Cosmin Chivu (director) is a Romanian-born theater artist, currently based in New York City, with an international career of award-winning productions. He has directed over 50 professional and university productions in America, Austria, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Romania and Thailand, most recently Beautiful Province by Clarence Coo (LCT3), winner of the 2012 Yale New Drama Series, Something Cloudy Something Clear by Tennessee Williams at The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, a staged reading of Our Class by Tadeusz Slobodzianek at The Temple Emanu-El, Skirball Center, and the Off Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Mutilated starring Mink Stole and Penny Arcade, which was nominated for a Drama League Award for Best Revival in 2013. Chivu is a lifetime member of the Actors Studio, a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, an alumnus of the Old Globe's Jack O’Brien fellowship and the founder of InterArt Theatre Group. Chivu is currently the Head of B.A. Acting/Directing Program, International Performance Ensemble at Pace University Performing Arts in New York City. He holds a Masters in Directing from the Actors Studio Drama School, New School University, NYC and a B.A. in Acting from the G. Enescu Art Academy, Romania. Visit cosminchivu.com to learn more.
Cosmin Chivu Gives an Exclusive Interview with
SV's Bob Shuman
Tennessee Williams’s longtime agent Audrey Wood thought the late work was less powerful than the early plays. Do you agree?
CC: I’m a big fan of the late work. It lives in the present. It is raw, filled with free, profound imagery, less conventional, sexual, playful, hilarious and highly political. But Williams’s new, creative phase needed to be even more widely appreciated—and treated with gentility.
Actually, it’s my understanding that Audrey Wood did not disapprove of the late work—according to another Williams agent, Mitch Douglas, she never stopped supporting Williams, even behind the scenes.
Because you’re directed The Mutilated [and Something Cloudy, Something Clear], as well as these two one-acts, A Recluse and His Guest and The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde, what’s different and universal about the late plays and how did you become aware of and attracted to them?
CC: I read Mme. Le Monde for the first time in 2011 and was able to present a student production. Probably in the same year, Thomas Keith, a Tennessee Williams scholar, whom I met at LaMama, suggested I read the short story A Recluse and His Guest. For several months we worked on adapting Recluse for the stage, as part of the Drama League’s "New Directors, New Works" fellowship, which had a final presentation in the spring of 2012. What I wasn’t aware of until last year, however, was that Williams had, in fact, written a one-act play by that title. In the summer of 2016, it will finally be published by New Directions.
Like Mme. Le Monde, Recluse is fun to read but hard to stage. Both plays are great stories of real people, most living impossible lives. The characters are also less concerned with a somber kind of nostalgia—Williams opted instead for a more comedic, even farcical approach. Nevertheless, the works can be hard to digest, because the playwright is making strong statements about the sickness of the society he lived in: completely corrupt, irrational, senseless, and dangerous. Has anything changed since?
In his memoirs, Williams says that he must express his world and his experience of it, “in whatever form seems suitable to the material.” How would you define and describe the worlds you are working with and what forms do they take?
CC: These two pieces are unique, unlike anything that Tennessee Williams had previously created. In his extraordinary body of work, he constantly re-examines his world from the points of view of those in their current society. He then offers a clear vocabulary of stylistic choices to work with. With these two plays, however, there is no formula for anything. Some might call this “experimentation,” but if we look closely, the “chaotic” structure is really constructed with the precision of a surgeon. In that sense, in order to understand what Williams means, we cannot just read the material; we have to experience it. The audiences cannot just be witnesses, either; they are entering a territory of adventure where everything becomes possible. In Recluse, the cold setting of a village of frozen souls desperately needs the spring to arrive–a metaphor for change. But change comes with sacrifice. In Mme. Le Monde, the world is seen from an “uninhabitable” attic in London, and it needs “correction.” Could that change come by the “removal of the redundant”?
Do you feel that these plays are connected in any way—Why did you want to work with them together?
CC: On the surface these pieces live in completely separate worlds. What holds them together is the recurring theme of a life of imposed exile and a fear of accepting love. In both pieces the accumulation of life experience rises into awareness. How women, Williams’s women, survive is also a common theme—and the pieces give us a raw, meditative window into Williams’s soul, at the end of his life.
Because Catholicism becomes of importance to The Mutilated, do you think that Williams’s conversion from being an Episcopalian changed his vision in any way—and do you see any imprints of Catholicism in the one acts you are doing?
CC: There is a spiritual component to every play by Williams because of his intense, personal spirituality. The most prominent religious motifs can be found in the Christian/Episcopalian view in Summer and Smoke and the Buddhist aspects of The Night of the Iguana. The Catholicism in The Mutilated springs from the play’s setting in the French Quarter of New Orleans–it is such a prominent part of the culture there. Williams’s brother, Dakin, who was a passionate Catholic, pushed Williams to convert, which he did. Tennessee then, often, pointed out that he loved the rituals of the Catholic church, especially the high mass, but he rejected most church tenets.
Do you think that Williams’s vision did change during his career and how would you describe the evolution?
CC: Yes. While there are certain threads of thought and belief–and even theatrical instincts–that can be traced from the beginning to the end of his writing career, Williams was always curious about the world. His vision continued to expand right until the very end.
