The Fox: An Enigmatic Experience

Rebekah Tripp in Peace in Our Time (left). Photo by S. Brand

Quite some time ago I picked up a copy of The Fox as suggested to me by the incomparable Deirdre Murphy (this is a moniker by which she should always be referred).  I enjoyed it immensely upon first read.  I thought, ‘yea, let’s dig into this play.’  A reading, followed by a few meetings to delve into process work began.  The playwright, Allan Miller, began co-spearheading this process with me.  I gathered from the start that this play was more than I had realized upon first reading.  I was initially intrigued by a world where two women lived off on their own; choosing to separate from society.  I was thrilled by the intimate and dangerous connection that began to develop between Henry and Nellie. Then, The Fox was chosen as a ClassicsFest piece with Allan as director and Belen Greene, Jason Thomas, Ian Littleworth and myself as the players.  This, my dear friends, is when the work, the mystery, the delving…really began.

The process this last month has come in the form of gathering around a dining room table or living room table and diving into the play.  We concentrate on characters, relationships, circumstance.  We examine our own hang ups as actors and attempt to push through them to provide an honest look at the people in this play.  The process is very much about leaning into the discomfort; that place that as an individual we tend to hold back from our work because it’s unfamiliar or because it scares us (Allan, much to his credit, will accept none of that).

Jason Thomas in The Nina Variations. Photo by G. Wade

For this blog, my director has asked me to examine why I wanted to do this play.  What does a 32 year old woman from the suburbs of Chicago want from this material, from these people, from this story?  What does a seemingly confident individual, terrified of being found out as imperfect and fragile, not fully embracing the power of her own vulnerability find that speaks to her in this role?  Everything.  I am petrified by this torrent of natural forces that Nellie experiences in this play because once you get swept up in those forces, how do you make them stop, do you want them to stop, what if you get carried away.  I am thrilled, excited and nervous about the relationship that develops between Nellie and Henry.  Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw someone that made your stomach knot so tightly that you felt like throwing up?  I do, and it is the scariest most alive feeling that exists.  I crave it and I shy away from it. I want to be consumed in it and I want to run from it.  These are the very real extremes with which Nellie is confronted.  That doesn’t even touch the relationship with a woman who is neither her lover nor her caretaker but her equal, her friend, her sister, her other half, her soul mate. There is a pushing and pulling force that weighs on Nellie that makes my skin crawl while at the same time makes my heart beat out of my chest and my pulse race.

Belen Greene in Shakespeare’s King Phycus (right). Photo by A. Goodman

Another thing I’ve had to tackle during this process is how to approach this world and this character without guile.  To confront the things in the story that come from an innocent and honest place.  Living in the world I’ve become accustomed too, innocence is not afforded to many in great supply.  I think I lost most of mine somewhere around age 3.  It’s rather like panning for gold.  When you touch on those moments of guilelessness and unblemished grace it is a rejoicing; a celebration.  Learning how to stretch those moments and bring them to this world has been difficult but by no means impossible.  I’ve discovered that innocence, while it may be a small spark, can be reignited and grow into a warm, brilliant light that can lead you if you’re willing to be led.

Nellie would never use this many words.  I have attempted to be honest in my writing, as she would be in her life.  So, that’s what I’ve found with this process.  It’s been rich, it’s been frustrating, it’s made me laugh, it’s made me cry, and it’s made me look inside a bit and rummage around.  It’s been an incredibly meaningful experience and I have fallen in love with my director, my fellow actors and the stage even more deeply.

A2 member Rebekah Tripp muses on her experiences initiating The Fox, this weekend’s ClassicsFest 2012 reading.  Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.

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Shaw’s Version of Hell

The Cast of St. Joan

Okay, I admit it…I’m a Shaw geek. Have been ever since one of my very first Broadway shows – ST. JOAN with the late, truly great, Lynn Redgrave at Circle-in-the-Square in NYC (in a cast, by the way, that also included our fellow Antaean and my very good friend, Armin Shimerman!)

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to play roles such as ‘John Tarleton’ in MISALLIANCE at Center Stage, Baltimore and ‘Andrew Undershaft’ in MAJOR BARBARA at San Jose Rep.

And believe me when I tell you…this stuff is challenging and oh-so rewarding to work on. The demands of language, facility of language, rapidity of thought, clarity of ideas — and, of course, discovering the beautifully human Shavian characters within those demands…it’s an actor’s dream job.

