Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Director Cody Nickell on imagining his "dream play," Mary's Wedding

In Mary's Wedding by Stephen Massicotte, two actors come together to create a dream sequence taking us through horse rides, battle scenes and tea parties that ultimately lead to the blossoming of their love. The character Charlie first addresses the audience and makes it perfectly clear that the events to follow are part of a dream. "I ask you to remember that," he says. Director Cody Nickell says the dreamlike setting allows the production to break all rules of time, space, and at times, even character.

Cody had many difficult questions to answer at the start of the production process. The dream moves from place to place quickly, leaving complicated theatrical elements for Cody to consider. While some may see these questions as challenges, Cody chooses to see them as gifts.
"How do you bring to life a horse for a cavalry charge when there is no horse? How do you show a moonlit battle between trenches on the front lines of World War I with only two actors? And maybe most interesting, for all its theatricality, how do you show the simple story at the heart of this play about two young people falling in love?"
While the staging can be difficult, the underlying story of Mary's Wedding is much simpler. It follows the relationship of two young people in love and the Great War that comes between them. To escape a thunderstorm, Charlie, played by Myles Bullock, and Mary, played by Carey Cox, seek shelter in an old barn. In this setting, their vulnerabilities are exposed and we see sparks of love develop between them almost immediately. The audience follows their budding romance, and ultimately, their separation when Charlie is taken off to war.
"It begins at the end and ends at the beginning. There are sad parts. Don’t let that stop you from dreaming it too. " - Charlie, in his first monologue from Mary's Wedding.
The many imaginative gifts the production staff conjures will awaken the imaginations of audience members as well. "This engagement of audience imagination makes the experience active for them, not passive; they become witnesses, not just observers," says Cody. The actors are on a journey, but they invite the audience along to experience the terror and the hope that Charlie and Mary encounter.

Jeff Adelberg's mystic skyscapes and lighting will be a key factor in the quickly changing time, place and mood of the dream sequence. And Cody says costume designer Jade Bettin took initial costume ideas and ran with them, doing spectacular research and paying attention to details that further conceptualize the journey both the actors and audience traverse. Jeff's lighting paired with Jade's period costumes will pique imaginations and transform the stage from a physical space, to a fantastical world with no limits.

Cody says he's thrilled to collaborate with scenic designer Daniel Conway once again. Daniel's set has a circular frame creating a portal through which the audience views the story. This portal takes us from Canadian plains to European battlefields on a dynamic set that will evoke the many settings explored by the young lovers.

Experience the dream of Mary's Wedding with us April 29th to May 3rd!

Click here for more information or call our box office at 919.962.7529.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wardrobes that span decades in 4000 Miles

In Amy Herzog's play 4000 Miles, life unexpectedly throws Leo and Vera together. They are drastically different, with Leo in biking attire and casual jeans and Vera in the effortless wardrobe she's collected throughout her time living in the West Village of New York City. Costume designer Jan Chambers has crafted distinct ensembles that reflect the unique lives of the play's characters.

Vera's closet is full of items she's collected over the years. She's lived in the same apartment since the 1950s, so her wardrobe is as eclectic as the fashion trends of the decades Vera has experienced. Vera dresses comfortably, but Jan made sure she has some pizazz. Jan says, "Vera is not your Midwestern grandmother." Because she has a visitor, she is dressing up more than usual. Vera also attends two funerals during the play, but Jan said she wears a lot of black anyway. "She's a New Yorker," Jan explains. 

Costuming Leo proved to be a challenge, as he's been on a 4000 mile bicycling trip from Seattle to New York. When he arrives at Vera's door, the only clothes he has are the items he could carry in a bag. His wardrobe is that of an unrestricted nomad on a bicycle, including jeans, a rain jacket, a V-neck sweater, and other casual clothing he could bring from place to place.

Amanda, played by Sehee Lee, is an art student Leo brings home one night. Jan said she and director Desdemona Chiang really enjoyed putting her outfit together. Amanda wears platform shoes, fishnet tights, purple streaks in her hair, and a coral leather jacket. She's young, quirky, and has the edginess of a New York City art student.

See Jan's costume renderings come to life below! 