Because these plays were written close to the end of Williams’s life, in 1983, do you detect any moments of summing up, saying goodbye, or struggle with mortality—or what do you believe were the issues he was contending with so close to the end?
CC: Both the dark, grotesque, humor of Rooming-House and the plaintive travels of Nevrika, in Recluse, hint at, if not resignation, at least, a droll and stoic fortitude toward mortality. Yes, Williams was dealing with end-of-life issues and, while he continued to write during 1982, he was also shutting down, selling his homes, giving things away, closing up shop.
How does a Romanian-born theater artist become interested in a Southern writer who felt that he had been, in his later plays, “professionally assassinated”?
CC: That is an excellent question. And one that I will answer by pointing to the career of the Turkish-born, Greek director, who forged his closest working relationships with the gay and Southern Williams, as well as with the Jewish New Yorker, Arthur Miller. Of course I’m referring to the great Elia Kazan. Artist to artist, human to human, our differences are much less than what we have in common.
Why turn to these dramas and not to the more commercially viable texts that made Williams’s reputation?
CC: Williams wrote plays for just over 40 years. For 16 of them he wrote commercially viable texts. It’s really more exciting to discover some of the dozens of lesser-known works and find out what makes them tick. And though I don’t know, I expect the playwright would be pleased that people are looking at the plays he left behind, which were not fully understood during his lifetime.
Tell us about your cast.
CC: Our entire creative team, from Joseph W. Rodriguez, Artistic Producing Director of The Playhouse Creature Theatre Company, to designers Justin West (set), Angela Wendt (costumes) and John Eckert (lights), have offered a wonderful meeting of like minds—and, of course, that includes the actors. The incredible Kate Skinner, as the wandering Nevrika and the wicked Mme. Le Monde, is leading the cast. Ford Austin provides a heartbreaking performance as Ott, the recluse of Staad, a man tormented by the outside world. Declan Eels channels wild and punk rock energy as Le Monde's son, while Jade Ziane, as the suffering Mint, possesses the courage to swing from hook to hook. Patrick Williams, as Hall, embodies exuberant greed and sex. Weschler, a young actress and soprano, serenades the people of Staad at the request of Beau Allen, who plays her father and the intimidating Citizen of Staad in Recluse.
How do you work differently with a Williams play than other works you have directed in your career?
CC: There is no difference, and I think that holds the key. I always try to determine where the story lives, where the energy comes from. I also approach every piece as newly written material. Keeping an open mind—with all stylistic options on the table–is very important for delivering a story in a fresh, lively way.
If you could put one Williams piece in a time capsule, besides the ones you’ve directed, what would it be and why?
CC: A House Not Meant to Stand. While Streetcar, Cat, and Menagerie will all still be performed when the time capsule is opened, the world might not know that Williams’s searing imagination, gift for language and poetry, and ability to reach the deepest parts of human beings, continues on in this lesser-known work.
What’s one Williams play you probably wouldn’t direct—and why?
CC: A Streetcar Named Desire. I grew up watching the movie on my old VCR, and I've always believed that it was the ultimate artistic achievement of the playwright, a director, and cast. Also, as a lifetime member of the Actors Studio, I think that this is one of the sacred pieces that cannot be touched.
Why is it important to direct Williams—and how do you handle working with his intensity, both good and bad?
Williams’s late work is still unknown to the majority of theatergoers. After a performance, probably the most common reaction I encounter is: “How come I’ve never heard of or knew about this play?” That needs to change, and I made a commitment to be part of that movement. What’s challenging is how extremely hard these plays are to stage. In fact, some of them appear, at least when you read them, to be unstageable. This is both an exciting and a scary provocation for a director. Sometimes it takes many brains–and many weeks–to figure out creative solutions. But, when we do, these journey are extremely rewarding.
What’s the answer to an essential question about these one acts–and your work with them–that your realize hasn’t been asked here?
CC: Instead of an essential question, I will offer an essential quotation from the playwright himself:
“A man must live through his life’s duration with his own little set of fears and angers, suspicions and vanities, and his appetites, spiritual and carnal.
Life is built of them and he is built of life.
The umbilical cord is a long, long rope of blood that has swung him as an aerialist on an all but endless Trapeze, oh, such a long, long way, from the first living organism that gave birth to another.
Define it as the passion to create which is all that we know of God.
Is that an agnostic thing to say? I think not.”
—Tennessee Williams, from his Memoirs
PLAYHOUSE CREATURES THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS TENNESSEE WILLIAMS 1982, FEBRUARY 14–MARCH 13
World Premiere of A Recluse and His Guest and New York Premiere of The Remarkable Rooming-House of Mme. Le Monde are Directed by Cosmin Chivu
Kate Skinner Leads Ensemble Cast
Playhouse Creatures Theatre Company Presents Tennessee Williams 1982 Directed by Cosmin Chivu Preview Performances: February 14–16, 18–20 at 7:30pm Opening: Sunday, February 21 at 7pm Regular Performances: February 24–28, March 2-6, 9-13 at 7:30pm; February 27, March 5, 12 at 3pm
© 2016 by Cosmin Chivu (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.
Press: John Wyszniewski | Managing Director | Blake Zidell & Associates
Production photo: Courtesy of Russ Ross. All rights reserved.