Category Archives: Artist Select

CATHERINE FILLOUX AT LA MAMA: ‘HOW TO EAT AN ORANGE’–5/30-6/16, 2024 ·

FOR THE PAST THREE DECADES FRENCH ALGERIAN AMERICAN AWARD-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT, LIBRETTIST AND ACTIVIST CATHERINE FILLOUX HAS BEEN TRAVELING TO CONFLICT AREAS WRITING PLAYS THAT ADDRESS HUMAN RIGHTS . . .

HOW TO EAT AN ORANGE

A one-person play about the visual artist and activist Claudia Bernardi, who grows up in Argentina under the military junta, and her subsequent work digging up the past . . .

The sensuous braiding of desaparecidos’ stories through the lens of a survivor . . .

A kaleidoscopic play of histories woven together, which depicts how both families and justice may be reconfigured . . . 

Time travel, subverting and countering realities . . . 

The fight for excavation, the archeology of a lifetime–of lifetimes . . . 

Filloux’s narrative of Bernardi in “How to Eat an Orange,” directed by Elena Araoz, accentuates justice and hope, the subterranean world, and Argentina’s Dirty War.

Above (l to r), Paula Pizzi (the actor in How to Eat an Orange) and playwright Catherine Filloux at La MaMa. Photo credit Karen Oughtred.

FILLOUX: What will inspire you in my new play is how justice and hope are won. The military junta during Argentina’s Dirty War were not held accountable for their crimes but our protagonist displays a stunning new solution with “juicio politico.” This visual artist and her family time travel in a lush, colorful theatrical symphony where new ways of seeing abound. Claudia shows you a subterranean world, where ants are as interesting as flowers–and her epistolary spans generations. Unexpected action heroes change our landscape, when letters are mailed and show up decades later.

Filloux’s most recent play reunites her with Suttirat Larlarb, James Bond No Time to Die costume designer, who also designed her plays Selma ’65 and Eyes of the Heart, and Elena Araoz, the director of her play Kidnap Road about the hostage Ingrid Betancourt

WHERE: the Downstairs Theater at La MaMa (66 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003), May 30-June 16, 2024. Tickets ($30) are available for advance purchase at www.lamama.org/shows/how-to-eat-an-orange-2024How to Eat an Orange is a New Georges Supported Production. 

La MaMa ETC. will present the World Premiere of How to Eat an Orange, written by Catherine Filloux (Kidnap Road at La MaMa; Turning Your Body Into a Compass with CultureHub), directed by Elena Araoz (Alligator with New Georges/The Sol Project; Architecture of Becoming with WP Theatre), and performed by Paula Pizzi (underneathmybed at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater; Where’s My Money? with Manhattan Theatre Club/LAByrinth Theater Company).

Press: Emily Owens

STAGE DIRECTIONS FOR LIFE: MICHAEL SCHULMAN ON CHRISTOPHER DURANG ·

(Schulman’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/15/2024; Photograph by Robert Wright / Redux.)

The Tony-winning playwright’s dark, antic satire were many people’s gateway to theatre.  I was one of those people.

It’s one thing to make nuns funny. It’s another to have a nun cheerily explain the difference between mortal and venial sin, unveil her list of who’s slated for Hell (Zsa Zsa Gabor, Mick Jagger), brandish a gun and shoot two people dead (“I think Christ will allow me this little dispensation from the letter of the law, but I’ll go to confession later today, just to be sure”), and take a bow. But that, roughly, is the plot of Christopher Durang’s short, nutty, blasphemous play “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You,” which materialized Off Off Broadway in 1979 and became his breakout hit. The Catholic League was not amused.Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Durang’s plays—madcap, savage, disturbed—mix absurdism and melancholy, refracting the funny terror of existence. As a lapsed Catholic who was educated by Benedictine monks, he knew that life is full of platitudes tested by the cruel, crazed world. There was real damage in his work, which melded genre parodies (Beckett, sitcoms, Busby Berkeley) with a kooky stream-of-consciousness logic that lifted his characters aloft like helium. “[P]art of the randomness of things is that there is no one to blame,” one of Sister Mary’s traumatized former students says. “But basically I think everything is your fault, Sister.”

