Their father was born a slave, but by the time of their deaths the birthday of
Martin Luther King, Jr. had been made a national holiday. Bessie and Sadie
Delany reflected on their life experiences in Having Our Say
, an oral
history which was on the New York Times best seller list for 105 weeks and
became a play by Emily Mann. The Theater Project, a professional company
which was described by the Star Ledger
as "the state's best company
in finding off-Broadway plays and premiering them for NJ audiences," will
present Mann's play from April 4 through 21 at the Burgdorff Center for the
Performing Arts in Maplewood, New Jersey (tickets and additional
information available at www.thetheaterproject.org
Sadie, the older Delany sister, was born in the1880s and both sisters lived into the 1990s. Their vivid and candid storytelling makes Having Our Say
not only historical, but intensely personal. It relates their coming of age in the Jim Crow
South, obtaining degrees and developing professional careers, living through two world wars and the Great Depression, but it is as much about their interactions with one another as about those experiences. As Vincent Canby wrote in his New York Times review, Bessie "finishes Sadie's sentences. She can't resist either withering sarcasm or blunt truth, which often amuses her as much as it does Sadie." Canby observed that Ms. Mann, using "vivid portraits of
forbears," had "shaped the material so that the tales flow easily
one into another until, by the end of the performance, you feel as if the stage
has been packed with people."
The production will be directed by Theater Project artistic director Mark Spina, who received a 2012 best comedy director New Jersey Tony from the Star Ledger. Playing the Delany Sisters are Gail Lou and Daaimah Talley, both of whom see a relationship between their characters and their personal experiences. Daaimah Talley sees both parallels and contrasts between her character, the older sister Sadie, and herself. In the play, Sadie describes how as a girl she experienced the direct and obvious Southern racism, but Daaimah, having been born in the North, where prejudice was more subtle, did not
recognize racism until after childhood. Daaimah's family resembled the Delany family in many respects; however one is central to the play: Storytelling was a key part of both families' cultures, and in both it was used as a tool for teaching about social and personal relationships. Gail Lou noted geographic
similarities between her own family history and that of the Delanys, including
the fact that her great uncle attended a church with an identical name to one
that has a role in the Delany family heritage. In addition, she recalled
that, not unlike the Delanys, her family history included a mixed marriage, in
her case between her great-great grandfather, who came from England, and his
East Indian wife.
Both actors have long histories of accomplishment. Daaimah Talley, a singer and designer as well as an actor, has performed in venues in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. A founding member of The Theater Project, she has appeared there in Ms. Witherspoon
, The Dining Room, The Skin of Our Teeth,
and Jackie: An American Life
. She is the director of A FEW STEPS IN A STRANGER’S SHOES, The Theater Project’s program about the challenges faced by immigrant students in American schools. Gail Lou is a vocalist, musician, and actress whose performance credits include the Off-Broadway production of Mama I Want to Sing
as Lena Horne; I've Got a Mind to Ramble
, a one woman show featuring the music of Alberta Hunter; and as a featured soloist in the Broadway Cares Gospel Chorus' AIDS Benefit
. Ms. Lou is also a recording artist and has appeared in films and on television. Her vocal recording accolades include Grammy Committee recognition for her independent single, "You Got the Vibe."
The Theater Project is known for presenting outrageous comedy as well as drama with social commentary. Last November, the company tackled marriage equality, presenting a one-night-only reading of “8” by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, the play chronicling the historic California challenge to
In last month's overview of The Theater Project's 2012 productions, we observed that several of those productions (Miss Witherspoon and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler) explored the hereafter from varying perspectives, and another (8) dealt with the here and now issue of marriage equality. Next month, TTP will present script in hand readings which include in a single play both characters who straddle the boundary between life and death, and the here and now issue of war and peace.
