Tag Archives: 2014 Staged Reading Series
“My first concern was, ‘Will people really buy me as an elf?’”
Daren Scott recounts the moment when he was first approached to do The Santaland Diaries, a play adapted from a 1992 essay by satirical writer David Sedaris that illuminates the darker side of Christmas through the eyes of a truth-telling writer turned seasonal Macy’s Christmas elf.
“David Sedaris a small guy and I’m a tall man,” says Daren with a laugh.
The play will be performed by Daren on Sunday evening as the finale to Intrepid’s 2015 Staged Reading Series, complete with an appetizer reception and holiday cocktails. Doors open at 5:30 pm (note earlier start time).
While Daren’s statuesque qualities might limit his traditional Christmas elven opportunities, his ability to spin a searingly wry story about high pressure holidays landed him the role of Sedaris’ Crumpet the Elf at New Village Arts in 2009, where he was directed to critical acclaim by Kristianne Kurner, NVA’s executive artistic director, for three consecutive seasons.
“I knew David Sedaris, but I wasn’t familiar with this piece,” remembers Daren. “I became more familiar with his style as I started to look further into his writing. I’m not playing him but I’m definitely playing his sarcasm and his way of looking at the world.That element of the character is important.”
San Diego agrees. When Daren first performed The Santaland Diaries at NVA, James Hebert of the San Diego Union-Tribune called Daren “an ebullient performer with a huge expressive vocabulary.”
“His wide eyes suggest a sense of innocence,” said Herbert, “but there’s an underlying tartness to his voice, a note of sugarcoated sarcasm heightened by his bemused bearing.”
But it is the unrelenting honesty of the writing that makes The Santaland Diaries a fitting piece for the holidays, according to Daren, and also what makes the piece so refreshing to perform.
“It’s about all of the holiday stuff that we don’t want to talk about,” he explains. “It’s every line that we’ve waited in with too many people and the stores that are jammed and the picture of your kid that doesn’t turn out. But it’s funny because we all go through it. We laugh because we can all relate to the pressure we feel to be smiley and happy for the holidays.”
But aside from the humor, Daren feels the message is also important.
“We are all striving for such perfection, but the truth is that it is okay if the holiday picture doesn’t come out right,” he says. “If we can laugh at ourselves, that’s the key to getting through the expectations of the holidays and just enjoying the time.”
The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris, performed by Daren Scott. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Sunday, December 13. 5:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 6:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a ticket here.
When Titus Andronicus was recently performed at the Globe in London – a revival production of Lucy Bailey’s 2006 interpretation – there was one evening when five audience members fainted in the middle of the performance. Yes, fainted. Five people passed out and dropped to the floor.
The most likely culprit was the appearance of Lavinia, a young and innocent girl who is met with an unthinkably brutal fate during the course of the play. Needless to say, as per the reputation of Shakespeare’s goriest tale, there were a few buckets of stage blood decorating her costume at the time.
That Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s 2014 Staged Reading Series Committee chose Titus Andronicus to celebrate the Halloween season is no coincidence.
“Titus is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, his first tragedy, and apparently one of the most popular with his own audience,” says Sean Yael-Cox, Co-Artistic Director of Intrepid and the director of the reading, which will be held Monday evening at the Encinitas Library. “The Elizabethan audiences seemed to love the violence – the more missing limbs and ripped out hearts the better.”
On this front, Titus Andronicus certainly does not disappoint.
The story follows the aftermath of Rome’s ten-year campaign against the Goths, where Titus is a victorious leader. In his absence from Rome, he has been elected Emperor and returns amid glorious fanfare to take his post. But the conflict apparently does not end in the field. Titus decides to avenge the battlefield deaths of his sons by executing the son of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, thus igniting a fury of revenge that pushes the boundaries of even the most steely-stomached of audiences.
“This is not a play for the faint-hearted,” writes theatre critic Charles Spencer for London’s The Telegraph. “For centuries this early tragedy was never performed at all, so graphic is its violence, so gleeful its cruelty.”
Cast as the cutthroat couple in Monday’s reading are Savvy Scopelleti as Tamora and Ruff Yeager as Titus Andronicus. Erin Peterson, Tom Hall, Brian Rickel, Danny Campbell and Jason Rennie will serve as pawns in the blood feud where no one is safe and nothing is predictable.
“Titus features an incredible collection of characters,” says Sean. “The play is filled with killer roles and we are fortunate that we are able to gather some of our favorite actors to bring these characters to life.”