For the young and stagestruck, Durang was a gateway drug to dark comedy, and often to theatre itself. After he died, this month, at the age of seventy-five, my social-media feeds brimmed with tributes, from people who had acted in “The Actor’s Nightmare” in high school or directed “The Marriage of Bette and Boo” in college or done a “Sister Mary Ignatius” monologue in Speech and Debate. (The Catholic League is still not amused.) Because his plays had one foot in “Saturday Night Live” and another in Ionesco, he was accessible to young people who loved getting laughs, while offering something weirder and harder-edged than they might have encountered elsewhere. I was one of those people. The first time I saw his work, I was fourteen, and my older cousin was directing his play “Beyond Therapy,” a farce about shrinks, at Wesleyan. Not long after, my drama teacher assigned me a monologue from “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,” Durang’s satire of “The Glass Menagerie.” I hadn’t read “The Glass Menagerie,” but the speech—a goofy, heartfelt sendup of Tom’s “I didn’t go to the moon” soliloquy—beckoned me into a world of winking theatrical references. Durang became one of my comedy heroes, alongside such stage absurdists as Tom Stoppard and John Guare.

My senior year of high school, in 1999, I directed my friends in Durang’s play “Baby with the Bathwater,” in which two parents, Helen and John, cooing over a bassinet, desperately try not to fuck up their newborn child—and fail utterly. Helen chides John for calling the baby “Daddy’s little baked potato,” lest the baby confuse itself with food. John dulls himself with quaaludes and sleeps with the nanny. In Act II, the child, now a young man named Daisy—his parents took a guess at his gender and guessed wrong—has grown into a dysfunctional, self-destructive mess, too sex-addicted and depressed to finish a college paper. “I didn’t ask to be brought into the world,” he rants to a psychiatrist. “If they didn’t know how to raise a child, they should have gotten a dog; or a kitten—they’re more independent—or a gerbil! But left me unborn.” The gerbil is funny; the pain is real.

That same year, I went to see Durang’s newest work, “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” at Playwrights Horizons. The play is set at a beach house inhabited by a group of wacky vacationers. A mysterious laugh track hovers around them, as if they’re characters in a sitcom, though the events soon descend into violent mayhem: rape, dismemberment, murder. All of a sudden, three laughing spectators burst through the ceiling, demanding entertainment. “Make us laugh,” they bellow in unison. “Gross us out. Tell us the latest news of Gwyneth Paltrow. Show us naked pictures of Brad Pitt!” After the voices call for a Court TV-style trial, the daffy matron Mrs. Siezmagraff enacts an entire courtroom scene, playing multiple characters, including a nonexistent Irish housekeeper. It was a tour de force for the actress Kristine Nielsen, and one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on a stage.

In college, I directed my own production of “Betty’s Summer Vacation,” and somehow got hold of Durang’s e-mail so I could invite him. A few days later, he responded, apologizing that he couldn’t make it. “I hope the play has gone well, and has stimulated but not horrified the audience—which is part of the balancing act needed, I guess,” he wrote. Not knowing the first thing about literary rights, I proudly told him that we’d updated some of the celebrity references, subbing in Justin Timberlake for Tom Cruise. (Note to student directors: don’t do this!) “I have to show my age and say I didn’t know who Justin Timberlake was,” Durang graciously replied. “I hope Gwyneth Paltrow still seemed germane; the sound of her name is amusing to say in unison.” At the time, Durang was the co-chair (with Marsha Norman) of Juilliard’s playwriting program, where he would shepherd generations of talents, including Joshua Harmon (“Bad Jews”) and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (“Appropriate”). But I was starstruck to have my own little encounter with the master.

(Read more)

SPEAK FOR THEM: ARTISTS THEY CAME FOR (FEBRUARY 19, 2024 – MARCH 11, 2024) ·

Just as Andrei Sakharov tirelessly championed human dignity in the face of Soviet oppression, and Narges Mohammadi continues her fight for freedom of expression in Iran, we must stand guard against the targeting of voices of dissent around the world.  In these troubling times, artists and writers continue to be imprisoned, or worse, for their voices.

