Descending Into Williams

November’s monthly potluck is Tennesee Williams’ Orpheus Descending, initiated by Gigi Bermingham. Antaeus volunteer Jane Whitty interviewed Bermingham about why she was drawn to the play, her history with Antaeus and the enduring power of Williams.

1. Orpheus Descending is not one of Tennessee Williams best known plays. What attracted you to this play?

The heat, the passion, the fearless BIGNESS of Williams’ writing and characters. What a challenge to make it real! I identify with the protagonists, all of them, the feeling of being outside, different, misunderstood, even hated. The desolate sadness that comes after youthful hope has been dashed, and the courage necessary to survive crushing disappointment. I love Lady’s passion, I admire her courage.

2. Tennessee Williams wrote mostly during the 40’s and 50’s. What do you think makes his plays relevant today?

Nothing has changed. The brutality of humankind, the ease with which people behave cruelly. It’s throughout history. Most of the population in the present world is faced with hunger, violence, lack of freedom that we in this country can hardly understand and that the protagonists in this play, each in their own way, experience.

3. What themes in Orpheus Descending do you find to be the most essential?

The outsider – as one who is despised and feared and envied by those who choose to follow the social current, however harmful to themselves and the world. The brutality of humankind. And of course LOVE – it conquers all.

4. What do you most look forward to when working on this play?

Despite the inherent impediment of reading the dialogue off the page, I hope for communion. By that I mean connection with the other actors and the director, releasing – for a time – the social mask, how I think I must behave – as Gigi – to be accepted. I get to be LADY – if I can figure out who she is! And as painful as her life may be, it’s always a relief to release being Gigi for awhile. I would be looking forward to tearing up the scenery – if there were any!

5. How long have you worked with the Antaeus Company?

Since 2000.

6. What do you most enjoy about the experience you have had with Antaeus?

Antaeus is my creative family, I don’t have to prove myself, I take chances and I fall flat on my face and I won’t be kicked out. I’ll get another chance; in fact I can create another opportunity for myself. It’s the joy that comes from sharing a pure love of theater. We aren’t on salary here. We are here because we love plays and theater people and the intimacy that is created when we come together to share our gifts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Gigi Bermingham

Gigi Bermingham: Antaeus: TONIGHT AT 8:30, PERA PALAS, MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN, several CLASSICSFESTs and many more.   Los Angeles area theater includes productions at the Rubicon, The Old Globe, Theatre@Boston Court and the Odyssey/Circus Theatricals.  Film/TV credits include Alex and Emma, Days of Our Lives, The Bachelor: London Calling, C.S.I., Judging Amy, Any Day Now, State of Grace, Third Rock and Beverly Hills 90210. Awards include a 2004 Ovation Award, a 2003 Garland Award and a 2002 L.A. Drama Critics Circle Natalie Schafer Award “to an emerging comic actress.”

Jane WhittyJane Whitty: Originally from the east coast, Jane moved to Los Angeles in 2006 after receiving her BFA from Emerson College in Boston. At Emerson she majored in Design / Technical Theatre focusing on Scenic and Property Design. In Boston, Jane has served as Scenic Designer for the east coast premier of A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters and Assistant Scenic Designer for the 2006 Evvy Awards, among other work with Emerson College. In Los Angeles she has worked as the Scenic Designer for Diary of a Catholic School Dropout at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre. Jane is excited to be volunteering for the Antaeus Company and looks forward to working with them on upcoming projects.

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Exit the King: Part 1

Michael Murray & Apollo Dukakis share their process:

A Disease Called Sobriety

PUNTILA AND MATTI poster small“There are bad people who would be less dangerous if they had no good in them.”

— La Rouchefoucauld

Brecht’s epic comedy of two men from very different strata of life — the good-natured, somewhat suspicious but always honest chauffeur, Matti, and his employer, gentleman farmer Puntila, whose only problem is this little disease he suffers from:  A disease called sobriety.

For when drunk, Puntila is warm, generous, insightful and wise.  It’s when he sobers up the trouble starts..

Written in Finland in the mid 1940s, “Puntila and Matti” premiered in Zurich in 1948 and was the premiere production of the newly-formed Berliner Ensemble in 1950.  Brecht believed this show should be done in style evoking the Commedia, and adaptor Lee Hall responded to that in 1998 by remaking it as a vaudeville extravaganza.

Sober Puntila has affianced his daughter Eva to a boring but respectable government Attache, but Drunken Puntila can’t stand the man and moves heaven and earth to strike a spark between Eva and Matti.  Sober Puntila is resigned to the single life, but Drunken Puntila, an inveterate ladies’ man, proposes to half the eligible women in the district.  Sober Puntila hires his laborers grudgingly at slave wages, but Drunken Puntila is a one-man stimulus package.

Can Mr. Brecht’s theories of alienation and collectivism survive in a breakneck world of snappy patter and showbiz pizazz?  Join Puntila, Matti, Eva, and the whole gang as they find the answer to that question!

Monday, Sept. 28th

7:30pm Reading

Email events@antaeus.org for more information on how to attend!

