Tag Archives: Fran Gercke
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.
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.
Fran Gercke, Brian Mackey, Shana Wride, and Ruff Yeager sit at a table. No, they are not planning world domination via the theatre, although given the breadth and depth of their collective experience, that task would not be too far out of their reach.
Instead, they are thoughtfully pondering a lengthy list of plays, both classical and contemporary, written by a wide range of playwrights. They have been tasked with one simple challenge.
When Intrepid first opened its doors in 2009, along with the mainstage productions came the idea of staged readings – opportunities to hear plays in an intimate setting, presented by accomplished actors, lead by passionate directors, and accented with flavorful wine and tasty hors d’oeuvres.
The success of these sporadic readings was so much that, this time last year, the City of Encinitas offered Intrepid a standing spot in the ocean-view community reading room at the Encinitas Library in which to present an yearlong season of staged readings.
“Intrepid is helping us realize this longstanding preference of the residents to experience live theatre,” said City of Encinitas Arts Administrator Jim Gilliam of the city’s first and only professional theatre company.
Now, one year later, as 2013 and the inaugural season of the Staged Reading Series winds to a close, Intrepid and the City can see a plethora of accomplishments in the creative wake of this communal endeavor.
Among the playwrights featured this year were the likes of Moisés Kaufman, Jane Anderson, John Patrick Shanley, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, and, of course, William Shakespeare. The monthly readings on the whole hired more than 80 talented local actors, as well as eight directors culled from the most influential players across San Diego’s ever-expanding theatre scene.
For many, participation in a staged reading marked a debut with the company. Other faces were more recognizable to the subscribers who regularly attended the readings as well as the mainstage productions. Audiences embraced the readings, returned month after month, and were rarely hesitant to offer standing ovations at the conclusion of any given evening.
With this success of the series, the City was eager to renew the staged reading series contract with Intrepid for 2014. However, Artistic Directors Sean and Christy Yael-Cox knew that if Intrepid was to commit to another year, they had to harness and build upon the sense of community involvement the readings had inspired.
That’s when the idea of a Staged Reading Committee came into being. Instead of Sean and Christy deciding the playlist for a year, the reading series would be handled by a team of respected actors and directors who, from the benefit of their varied perspectives, would create, direct, and cast the 2014 season of staged readings for Intrepid.
Cut to the lengthy list of plays. While these four San Diego theatre notables may be scratching their heads about the 2014 compilation, one thing is certain. They are all excited to be at the table.
“I love the idea of committee-based theatre,” says Shana Wride, who directed the reading of Yasmina Reza’s “Life(x)3” this year. “To be part of a group of like-minded talented people and be allowed such a wonderful creative outlet is a real treat.”
In addition to choosing plays that are favorites, the team has endeavored to pick selections that are new to them and, hopefully, to audiences. This is one of the advantages of working as an ensemble and acquainting fellow committee-members with unfamiliar plays.
Fran Gercke, most recently seen as John in Intrepid’s mainstage production of “Oleanna,” says this is one of the best parts of the process.
“I am excited about the ability to read new work and hopefully introduce the audience to a whole host of characters and a whole world they’ve not known before, about which they’ve no ideas, no preconceptions,” says Fran, who directed the reading of Sam Shepard’s “Geography of a Horse-Dreamer” this past year. “It’s always fun when there’s a thriller aspect, a who-done-it quality to every story so that you’re always wondering where is this going and how is this going to end. New stories provide that.”
While a staged reading is rehearsed, it is comparatively easier to present than a mainstage show. Therefore, the opportunity to perform big budget plays in this simplified environment – leaving much to the imagination – is also appealing.
“It is amazing to me how just listening to a play can, and has, elicited such strong, positive responses from audience members,” says Brian Mackey, who directs the yearly reading of “A Christmas Carol,” the reading series season finale.
Fran agrees. “I get caught up in staged readings because they invite me, almost magically and with little effort, to imagine much of what is happening,” he says. “That’s not so common anymore.”
From collaboration to imagination, the staged reading series is ultimately an opportunity to do the thing that everyone loves to do.
Ruff Yeager, who portrayed John Barrymore in this year’s reading of Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet,” says it simply. “I am looking forward to working with incredible actors on a play I really love.”
Add in a little wine and cheese, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a successful 2014 Staged Reading Series.
— Tiffany Tang
Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series
presented at the Encinitas Library
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch
Abundance by Beth Henley
In a Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
A Number by Caryl Churchill
Private Lives by Noel Coward
Defiance by John Patrick Shanley
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Seminar by Theresa Rebeck
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Mapping Shepard: A conversation with Fran Gercke, “Geography of a Horse Dreamer” staged reading director
“The great thing about a Sam Shepard play is that you don’t know where you’re going or where you’re going to end up. You just know that you took a wild ride.”
Fran Gercke, director of Monday evening’s staged reading of Geography of a Horse Dreamer at the Encinitas Library, pauses a moment before he adds, “And if it’s done well, you want to go again.”
It’s hard to imagine that anything wouldn’t be done well in this reading, with such a formidable cast assembled under Fran’s leadership. Brian Mackey, Tom Stephenson, Tom Hall, Eric Poppick, Jon Sachs, and Jake Rosko will be bringing to life the story of the horse dreamer, whose winning predictions capture the interest of some local mobsters keen on exploiting his talents for big payoffs.
“It’s the story of a wonderfully wacked out, incoherent group of people who get together to solve a problem,” says Fran. “Shepard calls it a ‘mystery,’ but there is no Poirot in this story.”
But there is more here than just your run-of-the-mill struggle for power, says Fran. Although it has been described as a riff on DH Lawrence’s story “The Rocking Horse Winner,” Geography of a Horse Dreamer could also be seen as an unpacking of American culture, as well as an exploration of hope and…dreaming.
“We’re all chasing the ‘American dream,’ but whose dream is that?” Fran says, pointing out one of the most pervasive notes in Shepard’s anthology. “Our quest for authenticity is always based on an image we saw somewhere, or what our grandparents told us about our cultural heritage. When we distort ourselves to match the image we are chasing, we find we don’t like the distortion. It doesn’t feel real.”
However, this struggle for achievement is also part of our cultural landscape, he continues, part of our own “geography” of dreaming. Our only hope lies with the artists, who take on almost shamanic powers in Shepard’s plays.
“In Shepard’s landscape, if you are referred to as an artist, watch out,” says Fran. “You have magical powers, and ones that you probably can’t control yet.”
In Geography, the artist is the dreamer.
“It’s not a perfect play,” says Fran, but it is perhaps the first play where Shepard begins to define his voice. We see the beginning notes of his later, more iconic plays like True West and Curse of the Starving Class.
“Shepard has a really wonderful and goofy sense of humor,” Fran says, mentioning that during rehearsals this week, one of the actors described the play as an amalgamation of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, and John Waters.
“Basically he says, let’s have a lot of fun and put people on stage you would never want to run into in real life.”
— Tiffany Tang
Geography of a Horse Dreamer by Sam Shepard – a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, July 22. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.