The artists, writers, and thinkers, below, along with information about their situations and work, represent only a portion of those silenced during the period from February 19th to March 11th, 2024.  We must not let their voices be extinguished:

1. Lin Dan, Performance Artist, China (March 7th): Known for pushing boundaries with her work, Lin Dan was detained after a performance critiquing social censorship. Her whereabouts and potential charges are unknown. (Enforced by: Chinese government)

2. Maria Lopez (pseudonym), Blogger, Mexico (February 22nd): Fled her home city after online threats and harassment for exposing corruption in local government contracts. Her blog, “Ciudad Justa” (“Just City”), remains inactive. (Enforced by: individuals likely connected to corrupt officials)

3. The Kassim Brothers, Musicians, Syria (March 2nd): Disappeared after a concert in Syria. They incorporated lyrics critical of the ongoing conflict. Their families have received no information about their whereabouts. (Enforced by: unknown, possibly Syrian government forces)

4. Ato Kwamina, Playwright, Ghana (February 28th): Banned from performing his satirical play “Democracy for Dummies” after accusations of disrespecting government officials. The play had enjoyed a successful run before the ban. (Enforced by: Ghanaian Ministry of Culture)

5. Layla Al-Hadid, Painter, Iraq (March 4th): Studio raided and artwork confiscated by authorities who deemed her depictions of war trauma “unpatriotic.” Facing potential charges of “disrupting public order.” (Enforced by: Iraqi government)

6. Mikhail Ivanov, Filmmaker, Russia (March 1st): Interrogated and equipment seized after filming protests against economic hardship. Accused of “inciting public disorder.” (Enforced by: Russian police)

7. A group of journalists, India (February 25th): Multiple arrests of journalists from independent news outlets who reported on farmer protests. Facing charges of “spreading misinformation.” (Enforced by: Indian government)

8. Neda Hamzavi, Singer, Iran (March 9th): Canceled from all upcoming performances after a social media post criticizing government censorship of the arts. (Enforced by: Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance)

9. Zhang Wei (pen name: “Lightbringer”), Blogger, China (February 20th): Disappeared from his online forum after criticizing government handling of environmental issues. His blog posts have been deleted. (Enforced by: Chinese authorities)

10. The Ebony Choir, South Africa (March 6th): Performance at a university event disrupted and members harassed by student groups opposed to the choir’s pro-unity message. (Enforced by: a small group of students)

What can you do?

  • Stay informed about artists and writers facing injustice. Share their stories and raise awareness.
  • Support organizations working for freedom of expression and human rights.
  • Contact your local representatives and urge them to advocate for these individuals.
  • Consider donating to organizations providing legal aid and support to persecuted artists.

Remember, silence is complicity. Lend your voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

First they came for the artists, and I did not speak out—because I was not an artist. Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a journalist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

— Martin Niemöller

Art by Luba Lukova

The information presented in the list of artists and writers facing injustice is based on reports and statements from the following reputable human rights organizations:

  • Disclaimer: This information is based on publicly available reports and may not be complete or entirely accurate. For the latest updates and details, please consult reputable human rights organizations.

(Gemini, the large language model from Google AI, provided information, insights, and materials for this article.)

EDWARD BOND: ‘OUR THEATRE TRIVIALISES OR GENERALISES – BOTH ARE FORMS OF SLEAZE’ ·

(Edward Bond’s essay appeared in the Guardian, 3/6/2024; From the archive: In this piece first published on 28 June 1995, the late playwright asks if Shakespeare was a Tory and suggests writers should run a stage at the National Theatre; Photo: ‘Democracy is not just freedom of thought. It is freedom of imagination’ … Edward Bond. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian.)

When Shakespeare’s Lear is mad he wanders on a heath and proclaims a philosophy of utter sanity. If we lived by it there would be no war, poverty or cruelty. At Stratford there was a heath in which Shakespeare owned valuable financial rights. On part of the heath poor squatters had settled, according to a time-honoured custom.

Some landowners wanted to enclose the heath. It was an early form of privatisation which meant the poor would be driven off and made dependent on local income support. To control the unrest this caused, the law made poverty a crime. Beggars were flogged and hanged.

The enclosers gave Shakespeare a document guaranteeing him against financial loss. He did nothing to protect the poor. We would know if he had. Lear would have crucified Christ twice for allowing such things to happen. Shakespeare’s silence is a Brechtian Lehrstück.