While the staged reading format means that no blood will be shed on Monday, the text of Shakespeare’s play still guarantees the most graphic of gore-filled depictions. And, as we all know, sometimes the imagination can be more powerful than the best concoction of Carrow’s syrup stage blood.
“Titus, along with other revenge plays, allows the audience to safely explore that vengeful impulse without suffering the consequences,” explains Sean. “Revenge is a powerful and intense emotion, but it is also very human. Thankfully, the heart can also contain great compassion and empathy and we don’t live in a world like the one inhabited by Titus and his family.”
“After all,” he continues, “an attitude of ‘an eye for an eye’ does indeed leave the world blind. And, in the case of Titus, it also leaves the world decapitated, missing a number of hands, de-tongued and baked into a pie.”
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, October 27. 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.
Shana Wride, 2014 Staged Reading Series Committee Member and director of Monday evening’s reading of Waiting for Godot, can barely contain her enthusiasm for the casting of this play.
“They are both very smart actors who not only have terrific comic ability but are capable of depth and pathos,” she continues. “Their friendship makes for great chemistry.”
As the 2014 season moves into the fall, adding Samuel Beckett’s iconic absurdist work to the roster of remarkable play readings this year seems fitting, especially on the heels of Intrepid’s summer of comedy.
“This play makes me think and laugh at the same time,” says Shana. “I also love how big it is and how timeless.”
Written in 1953, Waiting for Godot is Beckett’s own translation of his 1949 En attendant Godot, which features two characters, Vladimir and Estragon (Didi and Gogo), waiting anxiously for the arrival of the mysterious character, Godot. The simplicity of the setting and the story often encourage a myriad of interpretations, incorporating references from the religious and philosophical, to historic and biographic.
Most recently seen on Broadway with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, Godot is one of the most famous vehicles for two actors who can handle both the levity and the depth of Beckett’s writing, something Shana had no reservations about when casting Phil Johnson (Craig Noel winner for his performance as Bottom in Intrepid’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Gogo and Ruff Yeager (seen this summer as Leonato in Much Ado and as John Barrymore in I Hate Hamlet) as Didi. Walter Murray, Dana Hooley and Dashiell Thumm round out this cast as Pozzo, Lucky and the Boy, respectively. Shana will read stage directions.
“When we read it the first time, I found myself wishing I could put the script down and just watch how they connect, not only to the text, but to each other.” she says. “Even with scripts in their hands, I heard the play beautifully.”
While Ruff and Phil have had many creative projects together in the past, tackling Waiting for Godot together will be a new challenge.
“The friendship I share with Phil is one of the most important relationships of my creative and personal life,” says Ruff. “I believe this translates easily into the relationship of Gogo and Didi. There is a give/take, ebb/flow they unconsciously share that is very accessible for me to discover with Phil as my scene partner.”
“Ruff and I have done mostly comedies – I like to think smart ones, with heart,” adds Phil. “That’s some of my personal favorite work. Ruff is so talented and versatile. He can do anything, from the classics to the plays that are more about entertaining. I feel like I’m really just along for the ride.”
Because it is considered one of the more challenging pieces of theatre, Waiting for Godot is often the focus of dramatic and existential debate, introducing themes that go beyond the surface of the story at hand.
“Finding Beckett challenging is a good thing because it is challenging and we should be challenged,” says Shana. “Not always, but sometimes, don’t you think?”
“This play has some of the biggest ideas in life inside of it,” says Phil. “Is someone out there? What are we doing here? Is there purpose and a meaning in life? How do we find our own? Are we all ultimately alone on this planet? This show sets some very important themes against a kind of clownish vaudeville performance style and that’s what makes it so interesting.”
While Ruff and Phil gracefully grapple with this contrast between the performance style and the weightier universal themes, they also understand that Waiting for Godot delivers in the area that Intrepid is most focused on – the text.
“Beckett is language,” says Ruff. “Much like Shakespeare, Beckett provides the actor and audience with rich, glorious language. If we are willing to follow this happy trail of nonsense and brilliance, logic and chaos, despair and rapture, we will arrive at our destination.”
But audiences shouldn’t be intimidated by Beckett’s signature play, says Shana. If anything, it’s a chance to experience something potentially transformative.
“Look, I like to be entertained as much as the next guy,” says Shana, “but every once and a while it is nice to be exposed to big ideas in big packages that have stood the test of time and hold a place in the dramatic canon that is unparalleled.”