Peter Van Norden in St. Joan

And DON JUAN IN HELL is no exception. For those unfamiliar with the piece, DON JUAN… makes up the bulk of Act 3 of his enormous play, MAN AND SUPERMAN. Seldom performed in the context of the whole play, it is most often performed as we are doing it here in ClassicsFest — in a concert version (the most famous of which had Charles Laughton, Charles Boyer, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Agnes Moorehead as its four cast members and toured the world back in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s).

It’s a piece separate from the rest of the play…a dream, really, containing characters that are faintly reminiscent of the characters in the rest of the play. But it stands firmly on it’s own two feet —  a brilliant piece all on its own.

So, in Shaw’s mind…what is Hell? Indeed, what is Heaven? How does Shaw’s ever-popular theory of the “Life Force” work in these locales? Or does it? How about the relationship between Man and Woman, Father and Daughter…God and the Devil?

The characters as statues.

Don Juan, Dona Ana, The Statue (Dona Ana’s father) and Lucifer, himself — these are the characters you’ll meet in, yes, Shaw’s version of Hell.

The concepts and the comedy are flying, fast and furious, in this 90-minute discussion/debate/argument/play — and you’re likely to take away some ideas that will tickle you, puzzle you, and maybe even amaze you. Come and join us. Sunday, November 11 and Monday, November 12 at 7:00 pm.

It’s Shaw. What could be better?

Peter Van Norden
November, 2012

Antaeus member Peter Van Norden on our next offering in ClassicsFest 2012: Part Two – Don Juan in Hell.  Peter plays The Devil.  Of course.  Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.

Announcing ClassicsFest 2012: Part Three!

Our third and final installment of ClassicsFest – our play reading festival featuring first looks at projects initiated by company members – begins the week after our mainstage production of You Can’t Take It With You opens in October.  Keep reading for more information on the plays featured in this round!

Oct 28 & 29, 7pm

Saundra McClain

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM by August WILSON
Initiated and Directed by Saundra MCCLAIN

The time is 1927, the place a Chicago recording studio – but the story is much more than music.  Wilson made a name for himself with this exultant blues-inspired exploration of the state of the American soul and what Arthur Miller refers to as “the salesman’s dream.”

Nov 4 & 5, 7pm
UNDER MILK WOOD by Dylan THOMAS
Initiated by Amelia WHITE, Directed by Frank DWYER

Originally written for the BBC in 1954, this dream-like radio play chronicles one day in the life of the imaginary Welsh village of LLareggub.  Thomas’ evocative words introduce his listeners to the colorful townspeople & their delightful stories.

 

Peter Van Norden

Nov 11 & 12, 7pm
DON JUAN IN HELL by George Bernard SHAW
Initiated by Peter Van NORDEN, Directed by Robert MACHRAY

Another brilliant debate from Shaw… this time from Hell itself.  Originally Act III, scene 2 of his play, Man And Superman, this stand-alone piece is most often performed in this four-actor concert version.

 

 

Nov 18 & 19, 7pm
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE by Tennessee WILLIAMS
Initiated and Directed by Apollo DUKAKIS

Generation after generation revisits this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, drawn to its power and moving character study.  This timeless American masterpiece by Tennessee Williams is arguably unrivaled in its depths of humanity, compassion and lyric beauty.

 

Rebekah Tripp

Nov 25 & 26, 7pm
THE FOX , a play by Allan Miller based on the novella by D.H. LAWRENCE
Initiated by Rebekah TRIPP, Directed by Allan MILLER

Is it ever possible for men and women to be equals as well as lovers? In his novella The Fox, D.H. Lawrence wrestled with this very question. With this most primordial of his works, Lawrence digs deep into a searing triangle of two women and a man.

AND A SPECIAL TREAT, FEATURING THE VOCAL STYLINGS OF YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU DIRECTOR, GIGI BERMINGHAM…

December 2 – 17, Suns & Mons @ 7pm
CABARET NOEL , created by Gigi Bermingham & Matthew Goldsby
Directed by Barry Creyton

A musical evening of holiday warmth and hilarity – with an essence of je ne sais quoi.  Come celebrate the holidays in song – in French and English – with both scintillating original tunes by Matthew Goldsby and fresh arrangements of holiday classics.

http://www.antaeus.org for more information
Suggested donation: $10

Mrs. Warren Speaks on the World’s Oldest Profession

The cast of Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Photo by Holly Abel.