Tragedy discovers truth. Great tragedy is the cry of “Eureka!” uttered in pain. So Shakespeare the property owner was in fatal conflict with the dramatist of Lear. They disagreed on the meaning of morality and even of sanity. The ex-chancellor Nigel Lawson said Shakespeare was a Tory. Shakespeare the dramatist is often sweepingly radical. But as a man he was frightened and grasping. It was as a man that he was a Tory.

I wrote Bingo in 1972 because I felt this conflict in Shakespeare was the beginning of the present conflict in our society. Since I wrote it the conflict between capitalism and conservatism has deepened. Capitalism depends on constant technological innovation. This turns the world upside down and people inside out. But conservatism needs all things to stay the same. That is why it has to return to the values and behaviour of the past.

In Bingo I credit Shakespeare with self-knowledge, which means he did his own suffering. In my play he kills himself. Our leaders have no self-knowledge and so we will suffer for them. When society is torn by a conflict it does not understand it turns to violence to resolve it. This is the situation of western democracy. It is a purpose of Bingo, of all my plays, to show that it is a culture of death.

The present Jacobean drama in the Conservative party is part of this conflict. The increasing barbarism of the US and Europe is frightening. Our democracy is haunted by the shadow of fascism.

Democracy is not just freedom of thought. It is freedom of imagination. That cannot be created by law. Yet without it there is no freedom of thought. We have hardly begun to understand this. The imagination dramatises the world. In the past it was controlled by religion and “high” art. They repressed it at the cost of a little freedom. But in our changing, insecure world it must be controlled in new ways. Consumer democracy would be impossible without TV and the other media. They constantly agitate and bewilder the imagination, brutalising everything.

When the Greeks created the first western democracy they also created western drama. Democracy and theatre always go together. When one is corrupt the other is corrupt. The imperative of Greek drama was: know yourself. Ours is: do not! TV, press, pop culture – all exist to make money, not to seek truth. They serve the culture of death by creating a sham life.

(Read more)

APPEALS BY RUSSIAN DIRECTOR, PLAYWRIGHT AGAINST EXTENSION OF PRETRIAL DETENTION REJECTED ·

(from Radio Free Europe, 11/20; Photo: Russian stage director Yevgenia Berkovich; Creator: Anton Novoderjozhkin|Credit: Sipa USA via AP Copyright: Sipa USA.)

The Moscow city court on November 30 rejected appeals filed by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk against an extension of their pretrial detention on charges of justifying terrorism with the production of the play Finist-The Brave Falcon, about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria.

The court upheld a lower court decision in early November to extend the two women’s pretrial detention until at least January 10.

During the hearing, Berkovich expressed gratitude “to all who were involved” for allowing her to travel from a Moscow detention center to St. Petersburg to attend the burial of her grandmother, noted human rights defender Nina Katerli, who died at the age of 89 on November 20.

However, Berkovich said “the act of mercy had tuned into an act of torture” as while being transported to the funeral she spent 25 hours in “a cage of avtozak” — a special vehicle designed for transporting suspects and convicts, which affected her health.

“I did not have warm clothes with me because I was not aware where I was going and my lawyers did not know. It was a cage — a piece of an iron cage 1 meter by 2 meters, in which it is not possible to stand or properly sit. Because of that, it is painful for me to stand up or sit down. It was not possible to sleep there either as there was no heating…. For those 25 hours, I was allowed to get out to a toilet only twice,” Berkovich said.

But Judge Oksana Nikishina rejected Berkovich’s complaints, saying that she should be grateful that she was allowed to attend her grandmother’s burial at all.

(Read more)

EXILED ANTI-WAR PLAYWRIGHT WISHES FOR RUSSIA’S ‘CRUSHING DEFEAT’ ·

(from Radio Free Europe, 7/20/22.)

Influential Russian playwright Mikhail Durnenkov fled Russia for Finland shortly after Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Durnenkov’s opposition to Russia’s war against Ukraine has had severe personal consequences. Theaters in Russia have stopped showing his plays, and there have been calls to prosecute him for his anti-war position.

 

UKRAINIAN ARTISTS: ‘STOP PUTIN NOW!’ ·

(interviews from DW.com, 2/24/2022.)

In an interview with DW, Ukrainian artists such as Oksana Lyniv and Andrei Kurkov call on the West to take more decisive action against Russia.

