ClassicsFest 2010: ‘Faith Healer’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

Faith Healer
by Brian Friel

I have been a Brian Friel fan, if that is the correct word for the feelings I have for his work, for a looonnnngg time. I have written a letter of praise and appreciation to this man, and he has written back, so there is a personal feeling as well as a connection to the material. The first play of his I performed in was Lovers: Winners and Losers. We did the Winners portion and I always wondered at the “winners” appellation as the two protagonists are dead. The implication is that they killed themselves. This was a “victory.” They were the “Winners.” I performed this over forty years ago.

My first theatrical success upon arriving in Los Angeles many moons ago was in Philadelphia, Here I Come! and I have performed in Translations in LA, and performed the part of ‘Teddy’ in Faith Healer with my dear friend the late Charles Hallahan performing ‘Frank.’ This was done for Warner Shook at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle. My wife claims to have fallen in love with me again while assaying the ‘Teddy’ character. That is more than a little bit special.

Every time I do a Friel piece something magical happens. They speak to my Irish side. They scream to my Irish side. Ever since performing Faith Healer I have had the notion, dream, plan, what have you, to perform it in the following way: two actors switch off playing Frank and Teddy. I, of course, want to be one of the actors. They would have to be pretty devoted theatre creatures because each of the two roles is back-breakingly difficult in the memorization department—and two so totally different people, a huge challenge and undertaking. The part of ‘Grace’ (“grace”, indeed) is also daunting both in size and scope—a match for Frank, an inspiration for Teddy.

The play appeals to me to this day because of the subject matter and what I perceive as the main focus. It is a “Roshomon” play, where everyone expresses their point of view, and the audience has to decide who is telling the truth—if anyone. Just like in life, their stories vary, and collide, and contradict. But for me the prime dilemma of the play is Frank’s; he is the title character, and the others his….satellites. His central conceit I find so compelling: What do you do when you “don’t have it”? When the muse is absent, when the power of your craft, your gift, is not present? How to conquer the fear? The disappointment? The shame? How to live with the diminution of your power? The question(s) of the pointlessness of existence. The “why go on”-ness of it all. So it speaks strongly to the doubts a performer has—about every facet of his/her life. And while there is a form of salvation in the play, at what cost?

I have had producers say, “oh it’s an ACTORS’ play,” as if it is a pejorative. I say, “Yeah? What is the problem with that?” Perhaps what they really mean is that it is not a commercial piece. I think they worry that you won’t sell tickets with this piece. I know that that is a consideration, but dig in, says I.

And so we are. Let us know what you think. Is a full production something to pursue?

We will give this away and see.

– Gregory Itzin, Actor and Project Initiator

Faith Healer
plays as a “First Look” on July 31 at 3pm
.

ClassicsFest 2010: ‘Les Blancs’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

Les Blancs
by Lorraine Hansberry

CLASSIC: The word classic means something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality.

Why didn’t I think of it before? Please, forgive me Ms. Hansberry for not seeing what was right in front of me.  We have had many encounters, your play and I.  The first was in school.  Flipping through a theatre history book, fantasizing about a life in the theatre, and there it was staring at me, in the face; A black and white photo of a powerful actor in traditional costume, masks creeping out from the dark of the stage, the caption read Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry.  It showed a particular style and I believe it was taken from a production at the Negro Ensemble Company. I may even have read it, but it was your other play, ‘the famous one’, which drew my naive artistic attention.

Our next encounter was some 20 years later.  I pursued my dreams and found myself preparing for a role in your ‘famous play’ at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  I read everything you wrote and everything I could find about you, including more photos of an OSF production of Les Blancs.  I read it again, and wondered, “Why hasn’t this play of lasting worth been done more often? What’s wrong? Are we afraid?” Since your time, our native brothers and sisters have gone through enormous changes: famine, drought, genocide, disease, discovery, reconciliation, industry, and yes, independence.  Apartheid no longer exits. But, as you predicted in the ‘famous play,’ we still find our once revered revolutionaries resorting to greed, anger, and stupidity.  Forgive us for not paying attention sooner to the timeless quality of your artistry.

The third encounter is happening now, the 21st Century. A time contemporary scholars call ‘A Century of Africa.’  We’re a courageous troupe of performers, varied individuals, dedicated to the classics, rediscovering and unlocking treasures of art.  For some, the classic, Les Blancs, will be a new discovery, for me, well; it’s been with me all along, anxiously waiting.  Thank you Ms. Hansberry.

Oneness,
– Mirron Willis, Actor

Les Blancs plays as a “Work in Progress” on August 3rd and 4th at 8pm.

ClassicsFest 2010: ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

The Merry Wives of Windsor
by William Shakespeare

I have been in Merry Wives of Windsor five times, three times playing ‘Falstaff’ ( New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Utah Shakespearean Festival), playing ‘Ford’ once (local theatre), and the ‘Host’ once for the Old Globe. Each Time I saw or acted in the play I grew to really love it. It was always an audience favorite and the most accessible of any Shakespeare I have ever seen. The play has sometimes gotten a bad rap because Shakespeare supposedly wrote it at Queen Elizabeth’s request to “show Falstaff in Love” and dashed it off in ten days. Yes, there are some problems in the play but with some judicious cutting (as I have done here) it remains extremely rich in wonderful Shakespearean characters. It is Shakespeare’s homage to the middle class of which he was a part and generally got short shrift in the canon. The characters are tremendous for a company like Antaeus where we have an abundance of talent. Surprising, many people don’t know the play. I hope you learn to love it like I do.