The readings on February 1 through 3 will present Irwin Shaw's Bury the Dead, an anti-war play which is as timely now as it was at its 1936 premiere. In this case, the characters straddling that boundary are supposedly dead soldiers who refuse to be buried. Set in World War I, Bury the Dead was originally produced in 1936 at The Fourteenth Street Theatre in New York. After the first performance, it attracted the attention of influential critics and theatrical notables, and moved to The Ethel Barrymore Theatre with sensational success.
The new young author, who had recently graduated from Brooklyn College, became a name on Broadway. He went on to become noted not only as a playwright but also as a screenwriter and novelist. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, which led him to make additional contributions to the literature of war through two plays, Sons and Soldiers and The Assassin, and a novel, The Young Lions (published in 1948, filmed in 1958). During the McCarthy era, Shaw was blacklisted, left the United States, and spent the rest of his life in Europe, producing novels, plays, screenplays, short stories and nonfiction.
The readings will feature many TTP regulars, including Andre DeSandies , Kevin Sebastian and Jenelle Sosa, under the direction of artistic director Mark Spina. Following each reading, there will be a discussion with guests New Jersey antiwar groups, including NJ Peace Action, Vets Against War, and Military Families Speak Out.
The readings will take place at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts,10 Durand Road in Maplewood, New Jersey. Curtain time is 8 pm on Friday and Saturday and 2 pm on Sunday. Tickets are available on this website.
In 2012, The Theater Project overcame many challenges, joining forces with the What Exit? company and moving its main stage to Maplewood (while continuing its reading series in Cranford), receiving two New Jersey Tonys from the Star-Ledger, presenting main stage productions which explored the hereafter from several perspectives, and dealing with the here and now issue of marriage equality.
The new Maplewood location was the venue for the main stage productions of Christopher Durang's "Miss Witherspoon," in which the title character goes through several reincarnations after attempting suicide, and JeffWhitty's "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler," in which Hedda and other literary characters from a range of times and places find themselves together in a sort of literary purgatory, where they explore the nature of art and artists' relationship to their audiences. The Maplewood Burgdorff Center was also the location for a reading of "8," Dustin Lance Black's dramatization of trial transcripts of the court challenge to Proposition 8, the California referendum which attempted to ban same-sex marriage.
Noting the challenges the year presented, Artistic Director Mark Spina observed "despite facing a rough transition, we made it through and I'm very proud of the work we've done in 2012. We brought our audience productions of two plays they would never have seen had The Theater Project not chosen to tackle them; we took on the challenge of mounting '8.' We have done our best not to shrink programs in the face of an economic downturn, a geographic move, and a strategic reorganization."
The 2011-12 season brought two New Jersey Tonys to The Theater Project, one for Bev Sheehan, What Exit?'s long-time artistic director and now The Theater Project's casting director, who demonstrated that she is also an accomplished actor when she received the Star-Ledger's 2012 New Jersey Tony as best actress in a comedy for her role as the title character in "Miss Witherspoon." Theater Project artistic director Mark Spina also received a 2012 New Jersey Tony for his direction of another Project production, "Penny Penniworth."
In addition to the Maplewood productions, The Theater Project continued its Saturday afternoon readings of works-in-progress from its playwrights' workshop, and presented readings of the winning entries from its Young Playwrights' Competition, all in its long-time home city of Cranford,
Looking forward to 2013, main stage productions will include an April production of Emily Mann's "Having Our Say" (a Theater Project production in 2003), in which Sadie and Bessie Delaney, two very old ladies who with infectious charm and intelligence, guide us through a century and a half of America’s social history from slavery to the close of the 20th century. After they each passed the century mark, the Delaney sisters gained international recognition in 1991 when their book HAVING OUR SAY (with NY Times writer Amy Hill Hearth) spent six months on the best-seller lists.
The readings in Cranford and the Young Playwrights' Competition will continue in 2013 as well. There will also be a number of events in Maplewood, including a staged reading of Irwin Shaw's "Bury the Dead" (an anti-war play which is, unfortunately, as timely now as it was at its 1936 premiere), "Kaleidoscope Kabaret" (new work from our Playwrights Workshop performed and showcased) and a unique social/theatrical event, "Date Night" (a hilarious glance at that painful ritual known as dating with comic sketches, great food, a silent auction, and a cash bar).