Jan's design for Leo, as worn by Schuyler Scott Mastain. Photo by Curtis Brown.
Jan's design for Vera, as worn by Dee Maaske. Photo by Jon Gardiner.
Jan's design for Bec, as worn by Arielle Yoder. Photo by Jon Gardiner.
Jan's design for Leo, as worn by Schuyler Scott Mastain. Photo by Curtis Brown.

Jan's design for Vera, as worn by Dee Maaske. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

Jan's design for Amanda, as worn by Sehee Lee. Photo by Jon Gardiner.
Jan's design for Vera, as worn by Dee Maaske. Photo by Curtis Brown.

Jan's design for Leo, as worn by Schuyler Scott Mastain. Photo by Jon Gardiner.

See Jan Chambers' designs onstage in 4000 Miles through April 19th!

Click here for more info or call our box office at 919.962.7529.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reflecting the Richness of Vera's Life: Jan Chamber's Scenic Design for 4000 Miles

Preliminary sketch by scenic designer Jan Chambers.
4000 Miles takes place in Vera Joseph's apartment in the West Village of New York City. Vera is 91 years old and has lived in the same apartment since the 1950s. Vera has lived a rich, vibrant life, so it only makes sense that her living space should reflect the adventures she's been on, relationships she's had, and experiences she's been through. This was the challenge of scenic and costume designer Jan Chambers.

Jan explains that over the years, Vera, played by Dee Maaske, has collected pieces that represent her fascinating life. Jan calls Vera's decorating style "intellectual bohemian," as there is no defining color scheme, however an abundance of photos, posters, furniture, and knickknacks give us a feel for Vera's passions and her extensive life experience.
"She's not a fancy person, but she's elegant in her own way."
Scenic model by Jan Chambers.
Jan says that in order to create a believable living space for Vera, she envisioned the spaces of some friends and relatives. "I am definitely channeling people I've known." The landlords of a friend in New York have lived there for decades. One is an artist and the other, a psychologist. Their apartment is filled with eclectic items representing their respective fields and passions, leaving no wall uncovered. It has a thrift shopper appeal that Jan was looking to create in Vera's apartment.

Vera's apartment may seem cluttered, but Jan explains that Vera knows exactly where everything is. She says Vera has fallen into a routine. "She probably eats the same thing for breakfast everyday." Vera's apartment has not changed much over the years, and Jan's design reflects the living space of an older character who has fallen into a pattern, but retains her vibrancy. 
Visual inspiration for Vera's apartment.

Stage left and upstage, you'll notice model cars and airplanes. These are placed intentionally as they remind us of Vera's late second husband, Joe. Although Joe died 10 years prior, he and Vera traveled together and shared the same political beliefs, thus the books about Marxism on the shelves and in baskets, and posters of Cuba and Mexico. Jan explains,"The more masculine sense given by the model cars and airplanes lets us remember that Joe is still with us in some way." 

Jan also loves that 4000 Miles is a story of a grandmother and grandson. "I'm making my son bring his grandmother as a date!"

We invite audience members, young and old, to enjoy 4000 Miles with us as this wonderful dramatic comedy opens Wednesday evening.

4000 Miles opens April 1st and runs until April 19th. 

Click here for more info or call our box office at 919-962-PLAY (7529)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Journey Across 4000 Miles

 By Jiayun Zhiang

Social psychologist Edward T. Hall has suggested four types of spatial distance between individuals. The first, intimate distance, ranges from actual contact to about 18 inches. The second, personal distance, ranges from 1.5 feet to 4 feet. The third, social distance, spans about 4 to 12 feet; and the last, public space, extends beyond 12 feet. As social animals, it seems that humans may protect our boundaries playfully or gently––sometimes less so––and at other times must overcome distances that may be physical, psychological, or emotional.