When I was asked to write a blog about what drew me to initiate a reading of Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession for the 2012 Summer ClassicsFest, my mind immediately went back to February of this year, when I had the challenge of playing Mu Sochua, Cambodian human rights activist in a documentary play called Seven at USC.  Sochua, who has labored tirelessly on behalf of Cambodian women and children forced into prostitution by human traffickers, has frequently spoken out about the tragic plight of these innocents, who are often kidnapped into slavery, or else lured by traffickers who promise them jobs to help their poverty-stricken families.

Of course, the horror, abuse, and deadening of the soul that Sochua details when she speaks of these victims are almost too horrible to imagine.  Bur Shaw, when he wrote Mrs. Warren’s Profession over a century ago, seemed determined to try to make Victorian society imagine the similar circumstances of young women of that time.  Shaw’s play was scandalous when it first appeared on the scene.  It was originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain in Britain, and a few years later, an American performance in New York was halted by the police, who arrested the cast and crew.  Moralists were outraged that Shaw would even attempt to take a sympathetic stand toward prostitutes, and the desperation that forced many into employment by the brothels.  But Shaw argued back that “the world’s oldest profession” was, for many desolate young women, the only means available by which they could try to raise themselves above their destitute childhoods.

Director Cameron Watson leads the discussion. Photo by Holly Abel.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession is not only an argument for societal compassion, it is also a study of societal forces vs. personal character and individual choice. Kitty Warren insists she is justified in her choice of livelihood because for her, there is no other viable means by which she could have escaped her poverty.  We see that Kitty has not only escaped, however, but flourished handsomely.  Due to her “success,” she has raised her daughter Vivie in more than comfortable means—yet she has been an absent mother, painfully and inexplicably distant from Vivie’s life, instead throwing her time and energy into her secret profession for her own pleasure at best, and from her own desperate ambition at worst.  And so the question arises:  At what point does Kitty cross over from the motive of rescuing herself and her daughter from poverty and providing a better life for them both, to the moral corruption in maintaining a “success” that ultimately rests on the continued exploitation of others?

Jeanne Sakata w/ Laura Wernette in Merry Wives, CF 2010. Photo by E. Marlow.

Such complex questions—as well as the gut-wrenching struggles of a mother and daughter who, though they wish to love each other, may be separated by a chasm too wide to breach— are the fascinating qualities that drew me to initiate this reading of Mrs. Warren’s Profession in our Summer ClassicsFest.  We hope you will enjoy the challenge of wrestling with this brave and brilliant play, alongside all of us at Antaeus.

Antaeus member Jeanne Sakata on initiating and starring in G.B. Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, the next offering in ClassicsFest 2012: Part Two. Make your reservations at http://www.antaeus.org.  Suggested donation $10.

Pants on Fire: Rena Strober on The Liar

I come from a very New York Jewish family where my relatives often ask things like

“Rena, are the phones broken in LA? Is that why you can’t call me back? Was there an earthquake? ARE YOU DEAD? I don’t know what I did to deserve this.”

Needless to say I’ve become very good at lying.

“You’re never going to believe this mom, but THE Stephen Spielberg had to turn off all the phones for 5 days so he could film his upcoming movie. It’s another Holocaust story! (That always works)

Because of this new found talent of mine, I was intrigued when Deirdre Murphy asked me to write a blog about the upcoming ClassicsFest 2012 reading of  The Liar by Corneille, adapted by David Ives. I’m not going to… lie and say I’d heard of this play, but neither had Ives when he was asked to translate the original Corneille piece.  More on that later.

I set up a meeting with Danielle K. Jones who initiated the piece. (by ‘meeting’ I mean going to the Republic of Pie)  Danielle showed up looking ever so sexy-chic in a Battle Star Galactica T-shirt and a leather bracelet that I intend on borrowing.

Danielle blushed from the moment we sat down. No, she was not gaga over my irresistible charm, or the berry tea,  she was actually moved to blush over talking about THE LIAR!

She exclaims that the play is “Clever & brilliant’  and that she “wants to take classics and make them accessible to everyone.  Ives took the pentameter and in his own way made it into a ‘funny shticky comedy. Made it modern!”

Ives agrees with Danielle in his introduction stating

“…because the point is not to carry over sentences from one language to another, but to produce a credible, speakable, playable, produceable play for today no matter what’s in the original.”

Listening to her enthusiasm was inspiring.  Who knew that this French comedy could illicit such excitement?

Not only is Danielle looking forward to bringing this modern classic to life, but fellow cast member Brooke Bastinelli has her own sexy reasons for diving into this French world;

“I am most excited about playing a lively French character. My dear friend just moved to Paris and I very much want to visit. Needless to say, France is often on my mind.”

I’m hoping Brooke has no problem with me joining her on this trip.

