In Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, 15 actors star in 57 shorts
The lights rise on a wall of grass and two suspended actors, arms resting behind their heads as if they’re stargazing. One of the actors (Noah Galvin) hangs from his feet, upside down, and chats with his co-star about the speed of light.
Then the lights dim, a sound effect blares in the darkness, and we’re suddenly in a toy-strewn living room with two new characters. An entirely different scene begins.
Asked about negotiating that sudden transition—in ten seconds and in pitch darkness, no less— Galvin smiles, saying, “Our job is to get changed very quickly and move furniture. I’ve been instructed by my stage manager to not give too many details.”
Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, now playing in a New York Theatre Workshop production at Minetta Lane, is a mosaic of 57 such transitions, as magical as they are jarring. The audience must process completely unrelated scenes ranging from five seconds to several minutes long, and this deluge is Churchill’s theatrical reckoning of our downloadable, ADD-driven world. Under the direction of James Macdonald, 15 actors play hundreds of roles arranged haphazardly into bite-sized—or perhaps more accurately, byte-sized—vignettes.
Galvin, who plays eight characters, likens the play to Twitter: “You have little snippets of people’s lives that you can scroll through. This play is perfect for younger generations who have no attention spans whatsoever.”
Throughout these kaleidoscopic glimpses of life, it proves impossible to do what we as audiences normally do: invest in an overarching story’s exposition, rising action, and conclusion. But those who have trained their brains to flip through emails or Instagram feeds might find themselves better equipped when assigning emotional meaning to Churchill’s bombardment. [Read more →]
March 7, 2014 No Comments
Francis Jue guards the soul of David Henry Hwang’s new play
Want to know how to approach a David Henry Hwang play? Ask Francis Jue. He’s been starring in Hwang’s shows since the late 80s, from the Tony Award-winning production of M. Butterfly to the world premiere of Kung Fu, currently at Signature Theatre.
“Whether I’m playing a large part or a small part in David’s work, I feel like he pays attention to the humanity and the context for that character,” Jue says. “He challenges us to look at the world in a way that’s really exciting. It’s all about surface and what’s beneath that surface.”
Take Kung Fu, about the life of Bruce Lee (Cole Horibe). On the most superficial level, it’s a martial arts spectacular, delivering tightly choreographed routines as Lee uses kung fu to become a renowned teacher and an internationally famous actor.
However, there’s more to the show than flying kicks. Even at his peak, Lee grapples with Hollywood executives who don’t think America’s ready for an Asian celebrity, and perhaps more importantly, he clashes with his father Hoi-Chuen, a star of the Chinese opera who loathes his son’s choices and essentially banishes him from the family.
Jue, who plays Hoi-Chuen, wants audiences to feel the weight of that conflict. “I think that David sometimes isn’t taken as seriously as he should be because he’s so entertaining,” he says. “The challenge for me as a performer, for Leigh [Silverman] as a director, for Sonya [Tayeh] as a choreographer, is to look at this and say, ‘Without proselytizing, without hitting anyone over the head, how can we say what we want to say and entertain people at the same time?’” [Read more →]
February 28, 2014 No Comments
Inside the show-stopping nude scene in The Clearing
In an age of rampant thongs, plunging necklines, and burlesque everywhere you turn, onstage nudity is rarely shocking anymore. But when Allison Daugherty takes her clothes off in The Clearing, an emotionally-charged drama by emerging playwright Jake Jeppson, you hear the audience collectively catch its breath.
Part of that is because her character, Ella, is a modest, religious mom to two grown sons. She’s not the type to disrobe in front of anyone, let alone a virtual stranger like Peter, who is both her son Les’ lover and a photographer who wants to take her nude portrait. But it’s the intimate vibe of the scene that really makes you feel like a voyeur as you watch Ella strip herself naked both literally and figuratively.
“It stops the show every night,” says director Josh Hecht. “Watching her undress is like watching a text-less monologue, with its beat changes and turns, as we see a dozen thoughts go through her head with total clarity.”
In a strange way, it’s also a scene of seduction. Peter seduces Ella into doing something far beyond her comfort zone. Ella seduces Peter into sticking with Les, who, like his mom, desperately needs to come out of his shell. And, above all, it’s a seduction of the audience.