-John Apicella

John is a stage, film and tv actor whose thirty year career includes dozens of feature film and network television roles. His work with L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum includes West Coast premieres of Vaclav Havel’s plays Largo Desolato and Temptation, as well as the Antaeus/Taper production of Chekhov’s The Wood Demon.  Regional work includes A.C.T. (San Francisco) in The First Picture Show, Glengarry Glen Ross and The Imaginary Invalid, and the Dallas Theatre Center.  He is a founding member of Antaeus and served on the board for fifteen years and as co-artistic director for five years.
Besides a lifelong fascination with the plays of Brecht, his specialties include commedia dell’arte (he is a skilled classical maskmaker), the American drama of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the classical Greek and Roman theater

Antaeus Diary: Melinda Peterson on ‘The Circle’

Antaeus Diaries provide unique perspectives on Classical Theater from the Antaean point of view as veterans and newbies alike detail their experiences in their own voices. In this installment, Antaeus Company member Melinda Peterson shares her reasons for initiating a Monthly Pot Luck read of W. Somerset Maugham’s THE CIRCLE.

For several semesters in college I studied dramatic literature with Howard Sigmund. I adored his classes because of his ardent love of theatre. When we got to the 20th century, one of the plays in our curriculum was W. Somerset Maugham’s THE CIRCLE and I truly wish I still had all of my notes from university because I am sure that Professor Sigmund could give you many better reasons to embrace this play than I can. That lecture would surely contain elements of a well-made play, conflict of relationships, individual characters’ arcs, precision and wit of dialogue and social commentary contemporary for it’s time.

My reason for choosing THE CIRCLE is much more base – our project leaders said “Choose a piece with a role you’d like to play.” My mind rifled back to Professor Sigmund’s classes, landed on THE CIRCLE and I thought “Why, I’m old enough to play Lady Kitty now!” (Ask an actor why they love a play and it usually has something to do with a part that’s right for them.)

Although we’ve only gotten together a couple of times, we’ve all really enjoyed working on this play and feel very fortunate to have the actor-friendly and dramaturgically astute Frank Dwyer as our director.

THE CIRCLE compliments all of the Coward work we’ve just completed. Our setting is a country home in England and the year is 1921. Hope you like it.

–Melinda Peterson

Antaeus Diary: Director Michael Murray on THE ICEMAN COMETH

Antaeus Diaries provide unique perspectives on Classical Theater from the Antaean point of view as veterans and newbies alike detail their experiences in their own voices. In this installment, director Michael Murray shares his passion for THE ICEMAN COMETH. Murray is the project initiator for the ICEMAN potluck reading at Antaeus on April 27th.

This is written after the second day of a 3-day rehearsal for a reading of THE ICEMAN COMETH at Antaeus: It is a “staged” reading, and we now actually have most of the first three acts (out of four) on its feet on stage, a tribute to hard, quick work—and courage—from the Antaeus actors and guest artists who have thrown caution to the winds to tackle this American classic. We have all had second thoughts about getting it done so fast , given the monumental nature of the work, but O’Neill’s plays come to life only on stage rather than in reading, and the theatricality of the play pulls us along.

My own opinion is that ICEMAN is the greatest play by America’s greatest playwright. This is partly because the play has been in my life for a very long time, going back to my beginning days in the theater when I was a directing student at Boston Universtity. Jose Quintero, then a young director and a founder of the Circle in the Square in New York, came to the school to direct a play. I was assigned to be his stage manager, a great opportunity because at that time Jose and his theater were putting “Off-Broadway” on the map. They had already presented several productions that attracted attention uptown, including the first revival of Williams’ SUMMER AND SMOKE featuring an unknown Geraldine Page. A year later, when I myself arrived in New York, Jose asked me to stage manage his next Circle in the Square show–which turned out to be the landmark production of THE ICEMAN COMETH that changed theater history.

ICEMAN was written in the late 30’s and had its premiere on Broadway in the late 40’s. The reception was respectful but not enthusiastic. Many critics felt that O’Neill’s day was done, and that his reputation was seriously over-inflated in the first place. The revival of ICEMAN at the Circle in the Square, however, featuring another unknown actor named Jason Robards, changed all that. It was an immense success, running for nearly three years, and the play was recognized for the masterpiece it is. New biographies of O’Neill began coming out, Life magazine photographed the show, Off-Broadway itself took on a new luster. As a result, the Circle was given the rights to do the first production of LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, on Broadway, that same year. With that, Robards and Quintero were soon swept into celebrated careers, and the reputation–and the legend–of Eugene O’Neill were firmly established.

I stayed with THE ICEMAN COMETH for the first year of its run, an extraordinary year for me. As Jose was off doing LONG DAY’S JOURNEY, it was my job to keep ICEMAN going, casting and rehearsing numerous replacements in the show –not bad work for a kid in his first professional job, being able to work creatively within a framework set by a brilliant mentor, and in the midst of the hoopla of a big New York hit. I’ve directed a few O’Neill plays myself in the decades since then, and they’ve all been influenced—everything I’ve done has been influenced—by that intense year at the Circle.

I’ve had casual conversations about O’Neill and ICEMAN with Antaeus actors for a year or more. The play is rarely seen, and there are numerous great roles, so actors were interested. For myself, I wanted to revisit a play that had so much resonance for me. Last November a group of us gathered around a table in the library to read the whole play, just for ourselves. After that, we wanted to move the project forward, to stage a reading for an audience—and here we are. A typical Antaeus process.

–Michael Murray

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