Thursday, October 23, 2008
"The auditions for The Robber Bridegroom have come to a close and I've been fortunate to assemble quite a cast. Something my Musical Director Mark Elliott and I agreed over early on in discussing this project was that I cared less about having "pretty" voices than I did about having authentic and talented actors to play the characters. I have it all with this group and I couldn't be more thrilled.
Each show I direct (heh, all five of them now) has had a different audition focus for me: auditions for The Island of Dr. Moreau involved groups of 8 - 10 at a time for a two hour movement and vocal lab, The Constant Wife required straight on reading of sides for scenes, for The Flight of the Dodo I asked actors to sing a ditty, experiment with bird movement and perform a short group scene.
For The Robber Bridegroom I simply had them sing - sixteen bars in the style for the initial audition and selections from the score for the callback. While the audition process was going on, Mark and I were listening to their voices and watching them for infusing character into their singing. As important to me however was observing the personalities in the room. Watching the way they interacted and treated each other, watching how they asserted themselves while balancing the competitive nature of the evening graciously. The fact that they are incredibly talented singers and skilled actors felt to me to come hand in hand with being excited to work with these people for the sheer joy of sharing a creative process with them.
Part of the beauty of this play is the nature of it's storytelling, a group shared experience with the audience. From the moment the audience walks into the theatre there should be something special in the air and the fact that the entire ensemble will be onstage for almost the entirety of the 90 minute show will add to community feeling the show is meant to produce.
There are a slew of co-existent dualities in the story. Jamie Lockhart has two faces, the clean cut gentleman and the robber stained with berry juice. Rosamund is spoiled but bored and lonely. Salome wants money and gets it but can never be satisfied. Further themes contrast passion and violence, love and lust and actor and audience. We see the actors are audience as they act and as audience we participate in the performance. This dual shared role will bind us in the experience of performance - for 90 minutes we share the support of the tale and it's telling. Hence my interest in the inherent charm and grace of the actors I've cast - this concept can only be produced by a generosity of spirit."
And here they are:
Rosamund - Caroline Fourmy
Jamie Lockhart - Cameron Brune
Salome - Amanda Hartly
Clement Musgrove - Dan Loftus
Little Harp - Steve Best
Big Harp - Michael Kingston
Goat - Kyle Gibson
Goat's Mother - Darrelyn Marx
Airie (Goat's Sister) - Kate McGroarty
Ensemble/Raven - Julie Nichols
Ensemble/Narrator/Banjo - Dylan Lower
Ensemble/Violin - Hilary Holbrook
Ensemble/Salome Understudy - Katie Swimm
Ensemble/Jamie Understudy - Eric Lindahl
Ensemble/"Deeper in the Woods" soloist - Sean Dean Effinger
Ensemble/Rosamund Understudy - Jennifer Tjepkema
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
The performance went really well and for some of the actors it was their first big venue performance. Afterwards we had a short discussion with the audience, mostly high school age kids. I am always struck by the fact that some of them view the play as pro-war. It really takes no stance, but, I think since most of America today is not for the war (well any war for that matter) it just comes off that way unless you are blatantly bashing it. That would be an easy target for an artist. And this of course, is not something we would do as it would be a disservice to the soldiers and families who provided us with their stories. I think presenting the letters as we do gives the audience so much more to think about in terms of the costs of war and the humanity that lies within it as seen through the eyes of the men and women fighting it.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The Letters Home cast and crew traveled to Los Angeles on Monday for a single performance at the Cerritos Center. A 1500 seat performing arts center. The group left at 7:45am -- coffee in hand. Stretch limo transportation.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
He calls it a "A powerful little Chicago show"
Read about it here *** 1/2 Stars!
Monday, October 6, 2008
REVIEW | Emotional turmoil fuels rich British play
Sometimes there is so much flamboyance and "high concept" in the theater that plays with a quieter, more deeply satisfying emotional richness get swallowed up in all the noise.
British playwright Simon Stephens' "On the Shore of the Wide World," now receiving its U.S. debut by Griffin Theatre, is just such a quiet play, though there certainly is no shortage of emotional storminess driving its characters. The exceedingly gifted director, Jonathan Berry, and his ideally chosen, generation-spanning cast of 10 have homed in on the play's wonderfully crafted scenes, focusing all their energy on a truthfulness and intimacy that grows increasingly magnetic. There is some lovely, thoughtful acting here, full of genuine vulnerability.
"On the Shore of the Wide World," winner of the 2006 Olivier Award for best new play, takes its title from a poem by John Keats that aches with mortality, loss and the ephemeral nature of love. And these sentiments figure heavily in the psyches of the Holmes family at the center of the play. In fact, each member of this family feels beached -- desperate to head out to sea, even if that means just taking a train from the suburbs to see a movie in the city.
At the chronological center of this working-class family from outside Manchester are Peter Holmes (Paul D'Addario), who carries on his dad's business of restoring old homes, and his wife, Alice (Elise Kauzlaric), whose college education was cut short years earlier by marriage and early pregnancy.