The Theater Project Presents Staged Readingof Marriage Equality Play “8” for One Night Only on Friday, November 16. TheTheaterProject.org Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts 10 Durand Rd, Maplewood, NJ
Contact Daaimah Talley, 973 763-4029, email@example.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct 19, 2012
MAPLEWOOD, NJ -- It took the issue of marriage equality to get attorneys David Boies and Theodore Olson working on the same side of a legal case. In 2000, when the United States Supreme Court had in effect to decide whether George W. Bush or Al Gore would become President, Boies represented Gore and Olson represented Bush. Now the one-time adversaries have been working together in a successful legal challenge to California's Proposition 8, the ballot initiative which stripped gay and lesbian Californians of the fundamental freedom to marry.
The Theater Project, an award-winning New Jersey theater company, is proud to announce, with license from the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) and Broadway Impact, a one-night-only reading of “8,” a play chronicling the historic trial in that federal constitutional challenge to Proposition 8, written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter and AFER Founding Board Member Dustin Lance Black.
The reading will bring together twenty Theater Project actors on a single stage, and will be directed by Artistic Director Mark Spina, who was awarded a 2012 best director award by the Star-Ledger. It will take place on November 16 at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts in Maplewood, NJ. Tickets ($20) may be reserved by calling 973.763.4029 or purchased through The Theater Project website, www.thetheaterproject.org.
Black, who penned the Academy Award-winning feature film Milk and the film J. Edgar, based “8” on the actual words of the trial transcripts in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Perry v. Brown), the legal challenge filed by AFER to overturn Proposition 8, as well as first-hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families.
The reading will be followed by a talk back at which audience members will be able to discuss the issues illuminated by "8" with marriage equality activists.
“8” had its much-heralded Broadway world premiere on September 19, 2011, at the sold-out Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City, a production which brought in over $1 million to support AFER’s efforts to achieve full federal marriage equality. “8” had its West Coast premiere reading in March in Los Angeles. The reading featured an all-star cast led by Golden Globe Award-winner and Academy and Emmy Award-nominee Brad Pitt, Academy and Golden Globe Award-winner and Emmy Award-nominee George Clooney and Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winner Martin Sheen The benefit reading, directed by AFER Founding Board Member Rob Reiner, raised more than $2 million.
The story for “8” is framed by the trial’s historic closing arguments in June 2010, and features the best arguments and testimony from both sides. Scenes include flashbacks to some of the more jaw-dropping moments of trial, such as the admission by the Proposition 8 supporters’ star witness, David Blankenhorn, that “we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were on the day before.”
“People need to witness what happened in the Proposition 8 trial, if for no other reason than to see inequality and discrimination unequivocally rejected in a court of law where truth and facts matter,” said playwright Dustin Lance Black. “The goal of ‘8’ is to show the world that marriage equality is a basic constitutional right. The facts are on our side and truth always finds the light. AFER and Broadway Impact are doing all we can to help speed that process along.”
On February 7, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a landmark decision upholding the historic August 2010 ruling of the Federal District Court that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit concluded
“Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort.”
Throughout 2012, AFER and Broadway Impact are licensing “8” for free to colleges and community theatres nationwide in order to spur action, dialogue and understanding. Spina, the reading's director, noted that The Theater Project decided to offer the reading because "The Theater Project has always believed that society evolves through storytelling. We strive to be part of that process, and “8” is a perfect opportunity."
For information on productions of “8” nationwide, visit: www.8theplay.com .
Visit TheTheaterProject.org, to order tickets for the 8 PM, November 16 staged reading of “8” at the Burgdorff Cultural Center, 10 Durand Road, Maplewood, NJ, or call 973 763.4029.
The Theater Project’s 11th Annual Young Playwrights CompetitionNow Seeking Submissions from NJ High School Student Playwrights
Open to all NJ secondary school students, ages 13 to 18.