Conductor Oksana Lyniv is very worried about her homeland

Anger, sadness and indignation at the inaction of world politics — these are the feelings that have been dominating the Ukrainian cultural scene. Now, Ukrainian artists are fearing for their families and friends, and whether they will be able to continue pursuing their beloved professions. Identifying the Russian state as an aggressor, their wave of anger can hardly be contained. DW spoke with some of them the day before the attacks on February 24, 2022.

Oksana Lyniv, conductor: ‘The world has seen Putin’s Russia’s true face’

“At last, Putin’s true intentions lie clear and open,” says Oksana Lyniv. “He wants to destroy an independent state, a nation with its own culture, its own alphabet, its own language and history, its own artists, its own identity. Our development as a European state, for which we have worked for 30 years since independence and which has exacted a high price with the Maidan, is in acute danger.

Now, the world has seen Putin’s Russia’s true face, which is unfortunately far from the self-declared ideal image as a country of art and humanism. At the beginning of the development was the annexation of Crimea, which was condemned all over the world. Now, Putin has targeted all of Ukraine. In the decades of his rule, the dictator has built a police state in Russia. But in Ukraine, such a thing would not work, Ukrainians firmly reject impunity!

All those who still lulled themselves in post-Soviet memories and raved about the ‘brother nation’ have now received a decisive wake-up call. A true brother does not come to you with a gun and lie in wait at your door — only a murderer does that. Now is the time for the whole world to prove what the lessons of two world wars are worth to them in order to prevent a bloody battle in the middle of Europe.”

Poet, translator, festival organizer -— but above all citizen: Serhij Zhadan

Serhij Zhadan, poet and writer: ‘We are citizens first and foremost’

“Today, we are first and foremost citizens, not artists. This is a fact always during a war. We are one country and one nation, we support our army, all my colleagues go to the front as volunteers. But we understand very well that the current situation is a transitional situation; it can also change from one day to the next. Of course, we all hope that this war will not spread further — to Kharkiv or Kyiv. While I am glad that some Russian artists have taken a clear position, their voices have no chance of being heard. I have many longtime friends, including artists and writers who actually believe that Ukraine wants to attack Russia and the like — that’s where the Putin propaganda has already had its effect.”

Filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa sees the situation as “chronically dramatic”

Sergei Loznitsa, filmmaker: ‘Unfortunately, history repeats itself’

“For eight years, the Russian Federation has waged war against Ukraine. For eight years, Western Europe tried to ignore this war, continued to cooperate with and support the aggressor. Now, we are all reaping the fruits of this ‘far-sighted’ pacification policy. Russian power bodies have wiped their feet on all peace efforts and moved on. If there is no tough reaction from the EU and NATO countries now, it will end badly for everyone. Unfortunately, history repeats itself, and unfortunately, no one learns from it.”

(Read more)

 

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS/MABOU MINES LIVE, IN REHEARSAL: ‘THE TWO-CHARACTER’ PLAY (FRIDAY, 10/22 AT 7:30 PM ONLY) ·

the two-character play
by tennessee williams
____________________________
OCTOBER 22 at 7:30
an open rehearsal
with
Greg Mehrten and Maude Mitchell
directed by Dana Greenfield, sound design by Gavin Price
 “… It is a cri de coeur, but then all creative work, all life, in a sense is a cri de coeur.
–  Tennessee Williams
FREE TICKETS HERE
Visit Mabou Mines Web site 
MABOU MINES
150 First Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10009 

“The Two Character Play (Out Cry)” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc. www.concordtheatricals.com. “The Two Character Play (Out Cry)” is presented by special arrangement with the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.

This program is made possible by the New York City Artist Corps. 
Support is provided through the City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre.

AI WEIWEI: LETTERS FROM INSIDE (BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen

In 2011 Ai Weiwei was arrested without notice by the Chinese authorities and detained for 81 days. Here he writes a letter to his son Ai Lao who was two years old when he disappeared. It contains a detailed account of the rules and routines he was obliged to uphold during his detention.

It’s part of a series in which writers from around the world read letters on the theme of imprisonment, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis.

Oscar Wilde was incarcerated in Reading Prison between 1895 and 1897, enduring the Separate System, a harsh penal regime designed to eliminate any contact between prisoners. Wilde’s imprisonment led to one of his last great works – De Profundis, an extended letter to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas written by Wilde in his prison cell.