The couple had two sons: Alex (Brian Deneen), who recently has fallen for Sarah Black (Lucy Carapetyan), a beautiful, headstrong, troubled girl, and Christopher (Josh Schecter), a mischievous kid recently killed in an accident. Christopher's death is the catalyst for many of the family's already troubled relationships to implode, with Alex's grandparents -- the volatile, abusive Charlie (Norm Woodel) and his timid wife, Ellen (Ariel Brenner) -- caught up in their own problems.
Four "outsiders" fuel the instability as Sarah helps Alex move into manhood, as Alex's old pal (Christopher Chmelik) lures the young couple to try life in London, as Peter's pregnant client (Susan Reynolds) supplies a desperately needed ego boost and as John Robinson (Ian Novak) becomes a most unlikely "suitor" for Alice.
The whole story is played out amid the raw, minimalist beauty of Marianna Czaszar's set -- a battered, once grand hotel slated for demolition, and perfect for secret assignations. Think of it as a broken dream palace in a world where reality is often inescapable.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Here are some beautiful photos of the Griffin production of On the Shore of the Wide World. We open Sunday! Look for a Friday Section feature story on the production in the Sun Times this coming week.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
“I remember being genuinely disappointed when Steppenwolf told me I wasn’t allowed to pull garbage out of alleys” for a staged reading of a new play, Jonathan Berry says. Clearly, the rising talent has had a hard time getting the fringe out of his system.
Read the Entire article by clicking HERE.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
The Griffin Theatre Company held a 20th Anniversary Season Kick-off party on last Monday at the Leadway Bar & Grill on Damen Avenue in Bowmanville--which is just on the edge of the Andersonville/Edgewater neighborhood. About 70 people braved the moonson rainstorm we had that night eat a drink with us.
The ELI STORY provided music and Paul Gilvary, Ryan Murphy lended their musical talents and Vanessa Greenway sang a great Loretta Lynn cover. So great that I think a lot of us were thinking she should be a country music singer.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I love this part of rehearsal so much – the initial blocking, the conversations about the scenes, the intentions. The actors and I jointly discovering who these people are and how they interact and what drives them, and what makes them stop dead. It’s a bit like a really well defined buffet, where everyone in the room brings something to the table and we work through and decide what we want on the plate of the play. (Wow – what a long and circuitous metaphor.) It’s the place where I get most to practice the art of being strong and solid inside with why we’re telling the story, but allowing myself to be surprised by how we get there – with the actors all bringing in their own insights and instincts.
The other day, working with Paul (playing Peter) and Ariel (playing Ellen) in this climactic scene in part two – as we worked and talked, the final paragraph took three distinctly different shapes until we all finally found the one that fits best for the moment. It was a shift in Ellen’s motivation, and a shift with how Peter was approaching his mother and then suddenly, the final paragraph took on a completely new and beautiful meaning. But it took all of us working openly and without ego to discover it. Ideas, as they say, are cheap – and a new one will invariably appear to fill the gap of the one that was discarded – and each new idea will lead you somewhere else – either to the answer for the moment, or a clear sense of what NOT to do – which can be even more helpful than finding the answer….
Its also one of the most frustrating times, for both the actors and I. They want desperately to get the scripts out of their hands – at first the scripts led us, and now instinct does, but the words aren’t quite there yet – so the script becomes a hindrance. Meanwhile, I’ve seen such lovely work in rehearsing the scene, and much of it will be buried during the run throughs, under struggling with lines, or struggling with dialect or struggling to remember the blocking… For me, my job becomes knowing where to look for the potential and being patient, knowing that – like any good cup of tea, the ideas have to seep for a bit before they are ready. (Another metaphor – but shorter this time…)
So the work continues. We started the second act last night. We will have worked through the whole show by Sunday and we’ll put all the pieces together. I am consistently amazed at the brave and honest work that the actors are bringing and I’ll remind myself to be patient and let the work catch up with the potential.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Beginning this conversation, I spoke to the design team about two things that were important to me. First – the location itself. Stockport is a small suburb just outside of Manchester. (About 10 miles) It is a place for people who can't quite afford to live in the city, or want a bit of distance from an area that is more active and bustling. It's got a lot of dilapidated buildings and suffers, to some degree, from the loss of any substantial industry. It reminds me, if not in look than in feel, of my hometown of Detroit. A place where more people used to live but has a sense of abandonment.
The other place we looked was at images of abandoned hotels. The Bluebell Hotel plays a major role in the setting of so many of these scenes and I just had this strong visceral response to the idea of a place that used to be a lovely human retreat being abandoned and left behind as it is repossessed by nature. It speaks to me about both neglect and potential. It was built with such grand human intentions and is now trying to maintain its dignity as nature slowly chips it away.