All entries must be received by January 21, 2013
When The Theater Project says that playwrights entering its upcoming competition must be young, it means it. Not many 13-18 year-olds have an opportunity to have a play they wrote performed in a reading by professional actors, but the three of them who win the project's Young Playwrights Competition will get that chance.
The competition is open to secondary school students aged 13-18, and will culminate in a reading in March, 2013.
The Theater Project, an award-winning drama company, is sponsoring the11th annual competition to encourage the next generation of theater practitioners and audiences by honoring student work and bringing it to life. In addition to having their work performed, the first, second, and third place authors will receive $600, $400 and $200 savings bonds, respectively. Three additional student writers will receive Honorable Mention certificates.
Putting words together in a meaningful way is not only about communication, but also fosters the critical thinking skills so necessary to success in education and the workplace, says Theater Project artistic director Mark Spina.
The competition was inspired by a generous donation from Linden resident Bill Mesce, Jr., an award-winning playwright and screenwriter, whose recent short story collection, PRECIS, was published by Stephen F. Austin University Press. He is also the author of OVERKILL: THE RISE AND FALL OF THRILLER CINEMA, and writes regularly about film and television for the award-winning website, Sound on Sight. Mesce's reaction to the first ten years of the competition: "it is not only impressive but inspiring to see these young people applying themselves to an art form that has always been about a command of language, and a bit awesome to see how well they carry it off."
GUIDELINES (also available at thetheaterproject.org
Only one entry per author. Entry fee: $5
Scripts must be typed in play format.
All submissions must be 10 to 25 pages (excerpts of longer work are OK!).
Original work only, no adaptations.
All entrants must be NJ residents in secondary school.
Entries MUST be received by January 21, 2013
HOW TO ENTER: By January 21, 2013, submit a 10 to 25 page script according to the guidelines above to TheaterProject@AOL.COM
with a 50-word biography of the author, contact information and the name of school currently attended. The $5 entry fee can be paid at our web site: TheTheaterProject.org.
All questions can be directed to The Theater Project at 973.763.4029
or by email at THEATERPROJECT@aol.com
In their online conversation, part of which was included in last week's blog, "Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" cast members Rasha Jay, Gary Glor, Rick Delaney and Dennis DaPrile elaborated on the characters who, although stereotypes, pioneered the future, and also spoke about how the characters affected one another:
Dennis: Steven and Patrick [modeled after characters in "The Boys in the Band"] admire Hedda and Mammy for who they are.....They love Hedda for who she is even though she is an unhappy character. I think it speaks about our need for drama, meaning theatrical drama
Rick Delaney: Steven and Patrick love Celebrities--if a Kardashian was a character, they'd be hanging around her!
* * *
Rasha Jay discussed in more detail the way in which her character Mammy, despite being a stereotype, broke new ground:
Dave Harris: Going back to the character of Mammy, is it that in Gone with the Wind she was a first in that she was an African American who was not a stereotype?
Rasha Jay: No. Mammy was a character in that movie who was stereotype, indicative of that place in history.
Dave Harris: So then was she revolutionary?
Rasha Jay: She is revolutionary because you can't have the "Diane Johnson" characters and many other African American characters on TV without Mammy. All "firsts" have to take the hard knocks.
Dave Harris: So Mammy in GWTW was revolutionary in that she was an African American character with a significant but stereotyped role?
Rasha Jay: Yes
* * *
Dennis: Rasha...I want to point out something that you said last night in the talk back. That the Mammy stereotype still exists in media today even though she is not wearing a kerchief. The same goes with the Boys in the Band stereotype (think Will and Grace)
* * *
Rick Delaney: Also, Mammy was played by the amazing Hattie McDaniel, who won an Oscar. But who never got the opportunity to show what else she could do. But who made it possible for other African American actors to imagine they could achieve that and more. Mammy and Hattie's stories have become intertwined, wouldn't you say, Rasha?
