply in his memoir, Timebends, of his own disconnectedness to his society while battles were raging overseas.
“I was walking through the city in wartime feeling the inevitable unease of the survivor,” he writes. “The city I knew was incoherent, yet its throttled speech seemed to implore some significance for the sacrifices that drenched the papers every day.”
Eventually, this disconnect would manifest itself into the creation of a play. He describes himself during that time as “a stretched string waiting to be plucked, waiting, as it turned out, for All My Sons.”
The reception for the Broadway opening of the play was charged. While it received a New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1947, citing its “frank and uncompromising presentation of a timely and important theme” and Miller’s “genuine instinct for the theater,” it was also banned by the Civil Affairs Division of the American Military Government from being presented overseas. Word was that Miller was accused of trying to attack American capitalism, which was a message that could not be exported in this particular era of anti-Communist intensity.
However, Miller’s extraordinary use of language and the honest portrayal of the world he creates in All My Sons has enabled the play to survive through and past the history into which it was born. Christy sees this universalism as a touchstone for Intrepid Shakespeare Company.
“The characters are relatable and realistic because they are so deeply and humanly flawed,” she says. ”In this way, the writing reminds me of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s themes and the humanity behind his plays are still so resonant for us. This play is the same.”
“Also, it’s funny,” she adds. “There’s a lot of humor. It’s a very human thing, that even in crisis, we can find things to laugh about. Shakespeare understood that. And so did Miller.”
— Tiffany Tang
All My Sons plays March 27-April 20 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here.