There is, for so many of these characters, a disappointment with their lot. They are not living the lives they thought they were going to. Even surrounded by people, they feel lonely and alone. It seemed really fitting then to put all of the scenes (there are probably 12 different locations) in the same space. I loved the idea of it all taking place in this abandoned hotel with the chairs that had been left behind serving as all of the furniture. (There is nothing more poetic to me then an empty chair – chairs are meant to hold people, and there is both sadness and potential when one sits empty and abandoned.)
So this is where we've started. Things will shift and be rethought as we enter rehearsals, but for now, this feels very right.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
It's the week before We have some conversations with actors on relationships this week, and then kick off fully August 25^th – a read through with full cast, and full design presentations, and the start of full time rehearsals.
There is always that moment, before starting, of trepidation. Do I know enough about the play? Have I done the right kind of prep work? Will the actors respond to my thoughts and will I grow with theirs? Will we be able to find 35 wooden chairs?
When we were looking for plays, I was knee deep in rehearsals for BE MORE CHILL and I frankly didn't have a lot of time. I knew it was going to be a big year, and so I was looking for something small – one room, 3 – 4 people – relationship driven. Bill found this play. He read it and he called me and suggested I read it. I asked him if it was small, and he said "well, no – but read it anyway. I think it feels like a 'you' play."
I knew I was in trouble the second scene. Sometimes you DO just know. Kind of like meeting someone – sometimes you have to learn to like them and sometimes something just clicks. This was a click. More like a slap, or a shake, or a grab you and pick you up and throw you down. I had to stop three times, in the first read, from tears. I felt for this family. I knew this family. I knew, by the second section, that I would direct it, and I plunged on breathlessly to get to the end and find out what happens.
This is interesting because this is not a large, flashy play. Its really pretty simple in what actually occurs – no rivers to ford, or computers to come alive – just a family dealing with all of the challenges inherent in a group of people tied together for life – and all the wonderful/terrible complications that surround those relationships. I find it heartbreaking. And beautiful. And true.
There is a lot of imagery dealing with stars – looking up – the multitude of stars that populate the earth – the wonder of that, and the terror. To know, at once, that you are part of something so enormous - that you can be so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, and yet, you are there – with hopes and dreams too big for this world to contain. How do you rectify that? Being simultaneously miniscule and bursting. What does it mean when others are tied in with that? How do you rectify what you have with what you want? What does it actually MEAN to be a family?
Playwright Simon Stephens asks all of these questions – and like any good playwright, he leaves room for everyone who is touched by the play to ask them and answer them for themselves. There is no big simple answer, or any kind of "moral" on how to live – no. He understands that life is too beautifully complicated for simple platitudes. He presents life, as he has experienced it, and he asks us to draw our own conclusions. I'm looking forward to getting in that room and asking some questions. I can't wait to start.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
So here it is.....
ON THE SHORE OF THE WIDE WORLD (North American Premiere)
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Jonathan Berry
Theatre Building Chicago
September 27 – November 16, 2008
Simon Stephens powerful family drama focuses on three generations of the Holmes family in Stockport, England, as they deal with a tragedy that forces each of them to examine carefully their lives, the choices they’ve made and what they are leaving behind. The play deftly explores both the joys and fears that come from every day life, and the daunting task of making a mark in society. Winner of the prestigious 2006 Olivier Award for Best New Play.
THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM (A Rare Revival)
Based on the novella by Eudora Welty
Book and Lyrics by Alfred Uhry
Music by Robert Waldman.
Directed by Paul Holmquist
Theatre Building Chicago
February 7 – March 29, 2009
Based on the novella by Eudora Welty, this jubilant, blue grass and folk infused Tony Award-winning musical focuses on Robin Hood-like Jamie Lockhart, a legendary character in Mississippi folklore, who rescues the wealthiest plantation owner in Natchez Trace from the Harp gang and attempts to woo and win his daughter Rosamund. Standing in his way is her conniving stepmother Salome, whose romantic designs on the gentleman robber lead her to plot the girl's murder. What ensues is a series of hilarious and dark escapades worthy of a Grimm fairy tale.
LITTLE BROTHER (World Premiere)
Based on the novel by Cory Doctorow
Adapted by William Massolia
Directed by Dorothy Milne
Venue to be Announced
May – June 2009
What would happen if the United States underwent another major terrorist attack? Would the government out of fear turn the country into a police state? Cory Doctorow gives us a vision of the future as seen through the eyes of Marcus, aka "wln5t0n, a seventeen year old hacker who decides to fight back against a government out of control. Will he succeed? Maybe, but only if he's really careful...and very, very smart.
Friday, August 15, 2008
You can also check back here often to find out about our planned move into the police station at 1940 Foster Ave. It's just outside of the Andersonville neighborhood in Bowmanville right near the corner of Foster and Damen Avenues.
We also have a big 20th Anniversary Season party planned for Monday, September 8th at the Leadway Bar & Grill from 8:00pm to Midnight. More to come on that too.