Rasha Jay: Yes, but rightfully so. She blew that role out of the water. Amazing.
Rick Delaney: And with much less to work with. Script-wise.
* * *
The cast members also elaborated on a scene establishing the significance in the play of Jesus, who, Rick Delaney said in last week's excerpt, is a way for Jeff Whitty (the playwright) to talk about the relationship between the audience and the artist.... How we are connected (through Art) in a way that is personal and profound, but who also is a vehicle for the playwright to comment on the use of religious figures to support a political or social viewpoint:
Rick Delaney: So Art can be a way for audiences to connect with people and situations in a deep and profound way, and open their minds and hearts in ways they never expected.
* * *
Gary Glor: And for some reason, my Suffering Jesus elicits laughs, which baffles me. Is it the hair (slash) wig?
Rick Delaney: I should point out there are multiple Jesuses.
Gary Glor: Dare we?
Gary Glor: Multiple Jesi and Little Orphan Annie
Rick Delaney: Because there are multiple Jesus roles in Film and Theater, from Godspell to Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ
Rick Delaney: The play carefully states we are "not the Jesus who walked the earth". It is really satirizing the way people focus on the aspect of Jesus that suits their agenda best. And I think it's shocking (in a good way) that the play goes there with your character.
Rick Delaney: Mark [Spina, director] has said that the Jesus scene was one of the reasons he wanted to do the play. Because of what it says about the audience and Art.... But it's also a very brave scene. And not "correct" at all.
Photo by Kevin Sebastian.
Four cast members of "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler," which continues through October 7, had an online conversation recently about the play and their characters. The cast members were Rasha Jay, Gary Glor, Rick Delaney and Dennis DaPrile. Dave Harris, a contributor to the Theater Project blog, interposed an occasional question. The cast members began by describing their characters and how they relate to a central construct of the play, that Hedda and other fictional characters from past and present are committed to a literary limbo, a place where death is possible for fictional characters only when they are forgotten by the real-life public. .
Gary Glor: I'm playing Hedda's husband [Tesman]. Without her I don't really exist (that anyone would care). So clearly I'm anxious for her to not change, to always be in people's memories and their imaginations. So I'm like an ineffectual bungee cord, constantly trying to get her back. Doesn't help that she hates me. But I keep a-tryin'
Rasha Jay: I play Mammy from the film, Gone with the Wind who takes care of Hedda and Tesman specifically. Mammy goes through a great self-reflection when she finds out the origin of her character. She then searches for change but realizes that she is pivotal to the future African-American characters.
Dennis DaPrile: I play Steven. He is based on some of the gay stereotype characters from The Boys in The Band. He and Patrick are stereotypes that still exist today in people's minds and therefore they exist in this purgatory.
Rick Delaney: Well, many of us have multiple characters. My main roles are Medea, Jesus Christ and Eilert Lovborg, and they serve different functions. Medea is a way to help the audience learn the rules of the world we all inhabit. And also let the audience know that anything can happen here. Eilert Lovborg (one of the characters from the "real" Hedda play) is part of the object of Hedda's quest to find change. But he is not quite the answer she's looking for. And Jesus, I think, is a way for Jeff Whitty (playwright) to talk about the relationship between the audience and the artist. How we are connected (through Art) in a way that is personal and profound.
Gary Glor: Perhaps we should note that Hedda goes on a quest with Mammy to search for their authors and change their fates so they don't aren't trapped in their perpetual state of despair (Hedda) and, to [Rasha's] point, politically incorrect (for our time) servitude (Mammy) As long as they are remembered, as far as they are concerned, they remain true to their originator, and THAT is purgatory
Dennis DaPrile: The play takes place in a purgatory of sorts where characters exist only as long as they are remembered by audiences.
Gary Glor: Nothing can change in purgatory.
Dave Harris: So do Mammy and Hedda want to be forgotten, or as Gary seemed to say, want to change their fates as set out in the original works?
Gary Glor: Both.
