Thursday, February 14, 2008

A sneak peak of "The Scene"

A few weeks ago, The Scene started rehearsals. Our Literary Apprentice, Jeremy Stoller, sat down with Jeremy B. Cohen, the show's director (and Hartford Stage’s Associate Artistic Director), to talk about this deeply funny and complex script byTheresa Rebeck. An excerpt of the interview is below.

George Street Playhouse: As a playwright, Theresa Rebeck is a rigorous supporter ofstructure. On multiple occasions she has mentioned admiring melodramas for the waythey plot their action.

Jeremy B. Cohen: Theresa is incredibly adroit with dialogue and structure, but thisplay, along with her newer plays Mauritius and Our House, proves she’s still very much challenging herself and raising the bar with each new play she writes. If you look at major American writers of the last century—Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, August Wilson,Jose Rivera, Tennessee Williams, Naomi Wallace, Tina Howe, etc.—they all have a distinct voice; a rhythm to their language. Theresa has that in spadesShe’s lived an incredible life and imbues her plays with such complexity and color. Ands he’s at the top of her game right now. It’s really fantastic to witness someone whose artistry is at its peak.

GSP: The play takes place in Manhattan, and the location—not just in its present state, but the way it has changed—has a great effect on the characters. And it’s a contemporary play that includes entertainment bigwigs that doesn’t take place in Hollywood.

JBC: People have referred to this as an industry play—about film people or the theatricalworld—and it’s a world Theresa knows well, as she’s been both in Manhattan and outin LA doing film and television. But I think she’s actually written something much moreexpansive than that.The city has a major effect on people. It makes them think of themselves in a sort of greater than/less than way. It can be a very lonely place. And this play finds Charlie thrust out into the middle of it, as he goes searching for a sense of honest connection.

GSP: You talked on the first day of rehearsal about how this play has similarities to ancient Greek drama.

JBC: Yes, it feels very Greek to me: in its stakes, in the “if only” nature of the story,and in the way characters interact. You think, “if only they would say what they reallyfeel to one another;” or “if only she would walk into the room right now, then everything would change.” But they don’t. And at the same time, it’s also very modern in its embracing of the many complexities of relationships. The challenge in this play is how tobalance the ranges of emotion, and how to negotiate those shifts with what’s so inherentlycomedic and human about it.It’s also very difficult because all four characters must be accountable for what happens in this play. If one person becomes the bad guy, the whole paradigm goes wonky. If wegive the audience a moment to hate a certain character, they’ll shut that character out. And so, in a way, it becomes like a perverse game of whack-a-mole. Each time we get to these moments in rehearsal, where it seems one character is taking the blame, we stop,and investigate why… and shift it.

GSP: You said on the first day of rehearsal that it’s a very funny play, but that it’salso a really dramatic text as well.

JBC: For all of you who have embraced the great, brave, ridiculous, complex, dif-ficult, joyful, thrilling privilege of marriage as I have… I salute you. With this production, we certainly have endeavored to shed some light and truth on the whole institution. My husband is the most patient, loving, and generous guy out there and we all need to remember to remind our partners of their marvelousness… all the time.

I suppose when the audience is reading this, they’re already in their seats, so all I’ll really say is… fasten your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride!

posted by Jeremy Stoller, Literary Apprentice

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