“That is why the Intrepid Reading Series is special,” she adds. “It gives the audience and the theatre artist an opportunity to dip their toe in a great play and see if they are ready to swim.” — T.T.
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, September 22. 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.
To say that Ruff Yeager is a Tennessee Williams “enthusiast” might be an understatement. As someone who has spent most of his life studying the work of this particular playwright, “authoritative scholar” might be a more appropriate descriptor for the director of Monday evening’s staged reading of Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.
“Milk Train is a very rarely seen play from a very important American playwright,” says Ruff of Tennessee Williams, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. “From 1945-1963, Williams had a play on Broadway almost every season – sometimes two. No other American playwright has ever been so produced.”
While Milk Train may be one of his more underperformed plays, the brilliance of Tennessee Williams’ stunning dialogue and hard-hitting thematic resonance is consistent with the plays that more quickly come to mind, such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire.
“At this point in his career [in 1963], Williams had begun to experiment with form in small ways, which was a bit ahead of his time,” says Ruff. “The American theater was still in the conservative, nuclear family, atomic age. It wouldn’t be until the late 60s when the theatre would catch up to the social revolutions that were occurring in the country and the artistic revolutions that had already occurred in Europe.”
Based on a short story that Williams wrote earlier, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore introduces Flora Goforth, a former Ziegfeld Follies girl who has retired to a private Italian island for the remainder of her days, which are waning in number. She is kept company by the Witch of Capri, a gossipy busybody, and her assistant, Blackie. The story takes a turn when Christopher Flanders, also known as the “Angel of Death,” arrives to befriend Flora. Chris is known for his relationships with older women…and for his tendency to be mentioned in their wills after they have died.
Dagmar Fields, recently seen on the Intrepid stage in I Hate Hamlet, will be portraying the juicy, layered role of Flora Goforth and Spencer Smith will take on the role of the mischievous Christopher Flanders. In “true Tennessee Williams motif,” according to Ruff, Ralph Johnson will be portraying the Witch of Capri, a role originally written for a woman, but which has been played throughout history by such famous names as Noël Coward.
Rounding out the cast are Faeren Adams as Blackie and Fred Harlow and Celeste Innocenti as the Ensemble Members.
“He casts two actors as what he calls ‘stage assistants,’” Ruff says, “They come out in a kabuki fashion and announce scenes, scene changes, comment ironically on the action. They guide us through the action unseen by the other characters. We weren’t seeing that kind of thing done here in the States. Williams knew the theatre landscape was changing.”
Aside from being ahead of its time in form, Milk Train also offers audiences a unique glimpse into Williams’ development as a writer. Whereas his previous catalogue dealt with themes of life, love and death in a very metaphorical manner, Milk Train addresses the same ideas with astonishing honesty and realism, especially as the play was written in the aftermath of the death of Frank Merlo, Williams’ longtime partner.
“This play lets us see his characters grow,” says Ruff. “Flora is much more honest and self-knowing than Blanche from Streetcar. She knows what life is about. She’s not self-deluded. As Williams grew older, his female characters really shifted.”
The language of this play reflects that honesty. Not only does it contain Williams’ beautiful poetic qualities, but it is also quite humorous in its realism.
“Williams is looking very hard into the eyes of death and dealing with it very honestly. It’s gallows humor, but there is also the idea of the ‘liberating laugh’ of absurdism – the laughter that allows us to be free for a moment. I think this play provides that moment.” — T.T.
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, August 25. 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.
“I feel doubt is an important and valuable exercise, a hallmark of wisdom,” says playwright John Patrick Shanley. “Defiance is a necessary step in the life of an individual and in the life of a nation.”
Next week, Intrepid Shakespeare’s 12-month Staged Reading Series will feature Shanley’s 2006 play, Defiance, the second part of a three-play trilogy, beginning with the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt in 2004, and concluding with 2012’s Storefront Church. While Doubt explores themes of power and faith within the confines of a Catholic Church, Defiance tackles another hierarchical organization – the United Stated military.
“I like that Shanley’s writing presents life as complicated, complex, multi-faceted, never one thing only,” explains Francis Gercke, who will be directing the reading on July 28. “There are rules and regulations, there are codes and social norms of behavior, there are consequences to violating those codes and norms, and there may be legitimate reasons why it might be necessary to risk challenging those rules and regulations. But there’s always a cost.”