Before you go update your Facebook status (about going to see The Liar) I want to go back to something I mentioned in the beginning. In the Introduction for The Liar, David Ives tells the reader a little about his experience with the translation.  I admire his honesty, humor and excitement for this play. He and Danielle would really made a great couple. Let me share a little of Ives with you;

When my agent called and asked if I’d be interested in translating Corneille’s The Liar for the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, I had never heard of the play. Nor had he.

In any case: “Send the script along,” I told my agent. “I’ll take a look at it.”

He sent, I looked, and several hours later, with the help of a fat French dictionary, I found myself astonished. Exhilarated. Giddy. For, lying on the desk before me, was one of the world’s great comedies. I felt as if some lost Shakespeare festival comedy on the order of Twelfth Night or Much Ado about Nothing had been found. This particular Shakespeare comedy was unfortunately locked away in French (the French have a way of doing things like that), but I could remedy that. The prospect of Englishing this play made me feel like Ronald Colman distantly sighting Shangri-La.

Everything about it spoke to me. The rippling language. The rich simplicity of the premise. The gorgeousness of the set pieces. The seeming insouciance of the treatment alongside the classical rigor of the plotting. The way the play’s wide understanding and humanity was nicely seasoned with several large pinches of social satire. The Liar is one of those plays that seem to be made out of almost nothing, yet end up being about so much. The Importance of Being Earnest comes to mind, and Hay Fever.

It’s one of those plays that are both a view on our world and their own separate world, one that we would happily inhabit.

I mean, does it get any more exciting than that?!

Personally, I am looking forward to the incredible cast that Danielle has assembled and watching the magic that is The Liar. It is full of humor, pentameter, lies, love, truth and TWINS! I can’t imagine a better night out at the theater.

As a new member of the Antaeus Academy, I am in awe of the passion and dedication that the people of this company have. And yes, I also love the snacks that I usually find in the communal kitchen at the theater. I owe someone a few handful of M&Ms.

And in the words of David Ives;

“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as refracted in a theatrical fun-house mirror. Welcome to The Liar.”

Antaeus Academy Member, Rena Strober, shares her first impressions of David Ives’ version of The Liar, next up in ClassicsFest 2012.  The project is directed by Frank Dwyer.  Tickets are now on sale.

The Crucible: The “Oooooooooo”

ARTHUR MILLER’S THE CRUCIBLE—a process, a passion, a purpose—part of ClassicsFest (March 25 & 26, 2012)

So, it all started in the dressing room of The Malcontent.  Mr. Foxworth was adjusting his wig and glasses, preparing for an entrance as Malevole, the disguised Duke Altofront, and I was NOT preparing for an entrance as Maria, Duke Altofront’s imprisoned wife, since it was NOT yet the fifth act…sigh…but I was lacing (or unlacing, I can’t exactly remember) Ms. Jules Wilcox into (or out of) her corset like I always did, in preparation for her entrance as Aurelia, the cheating wife of the usurping Duke Pietro, when a conversation was struck up that went something like this…

Jules:  You guys are such a great “stage couple”.

Bo & Ann:  We are!

Jules:  You guys should do The Crucible.

Bo & Ann:  Ooooooooooooooo.

This is how things get started at Antaeus.

However, as I’m learning as a rather new company member, this is not how things “end” at Antaeus.  As many of you know, Antaeus is fond of what we like to call “process”, which basically consists of grabbing a few hours here and there and sitting around a table with a play and reading it and talking about it and reading it again and talking more about it and looking things up about it and arguing with someone about it, etc.  What is remarkable to me is that this rather ordinary act of sitting around a table and discussing and studying a play can lead to something rather extraordinary.  That “something”—as it seems to me—is the transformation of a mere personal desire to “play a part” into a rather altruistic need to share the entire play—its story, its message—not only with our fellow artists, but with the world as a whole.

In other words, what has happened, particularly in this case, is that instead of just myself and Bo saying “ooooooooooo”, the whole gang, that read the play at the Down-n-Dirty Reading last October, said “ooooooooooooo”.

So, here we are, thick in the scheduling, pre-rehearsing, rehearsing, cancelling rehearsing, re-scheduling rehearsing, casting, re-casting, putting together binders and scripts, emailing, texting, calling that is the “process” of ClassicsFest.  It’s a challenging road and requires many dedicated and patient hands; however, because of what happened at that reading last October, because of that communal “oooooooooo”, these minor inconveniences pale in comparison to the opportunity that lies before us:  the chance to read one of America’s greatest plays, by one of America’s greatest (some say “the greatest”, but O’Neill diehards would beg to differ) playwrights at a time when the message and story could not be more relevant.