Produced by Barney Rowntree and Jeremy Mortimer
Executive Producer: Joby Waldman

A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Photo: The Hollywood Reporter

CRAIG SMITH ON ORTON—50 YEARS LATER: THE PRODUCING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF PHOENIX THEATRE ENSEMBLE AND ‘ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE’ (ONLY THROUGH MAY 14), ADVANCING THE STORY, AND DIRECTING A MODERN CLASSIC ·

Craig Smith is Producing Artistic Director of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble.  He was an ensemble member of New York’s prestigious Jean Cocteau Repertory where he made his artistic home for more than 3 decades appearing in over 200 productions from Stoppard to Shakespeare and Sophocles to Williams. In 2004, Craig and four colleagues founded the award-winning Phoenix Theatre Ensemble.   Now under the direction of Mr. Smith and Artistic Director, Elise Stone,  Phoenix presents  3 to 6 productions of new and classical works annually, a reading and new play development series, and an arts-in-education program for NYC public schools.  He is the recipient of the President of the Borough of Manhattan’s Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts and Community Service.

Craig Smith talks with SV’s Bob Shuman about his new production at the Wild Project.

One question you’d ask Joe Orton if he was around?

Your work in Entertaining Mr.  Sloane has a tragic through-line that has the emotional impact equal to that of Arthur Miller.  You moved away from this with Loot and What the Butler Saw–why? 

One of the early reviewers of Entertaining Mr. Sloane called it a “dirty highbrow play.”  Is it? 

Orton was a 1960’s rebel–Ed and Sloane are in the words of critic Randy Gener, “rapacious bisexuals”–the play’s raw treatment of sexuality was new and titillating in 1964.  But the real dirt is the way family members treat each other–no one can inflict pain the way your family can.  “Highbrow”:  the language is sophisticated, like Wilde, Coward, and Pinter, such as “you superannuated old prat” coming from undereducated people who live in an isolated house, situated in a rubbish dump. This anachronistic use of selected words, here and there, is delicious. About the language:  It is a challenge to memorize in the way all really good language is—it does not come easily.  It is a singular voice.  When done well, it crackles. Language that is easy to memorize often comes off as ordinary and a bit uninteresting.

How would you describe what Entertaining Mr. Sloane is about?

A love story.  Four deeply wounded people in need of love.  It’s about a family–a family with very old wounds–hard facts that they have tried to ignore or forget.  But the introduction of Sloane to this family unit proves explosive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s more interesting?  Joe  Orton’s plays or his life (and death)?

Very difficult to compete with the colorful—some would say the outrageous–life of Joe Orton.  The plays have order–even the chaos has a choreographed order to it–but Orton’s life was not choreographed.  

Your greatest satisfaction from being in the theatre?

Breakthroughs in the rehearsal room.

Biggest obstacle for theatre companies today?  

The extraordinarily entertaining work being done on cable television.

 

Tell us about the casting process:  What kind of actors were you looking for—and tell us who finally won the parts?

Good actors . . . I knew I wanted Elise Stone (my wife and Phoenix Theatre Ensemble Artistic Director) to play Kath and John Lenartz to play Kemp–both great, talented actors who I have worked with for decades.  Ed is the most challenging role in the play, and I asked PTE artist, Antonio Edwards Suarez, to play this complex man who struggles with his sexuality.  But . . . I did not have a Sloane.  Then we went to see some director scenes that friends were working on–and I saw this good looking, interesting young actor with very intense eyes.  We asked him to join a reading we were doing of Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine.  Once cast, I could see that he had excellent instincts, took direction, and was a really nice guy–so after that, I asked Matt Baguth to play Sloane. 

At Phoenix Theatre Ensemble do you typically work with the same artists?  Who are your current collaborators?

Yes, we have an ensemble of resident artists, but casting is not exclusive to that group.  Over time these artists have developed a creative shorthand and a knowledge and appreciation of each other.  It is a great way to work and btw, I won’t work with difficult people.  

Does the company look for a certain kind of play to produce?   How does the ensemble decide on a season?

Many think that you just sit down and pick out some favorite plays or playwrights that you might want to produce.  It is a very complicated process, though.  We have to consider budgets, performance rights, plays that complement each other–we like a mix of new works and classics—spaces to perform in, and the challenge the season will be to our actors and directors.

