Monday, March 31, 2008

Mowing the Lawn by Kevin Stein

Putt putt, I ride on fossil fuel, the juice of fern and leaf,
the muck of once-was. Putt putt, I warm our globe
one green acre at a time. As a boy, I mowed without gas power
as does my buddy Dean. Green Dean. Back then as now
it was economics not ecology. Have you priced a hybrid?

I pushed, I sweated, I earned a man’s allowance,
not unlike Tag, the bow-legged Japanese gardener
who plucked the lawn’s eyebrows for my grandmother,
she of blue hair and lace gladiolas terraced along
the terra cotta porch. She of the voice that curdled milk.

Tuesdays he made landfall, hurricane of shears and clippers,
toting the lone mower he’d not so much push as chase.
Tag had no time for lost time, though just to be sure
the war-time feds interned him to save us from the Japs
he wasn’t. The Republic’s no match for paranoia.

Once, chasing the wiffle ball of my World Series,
I spilled over Tag yanking weeds beside the arched porch
trellised with trumpet creeper and the strumming
of hummingbird wings, thrum of this world,
his knees keeping the porch safe for democracy.

That good man sang foreign to me and I got scared –
as kids will. But I didn’t care – as kids won’t,
I please wanted my ball please, which he found
amidst a clutch of dandelions he’d turn to wine.
Come winter he sipped the bittersweet of our fear.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Talking with actor Galen Murphy-Hoffman by Assistant Director Vaun Monroe

What attracted you to The Ascension of Carlotta?

My interest in the project was piqued by the sense of humor of the play, the witticisms of the language that lead to that moment of reality, of clarity. The audience will get caught up in the rhythm of the speech, then have those “AHA!” moments that reveal something really human. Also the simplicity of Will’s writing, clean, not in as non-dramatic, but the brevity and clarity.

And Joey’s character is someone I always wanted to play because he is nothing like myself in that he’s a bitter, on the edges type of guy. I wanted to explore that part. But he’s also a guy that has his own kind of fierce sense of honor and he won’t go against that, won’t violate that part of himself.

What’s it like working with Ann Filmer?

Her priority is to have the language be extremely clear. She’s a taskmaster for language, but aware of the need for rhythm. Technical, but always looking to get to a place of truth. Earnest. She encourages us to bring ideas and she gives the “yea” or “nay” but she’s open to ideas and willing to work with us through confusion. Carlotta is an interesting choice for an inaugural production. It sets a gutsy tone for the 16th Street Theater. New work that is immediate so the audience can come away with a visceral experience. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
I hear you had a dramatic costume one Halloween...

In the eighth grade when I was thirteen years old I dressed up as Willie Loman from Death of a Salesman for Halloween. I got the old suit, put the pillows inside, grayed my hair, and even got the salesman’s case. None of the other kids at my junior high knew who the heck I was.

Then as I went trick or treating, no one else recognized who I was either. I went from house to house and I’m starting to feel kind of down, no one knowing.

Finally very, very late in the evening an older man, must have been in his fifties opened the door and looked at me hard. After a long pause he said “A man’s gotta sell what a man’s gotta sell! How are you, Willie?”

On the way home I was buzzing with excitement and my Dad kept chuckling “That guy knew”.

Talking with playwright Will Dunne by Assistant Director Vaun Monroe

What is it like to work with Ann?

We met when she directed a scene from my play at the Chicago Dramatists and I liked the way that she worked with the actors. I think we have a similar approach to thinking about the acting and I was very happy with her work. She told me she was opening up a theater this summer and I was very happy to work with her again.

When I sit in on rehearsals I’m just there listening but when I hear her speak to the actors she says things I would say. I’m expecting a great show.

Why did you choose to set your play in Berwyn?

Well I never dreamed the play would be performed in Berwyn. But the play is really a metaphor for a place that is somewhere between rural life and city life but I’ve never seen a play about people who live in a place like Berwyn. Berwyn is either a small city or a large town. We have one character that comes from the city who has very different values and he meets this young woman from Berwyn and the play is about how their worlds are going to fit together.

What do you think of the casting?

Casting is a very important part of the decisions. I left the final part of that to Ann but she welcomed and appreciated my input. Each of the actors has something special to bring to the story. Janna has read the parts over the course of a year and seen the play develop, I’m happy that she is able to do the role of Carlotta now.

When a playwright writes a play you’re really writing a blueprint for the actors to have an experience and for the actors to emotionally communicate that experience through the play to the audience. So the play is a blueprint for all this experience to happen. You also factor in the production people and the director, the designers, lights, costumes, sound and the people you don’t see like the stage manager, the technical folks…they add their talent to the blueprint and you have a wonderful new experience. This is what separates live theater from film, where each performance is a brand new experience.

Last words?

I often describe the play as Romeo and Juliet in Berwyn. The play has many different themes running through it but ultimately is a love story. A lot in the play is about the importance of having dreams. While I worked on the play I came across a poem by Langson Hughes that reflected the themes I was trying to incorporate. We’re each born into families and cultures and circumstances and one of the central questions of the play is can you rise above the circumstances you’re born into? Throughout the play the characters are bumping into their limitations and seeing if they can rise above them.

The play is a comedy and a love story but it does address serious issues, I’m trying to explore serious issues while having fun with the characters and the story. This is a play where the characters are the story, not a part of the play but the play itself, very character driven.