Although Ella’s age is never given, it’s fair to say that she’s at least a decade older than Daugherty herself. But agreeing to a nude scene is a big decision at any age, especially in a culture obsessed with youth and physical perfection. “My first thought was now I’m taking my clothes off, after two kids—you’re joking!” says Daugherty, who also played Ella in an earlier incarnation of the play at Pleasantville, NY’s Axial Theatre in 2012. “But in the very next show I did [after the first production], Tales from Hollywood at the Guthrie, I had to do the same thing. I was nude except for a scanty apron. In both cases it wasn’t about being sexy; it was about bearing the soul more than the body.” [Read more →]
January 29, 2014 No Comments
How movement shapes the world of I Am the Wind
Like all good abstract plays, Jon Fosse’s I Am the Wind is real and unreal at the same time.
On one hand, this 50-minute show is the story of two friends sailing together in a tiny boat. One of them isn’t sure he wants to go on living, and the other is afraid to go through life alone. As they navigate the water—sometimes rough, sometimes smooth—they try their best to explain their perspectives on the world.
But on the other hand, that story is entirely beside the point.
Fosse’s script—which is translated from Norwegian by the British playwright Simon Stephens—glances against concrete details before spinning off to deeper meditations, using silence, repetition, and simple phrases to create a linguistic rhythm that ebbs and flows like the ocean. The writing uses both sound and meaning to suggest a sense of the unknowable things that impact our lives.
In the play’s New York debut, running through Sunday at 59E59′s Theatre C in a production from The Shop, director Paul Takacs reflects this ambiguity by placing the show in a mostly empty room. There’s nothing in the space but a rumpled gray curtain and a thick black rope, which means the actors—Christopher Tierney plays The One (who is sad) and Louis Butelli plays The Other (who is frightened)—must suggest the literal and metaphorical ideas almost by themselves. If their performances aren’t carefully calibrated, then one side of the show could be lost.
“There’s very little margin for us to lose track of things,” says Tierney. “It’s all hinging on these fine lines of connection—between the two of us and between us and the audience—and if we sever it for even a second, then everything is gone.” [Read more →]
January 21, 2014 No Comments
John Ellison Conlee plays multiple Watsons, including a machine
Welcome to Building Character, TDF’s ongoing series on actors and how they create their roles
This season, several actors are playing multiple roles in the same show—Jefferson Mays in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Jeff Blumenkrantz in Murder for Two both spring to mind—but at least all their characters are human beings. In The (curious case of} the Watson Intelligence, however, John Ellison Conlee is playing three people and a machine, which adds a distinct new wrinkle to the challenge of crafting several performances at the same time.
Conlee’s roles in Madelene George’s witty play, which is now at Playwrights Horizons, constitute a tour of famous Watsons: There’s John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ assistant; Thomas Watson, who was on the receiving end of the first phone call made by Alexander Graham Bell; and Watson the IBM supercomputer, which defeated two Jeopardy! champions in 2011. (There’s also Josh Watson, a computer repair guy that George invented herself.)
Asked how it feels to be part of this season’s multi-role trend, Conlee says, “I think it’s probably just a coincidence in that there seem to be [actors playing multiple roles] right now, but I think it’s a thing that exists so much in the theatre because it’s genuinely theatrical. It is one of the few things that we in the theatre can do in terms of storytelling more effectively than I think film and television can do. It’s not like a sitcom that we put onstage. We use very theatrical devices, and I think that’s the reason that so many great playwrights like to use that tool. And it’s so much fun for actors.”
Conlee’s co-stars, Amanda Quaid and David Costabile, also play multiple characters, but for Conlee, the show is actually defined by its sense of unity. “What we’re meant to take from all of these different stories in different time periods is not their differences, I believe, but their sameness,” he says. “People’s search for connection and assistance and help, and the way that we all want love and connection, but also independence and the battle for that. All of these different stories and different time periods are essentially the same story. So I think it’s valuable and helps bring that point home that you’re seeing the same people, even though they’re in different time periods or clothes.” [Read more →]
December 11, 2013 No Comments