Playwright Amy Herzog.
Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, begins with a significant physical distance: the 4000 miles of a cross-continental bicycle trek from Seattle to New York. But there is also emotional separation between 21-year-old Leo, in his self-absorbed grief, and Vera, his 91-year-old grandmother, who although tiny and frail is fiercely independent and vivacious. At the heart of this beautifully rendered and subtly orchestrated piece, the characters face the aches and pains of growing up and growing old. They struggle with death, guilt, physical limits, and emotional frustrations as they slowly mend rifts between families, friends, and lovers. 
“I did feel very strongly about writing an older character with the dimensions that I observed in my grandmother, because I think there’s a way that older people can just disappear. I feel my own grandmother’s fight to remain present and relevant in a very pronounced way.”—Amy Herzog 
Herzog's grandmother, Leepee Joseph at the Occupy Wall Street protest.
 Herzog, a Yale School of Drama graduate, often fleshes out family stories in her work. For example,
her play After the Revolution (2010) followed her discovery of the 1950s targeting and blacklisting of her father’s stepfather, Julius Joseph, who had passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II. The play recounts the painful reconciliation undertaken by law school grad and activist Emma Joseph between her politics and family legacy after she learns that the grandfather for whom she named her legal defense fund was not who she had believed him to be. Herzog’s grandmother Leepee Joseph, a long-time left-wing activist and the model for Vera in 4000 Miles, did not completely agree with this portrayal of her husband. “I thought what my husband had done was perfectly legitimate,” she commented. “My grandmother would say her politics didn’t go into me,” Herzog said in an interview with Alexis Soloski from The New York Times, “but the fact that I come from a very political family is very influential for me.” Interestingly, Ms. Joseph, who was also present Soloski’s interview, responded that: “Oh, no question about that. But I didn’t see any politics in 4000 Miles.”
“I’ve always been interested in not just the politics, but the trappings of being a deeper political person … The word I’ve used before is ‘scaffolding.’ The kind of scaffolding people build for themselves in terms of their own belief systems is a subject of enduring interest to me.”—Amy Herzog
Herzog returns to family stories in 4000 Miles, this time by pairing a “transcendentalist, hippie” cousin and the “very New York, older person’s existence” of their common grandmother. This seemingly unlikely intergenerational connection sets the play in motion, and Herzog’s merging of the personal and the political further animates the backstory. Grandmother Vera, a widowed Lefty, despite her solitary life, is proud to be progressive and always creates a sense of community. Her college-dropout grandson, Leo, arrives unannounced at her Greenwich Village apartment, distressed after witnessing his best friend’s death in a bike accident. At her advanced age, Vera has much experience coping with her own losses; when she fully opens up to Leo, he is able to realize that the grieving process need not be borne alone. What started out as an overnight stay lasts for a month during which these two characters, equally sensitive and dignified despite their differences, share laughs, memories, and feelings that cross the boundaries of generations. Herzog’s own bicycle ride from New Haven to San Francisco on a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser after completing her undergraduate degree at Yale in 2000 added another layer of inspiration to the writing of this play. Herzog also spent 6 months living with Leepee Joseph in her Greenwich Village apartment, where together they transformed their relationship.
“I have a cousin who lives a kind of transcendentalist, hippie kind of life. And he lost a friend about two summers ago, actually in a rafting accident. I really adore this cousin, and I was thinking about this experience that he was going through — of being so young and suffering such a major loss. And I was also interested in just the way he’s chosen to live his life kind of outside the mainstream. My grandmother has this very New York, older person’s existence that I’m also really interested in. We’re very close. So starting with those two characters I invented this play, which was not at all based on any events or anything like that, but it was inspired by those two people.”—Amy Herzog
Herzog with her grandmother and inspiration for the character "Vera." 
Herzog's skillful technique and nuanced style turns this character-driven piece from drama into a poem in dramatic form. As such it graces the audience with swift confrontations tinged with the gentle flow of everyday life’s trivial matters, and poignant revelations punctuated by awkward pauses and humorous ambiguities. She approaches her characters with great attention to detail, yet this simplicity clearly conveys underlying complexities.

Although a resolution is not in sight toward the end of this 4000-mile trek, director Desdemona Chiang encourages audience members to call their grandparents or grandchildren right after the production, because, if I may add, 4000 Miles is that kind of stage where we could find intimacy to be rewarding and revealing, and compassion could be used to measure spatial distance in all human relationships.

PlayMakers Repertory Company's production of 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog.

April 1-19th. Directed by Desdemona Chiang

Click here or call 919-962-7529 for tickets and more information.