How much liberty do you believe a director can take with an established script?

In 30+ years of theatre work, this is my directing debut.  I’m enjoying it immensely.  I take more liberty with scripts than others do or would.  As an actor, I’m legend for paraphrasing–particularly with scripts in translation–perhaps this has given me a sense of entitlement, some would say a “false entitlement.”  I am not of the opinion that actors and directors are interpreters only.  As a jazz musician will riff on a piece of music, I encourage the same thing in theatre.  Lots of people disagree with this–some vehemently, but I don’t really care. 

Tell us about your background. How did you get started in the theatre and how has your career evolved?  

As a young man new to the city, I auditioned for Jean Cocteau Repertory and then attended a performance of Waiting for Godot, 10:00PM on a Friday night.  The play was at their 50-seat storefront theatre in a neighborhood that I considered the downtown “murder district.” It was indeed a pretty rough area. I had never seen anything quite like that performance before; I went back the next day and asked if they needed help sweeping the floor. I stayed with them for 30+ years.

Most unlikely problem you’ve faced during the rehearsal process—and how has it resolved or how is it resolving?

The pauses–I have worked on quite a bit of Pinter and Beckett–masters of the power of the pause.  Orton was a fan of Pinter, and the script is littered with “pauses” and “silences”–way too many of them. If he had written this later in his short career, I think he would have been more selective. But regardless, I thought I had a good handle on this–the non-filled pause–the power of nothingness hanging in the air—but it is a challenge.   We continue to work on them.

Most influential director, person in theatre, or mentor in your life? 

Eve Adamson and Elise Stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does knowing about the early ‘60s in England help in understanding Entertaining Mr. Sloane?  Or do you feel it’s not necessary to explain?

Well, young Matt, in rehearsal one night, referred to the time of Sloane as “way back then”–like it might have been an 18th-century play, which I found both humorous and sobering at the same time. There is a generation that doesn’t know who Orton is, who think that “edge” is only contemporary to the last few years.  In a way, this play could have only come out of that culture-changing decade–a decade I am so glad that I experienced. But the play is not stuck in that time period.  In my opinion, it is worthy of being considered a modern classic.

Does knowing about the current political or cultural environment in the U.S. inform your production in any way? 

I didn’t think it would.   We did Brecht’s Arturo Ui right over the election–it could not have been more timely, and we reaped the benefits.  I was relieved we were doing Sloane, because I thought it would be a break for us–and for our audience–from the overload of politics and the plethora of new works coming out in response to this U.S. administration.  But, in a very short time, we are now in a culture of repression and regression:  from the progressive victories of same-sex marriage to the horrors of Chechnya; from the rise of domestic hate crimes to the overall demise of compassion. So, unfortunately, we once again find our work being very, very relevant.

Give the answer to an essential question about yourself that you realize won’t be asked here.  

I find beauty in what others find to be gross and disgusting.

Best piece of theatrical advice you ever received? 

Don’t retreat–advance the story.   And also from a director, who gave me this note:  “it is, of course, complete hokum, but you must imbue with complete truth.”

Thank you very much.

Entertaining  Mr. Sloane by Joe Orton

When:   May 4–14; performances Tues-Sat @8:00 PM;  Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 pm; Sunday matinee at 3:00 pm.

Full Schedule: Thurs 5/4 @ 8pm; Fri 5/5 @ 8pm; Sat 5/6 @ 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5/7 @ 3pm; Tues 5/9 @ 8pm; Wed 5/10 @ 2pm; 8pm; Thurs 5/11 @8pm; Fri 5/12 @ 8pm; Sat 5//13 @ 2pm & 8pm; Sun 5/14 @  3pm.

Information: http://www.phoenixtheatreensemble.org/;  212-465-3446

Tickets:   Tickets are $30 each; Call 212-352-3101 or visit www.PhoenixTheatreEnsemble.org.

Where: The Wild Project @ 195 East 3rd Street (Avenue A and Avenue B)

Transportation: By Subway: F Train to 2nd Avenue; by Bus A14 to 4th Street and Ave A; 8th Street Crosstown. 

(c) 2017 by Craig Smith (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

Phoenix Theatre Ensemble production of “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” photo credits: Gerry Goodstein.