– Bob Machray, Actor and Project Initiator

The Merry Wives of Windsor plays as a “First Look” on July 24th at 3pm.

ClassicsFest 2010: ‘The Helen Fragments’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

The Helen Fragments
by Euripides/Homer/Ovid/Sappho

The idea to perform “fragments” of Euripides’ Helen came in a conversation with Jeanie Hackett. Twice, at her invitation, I have had the pleasure of moderating meetings of the Antaeus Academy where we have focused on Greek drama. These great classical plays are a challenge for any director or actor because they were a complete integration of poetry, language, song, music, dance, and gesture.

To imagine such a performance, we need to arrive at a vocabulary that defines the actor and director in very different terms from much of contemporary theater. For this reason, working on a Greek play is always a new beginning and a challenge to explore fundamental elements.

Like Shakespeare’s late plays, Helen is a romance – underlying its fairy tale structure is a psychologically acute study of love lost and love regained.

–    Michael Hackett, Director

The Helen Fragments plays as a “Workshop” on July 27th and July 28th at 8pm.

ClassicsFest 2010: ‘Juno and the Paycock’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

Juno and the Paycock
by Sean O’Casey

Many years ago I saw a wonderful film called Zorba the Greek. The most wonderful sequence in the movie for me was when Zorba, whose new wife has just died, whose whole life is in ruin, suddenly runs outside and begins to dance. He dances till he is exhausted. His young English friend is bewildered and asks him why, when his life has become such a disaster, why he was dancing. Zorba’s reply is, “Sometimes a man feels so much all he can do is dance.” That’s what I feel about O’Casey, only his characters sing in the midst of calamities. And if they’re not singing O’Casey is in his writing. Called “the greatest prose writer in our time,” O’Casey’s writing sings for his characters. With humor and song he blasts the political forces at work in Ireland in 1922 and gives us indelible human beings who meet, who clash, who drink, who love, and who sometimes survive. Juno and the Paycock is one of his greatest plays, and is as pertinent today as it ever was.

– Allan Miller, Director

Juno and the Paycock plays as a “First Look” on July 17 at 3pm.

ClassicsFest 2010: ‘Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti
by Bertolt Brecht

“There are bad people who would be less dangerous if they had no good in them”
— La Rouchefoucauld

I’ve always been a fan of this wonderful Brecht comedy. The theme of how the working man is exploited not by an iron fist but by ol’ boy charm, is a time-tested and all-American approach (Google ‘the Bacon Rebellion’ in 1670s Virginia).  It’s how our politics have always worked, since the days when a candidate threw a barbecue and provided a keg of rum to the locals.  Today they get a Facebook page and get photographed at a basketball game.

Lee Hall’s 1990s adaptation brings its own level of charm, so when I read it I knew I wanted to do it for the Company.  I assembled a great group of actors, and I talked the songwriting team of Paul Peglar and Ben McLain and our own Matthew Goldsby into writing a few new tunes for us.  We had a total blast doing it last August as a Potluck Reading.

When it came time for the next step, this ClassicsFest workshop, I learned I couldn’t both play one of the leads (I was Puntila) and direct it.  Since I had very specific designs on how to do the show, my choice was either to find a director who would be willing, basically, to not direct, or to give up acting the role and direct it myself.  I chose to do the latter, knowing I could find an excellent Puntila among my Antaeus brethren.

I’m certain this show won’t make a damn bit of difference in the real world — no minds will be changed, and the revolution will still not be televised — but it’s funny and entertaining and has a few ideas to share.  And you never know what mischief a few subversive ideas and a bit of charm can create…

– John Apicella, Director and Project Initiator

Mr. Puntila and His Man Matti plays as a “Work in Progress” on July 20, 21, 22 at 8pm.

ClassicsFest 2010: ‘Les Femmes Savants/The Learned Ladies’

As ClassicsFest 2010 unspools, we’ll be featuring insights from the project initiators about what inspired them to choose their plays and their experience of working on them.

Les Femmes Savantes
by Molière

In the dinosaur age after World War II, I attended a performance at the Comédie Française in which an actor returned to the House of Molière in the role of Alceste. When he entered the audience stood and yelled. He stood still for what seemed like an eternity. Then he wept. The audience wept. And when he finally began to speak he had lost his voice. Who was this author that had such an effect on the public? Sixty years later I chose to do Les Femmes Savantes (The Learned Ladies) because it is Molière’s last great verse play, the one he felt was his most “finished” work, and because it is the only major play of his which I have never seen. More importantly, because my wife, Angela Paton, and my daughter-in-law, Gigi Bermingham, wanted to do a play together.

– Robert Goldsby, for Angela Paton, Project Initiator

The Learned Ladies plays:
July 13, 14, 15 at 8pm