Actor Sean Parris
If any theater knows its way around Edward Albee’s work, it’s Remy Bumppo. From 2011’s The Goat, to their current production of Seascape, the company and Albee have proved a perfect match. Our Town spoke with Artistic Director Nick Sandys about Seascape.
Our Town Seascape seems to be one of Albee's lesser produced works. What made you decide to stage it?
Nick Sandys The play includes everything Remy Bumppo looks for in a script: great, demanding language, complex ideas and arguments, wit and humanity, emotional depth. It was only after we had chosen it to begin my first season as Artistic Director that I learned from James Bohnen, the founding director, that he had wanted to produce it in his first season but could not attain the rights. I actually think that there are numerous smaller productions of the play, partly because its quirkily absurd surface is appealing, but it is actually very demanding physically--aside from the actors' physical movements, the costumes and the set need to be very detailed and essentially spectacular.
OT You've complimented Albee's ability to mix drama with humor. Is this somehow rare?
NS I don't necessarily believe that this combination is rare--tragicomedy is after all the 20th and 21st centuries' most common dramatic mode or genre. But I do think that Albee uses humor in a unique way. He is not afraid to include linguistically adroit and self-conscious characters who can punctuate an emotional scene with verbal wit or quibbling, a daring tactic that somehow allows humor into the darkest emotional scenes and never releases the tension, instead simply allowing the audience to feel safe and continue the ride.
OT In the program, you write that Seascape is about our cultural moment. Can you expand on that?
NS Seascape was written in an eight-year stretch from 1967 to 1975, a period of particular turmoil for the American psyche: Vietnam, Watergate, environmental initiatives, the moon-landing, suburban white flight, etc. And I feel that none of those issues have disappeared--in fact, as the play suggests, we seem destined to repeat our human behavioral errors over and over again, whether it be in the habits of a marriage or in our lack of historical knowledge. We can all find contemporary versions of those same issues. As the play states, "Is [evolution] for the better? I don't know. Progress is a set of assumptions."
OT With Remy Bumppo, this is Annabel Armour's second take on an Albee matriarch in two years. Is she a particularly good fit for Albee or why use her repeatedly in similar roles?
NS I have to say that there is very little in common between Stevie in The Goat and Nancy in Seascape. They are world's apart as characters. Annabel does have a unique rhythm as an actress, which makes her very watchable on stage, and her naturalism does fit Albee's linguistically quirky characters perfectly, as does her ability to suddenly access dangerous emotional depths.
OT Can you talk a little about the lizards? How were the costumes conceived? What physical choices/acting choices did the actors make to embody such unusual characters?
NS I wanted the lizards to be very realistic, so we looked at iguanas in the Galapagos and at Komodo dragons, and I took the actors to the zoo for a day to study various lizards for movement styles and "quotations." As for the costumes, Albee insists on viewing designs before he will release performance rights. so I actually went searching for previous productions to view costumes and discovered that Rachel Laritz, who has worked with Remy Bumppo before, had designed the costumes for a Milwaukee Repertory production and they were very realistic, rather than fanciful, which is what I was looking for. So we ended up renting those lizard costumes, which then had to be "re-tailored" for our actors and we made some adaptations, particularly to the facial make-up. This was particularly important having purposefully cast minorities in those roles, as I wanted their own ethnicity and cultural differences to come through strongly.
OT When working with material containing absurd elements, what are your goals as a director?
NS As Albee has said, there is nothing really absurd about the premise of the play--other than buying that the lizards speak English! That is truly bizarre. But beyond that, whatever the rules of a play's world may be, you must follow them 100%. The journey is to make the situation real for actors and audience alike. Only then can engagement, and thus entertainment, occur.
OT What's your directing style, generally?
NS I really feel that I don't have a "style" as such, except that the text is paramount, the play is the star, and the rehearsal room must be joyful. Other than that, I am at the service of the play. Whatever it demands, I will do my best to provide. Interpretation is about subjective worldview but must also about the people in the room, since the play is theirs too and theatre is the only truly communal art form. A great play is like a great poetic symbol, full of expanding ideas and connections--therefore, to add a style or an interpretation can only lessen the possibilities and diminish the ideas. This does not mean I don't approach the text with opinions and readings. Of course, I do. I just believe them to be lesser than the whole. We always should learn from the journey the play offers.
Seascape runs through October 14th.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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