As with Doubt, Defiance places its characters in a situation of moral and ethical crisis, this time framed by racial tensions charged by wartime. Set on a North Carolina United States Marine Corps base in 1971, the play finds Lt. Col. Morgan Littlefield (who will be read by Matt Scott) and his reluctant protégé, Capt. Lee King, a young African-American officer (who will be read by Vimel Sephus), investigating racial crimes on the base in an attempt to diffuse these tensions. But the electricity of the play comes from the interactions between these two men and their very different ideas of military leadership and accountability.
According to Manhattan Theatre Club production notes, the characters are “on a collision course over race, women, and the high cost of doing the right thing. The play is about power, love, and responsibility — who has it, who wants it, and who deserves it.”
Not surprisingly, it all comes to a head in an act of defiance.
“While the play is set in 1971, it’s not a history lesson or a re-examination of the Viet Nam era,” explains Fran. “It uses that context to debate social, civic, and spiritual challenges of today. I think what remains with me each time I read it is a question about ideals — are they merely ‘idealistic’ (impractical and naive) or are they truly the standards by which we should live our lives no matter the cost?”
These explorations of doubt and defiance take place through Shanley’s intricately woven dialogue – the kind of dialogue that inspires both actor and audience, and has made Shanley extraordinarily notable as a playwright who creates gritty, passionate and fascinatingly complex characters.
“An evening with Shanley’s characters could prove brutal but definitely entertaining,” says Fran. “They are witty, stubborn, well-intentioned and undeniably screwed up in some way. In other words, they’re very human.”
Joining Matt and Vimel on Monday to complete this cast of characters will be Amanda Sitton, Cris O’Bryon and Jake Rosko.
Defiance by John Patrick Shanley, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, July 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
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 email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
“There is a bold, timeless, pulse in Abundance that is centered in the heart of a woman.”
Director and Intrepid Staged Reading Committee Member Shana Wride is unbridled in her admiration of playwright Beth Henley and this 1990 offering, which first debuted at the Manhattan Theatre Club to critical acclaim.
The New York Times has categorized it as a “Western epic,” although one that has never been seen before. Instead of the predominantly male histories that define America’s saga of westward expansion, this tale is told through the eyes of the women – specifically two mail-order brides.
“Let’s face it, most plays do not come from the female perspective,” says Shana. “[Beth Henley] has an amazing gift for creating female characters who are tough and fragile, hilarious and heartbreaking, fully loaded complicated beings.”
Centered in the high plains of Wyoming in the 1860s, the play explores the lives of two women who have come to the American West in search of new beginnings in marriages to husbands they have yet to meet. Their friendship provides the backdrop for an unromanticized exploration of the ideal of westward expansion.
“Beth captures the subtle humor beautifully, as well as the idea of selling this fantasy and blind hope for a better life in the West,” says Jacque Wilke, who will portray Macon, one of the brides. “The friendship between these two vastly different women and the bond that forms is one that only a woman could understand and voice so eloquently.”
Joining Jacque onstage will be Kelly Iversen as Bess, the other half of this play’s quarter-century friendship, as well as other San Diego notables Tom Hall, Jonathan Sachs and Sean Yael-Cox.
“I love Beth Henley’s characters because they seem so out there at first and then you realize they’re completely you – or your neighbor or your mom,” says Kelly. “And she doesn’t tell you who to root for. There’s no clear-cut hero or villain. She creates very human people in extreme circumstances and you as the audience get to decide what you think of them.”
In fact, readings rely heavily on the audience’s imagination, both to interpret the message of the play as well as to imagine the staging. For the cast and director, this can present both an opportunity as well as a challenge.
“Play readings are difficult things to pull off,” says Shana, who also directed Yasmina Reza’s Life(x)3 for Intrepid last year. “You have practically no rehearsal and you get no bells or whistles to tell the story – just the language.”
Thankfully, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Beth Henley is no stranger to captivating dialogue. Karen Bovard of the Hartford Courant notes in a recent review of the play during its run at Hartford Stage that Henley’s language is “snappy” and “crackles with personality.” Shana agrees.
“This is a story [audiences] have not heard before. It is a play that encourages you to think in wide, open spaces. It is also ridiculously funny without losing anytime delivering a very important message. Abundance lends itself beautifully to being read aloud.”
Abundance by Beth Henley, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, February 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 reading series subscriptions here.