As most people know, The Crucible was written by Arthur Miller as a response to the Red Scare/Cold War mentality that swept America and culminated in the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s.  Calling up the frightful tale of the actual witch-hunt that took place in Salem in the 1690s, Miller’s allegorical tactics could not be lost on his audience of the day.  And even for those who were not alive in the 1950s or have been versed in that painful time in American history, they can still be left with no doubt of Miller’s intentions and opinions as he boldly includes a series of essays on the subject of our human (and particularly American) proclivity towards “scape-goatism” within the text of the first act of the published script of The Crucible.

And while, as an actor, it’s frustrating to have such “digressions” within the middle of the action of the play (especially while trying to memorize lines!), it soon becomes apparent that these essays provide a much needed historical and sociological context for anyone attempting to work on a production of the play.

Of all the brilliant insights that Miller has and presents about our human and societal nature, the over-arching idea that is so very frightening in its accuracy is our inability to change:  that we, as a people, as a country, as a society, tend to repeat the same horrendous and violent acts over and over again; we seem to be incapable of learning from our past, to make a better future or even a better present.  We still seem to love a good ole fashioned “witch-hunt”.

Some of his most potent excerpts include:

“The Salem folk believed that the virgin forest was the Devil’s last preserve, his home base and the citadel of his final stand.  To the best of their knowledge the American forest was the last place on earth that was not paying homage to God.  For these reasons, among others, they carried about an air of innate resistance, even of persecution.  Their fathers had, of course, been persecuted in England.  So now they and their church found it necessary to deny any other sect its freedom, lest their New Jerusalem be defiled and corrupted by wrong ways and deceitful ideas.”

“The people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower.  A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which was at this moment in power.  The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today.  It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces.  No hint of such speculation appears on the court records, but social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.”

“The Salem tragedy…developed from a paradox.  It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its resolution.  Simply, it was this:  for good purposes, even high purposes, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies.  It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose.  But all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.  Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized.  The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom.  When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday.  It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.”

“The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression.  It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for everyone so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims…Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions.  Land-lust which had been expressed before by constant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be elevated to the arena of mortality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbor and felt perfectly justified in the bargain.  Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”

“These people had no ritual for the washing away of sins.  It is another trait we inherited from them, and it has helped to discipline us as well as to breed hypocrisy among us.”

“Like [the characters] on this stage, we conceive the Devil as a necessary part of a respectable view of cosmology.  Ours is a divided empire in which certain ideas and emotions and actions are of God, and their opposites are of Lucifer.  It is as impossible for most men to conceive of a morality without sin as of an earth without “sky”.  Since, 1692, a great but superficial change has wiped out God’s beard and the Devil’s horns, but the world is still gripped between two diametrically opposed absolutes.  The concept of unity, in which positive and negative are attributes of the same force, in which good and evil are relative, ever-changing, and always joined to the same phenomenon—such a concept is still reserved to the physical sciences and to the few who have grasped the history of ideas.  When it is recalled that until the Christian era the underworld was never regarded as a hostile area, that all gods were useful and essentially friendly to man despite occasional lapses; when we see the steady and methodical inculcation into humanity of the idea of man’s worthlessness—until redeemed—the necessity of the Devil may become evident as a weapon, a weapon designed and used time and time again in every age to whip men into a surrender to a particular church or church-state.”

“Political opposition, thereby, is given an inhumane overlay which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized intercourse.  A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence.  Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a congeries of plots and counterplots, and the main role of government changes from that of the arbiter to that of the scourge of God.”

What strikes me most about these essays, however, is not merely Miller’s capacity to articulate his beliefs and observations in such an exacting way, but the fact that he chose to include them in the text of his play.  It’s as if he knew that by themselves, they would be “interesting” or “thought-provoking” or “clever”, but when embedded into the rich, dark world that he’s created out of the Salem tragedy, they become an echo that reverberates within the human heart.  We know that what he says is true.  Not because it is historical, or “well-phrased”, but because he is speaking through his play, his art, his “poem” to the world.  And when we hear through the heart, we hear well.  And we do not forget.

I’m reminded here of the lines of William Carlos Williams which seem to ring so profoundly true and loud today:

“It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”

Antaeus Member, Ann Noble, is project initiator of ClassicsFest: The Crucible, along with Bo Foxworth (Elizabeth and John Proctor).  Tickets are now on sale.

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