Rasha Jay: Yes.
Rick Delaney: And characters only die when they and their stories are forgotten.
Rasha Jay: They want to change their stories and how they are remembered.
Dave Harris: So there is some ambiguity about what Hedda and Mammy want, to be forgotten and die or, as Rasha just said, to change how they are remembered?
Rasha Jay: I don't feel that they want to be forgotten and die...they want to change their "endings." Hedda wants to live and be happy. Mammy no longer wants to be a slave
Gary Glor: Hedda wants change - she doesn't seem to absorb the concept that to change, to no longer be Hedda, would be her demise. Mammy thinks a transformation to someone else equally memorable is the route.
Dave Harris: Why does change mean Hedda's demise?
Gary Glor: Actually she's like Mammy and thinks a transformed Hedda can survive if she's equally fabulous.
Rasha Jay: Because her "audience" doesn't want her to change.
Rick Delaney: There's a line in the play--if Hedda is happy, she's no longer Hedda.
Gary Glor: Both do come close to facing their deaths
Rasha Jay: Once someone "changes" in the play, they die...their "audience" wants them to stay just as they are.
Gary Glor: as they transform
Rick Delaney: But by changing, does she retain what makes her memorable, or simply become ordinary and and forgettable.
Gary Glor: Mammy becomes someone 'fabulous' ... that ought to be memorable ... Hedda tries to become something inspirational - and Happy.
Rick Delaney: The characters become stand-ins for the audience questions. Can I change? What happens when I do? Who am I, really, at the heart of it all. Do I lose everything when I change, if I even can.
Rasha Jay: Hedda tries to be beat the odds, no matter all the warnings from "Jesus."
Gary Glor: All this and it's a comedy!
Rick Delaney: That's one of the beauties of the script. The best comedies give you something you can take with you after you leave the theater. Not just a few hours of diversion and a couple of laughs.
Dave Harris: Rasha, how do you mean Hedda tries to beat the odds?
Rasha Jay: She gets warned throughout by everyone that she cannot change, certain traits aren't in her nature, etc...but she goes into the "furnace" anyway..to get Ibsen to "change her ending"
Gary Glor: Hedda, if nothing else, is willful. And actually it's that wild determination, that drives the comedy
* * *
Rasha Jay: I think that the characters of Stephen and Patrick are the smartest characters. They have resigned to their natures, know that they are "pioneers"
* * *
The conversation then continued to focus on the topic of change, by looking at how two sets of characters, Hedda and Mammy on one hand and, on the other, Steven and Patrick (based on characters in "The Boys in the Band") approached the possibility of change from their original artistic depictions.
Rasha Jay: They [Hedda and Mammy] are both in search of change, Hedda's method is simply different..she has a different track to follow than Mammy
Dennis: I don't think Mammy and Hedda realize that if they change themselves that means they will die.
Dave Harris: Rasha, based on your earlier comment, Steven and Patrick are not trying to change. Does that mean they are willing to be remembered and therefore remain in purgatory?
Rick Delaney: I think they [Stephen and Patrick] want to change. But they come to a point where the stakes are high and they have to make a choice.
Rasha Jay: They are from the beginning CLEAR on who they are
Rasha Jay: Its only when Mammy and Hedda go into the furnace that they [Steven and Patrick] want to join in
Rick Delaney: They seem to have more self-awareness than a lot of the others.
Rasha Jay: And afterwards--they don't change their story at all.
Dennis: They have a longing to change...to fit in.
Gary Glor: at first
Dennis: But they don't act on it. They do go in search of their writer but come back without changing themselves.
Gary Glor: Truthfully they go through a similar journey to see what change would look like when they go into the Furnace
Rick Delaney: So change for them ultimately isn't worth it, if it means not being who they are?
Rasha Jay: It isn't worth it, because as Patrick says "we realized that we may be dated, but we're a foothold for better times to come"
Gary Glor: The characters in "The Boys in the Band" hate themselves, but the play, they have such fun, I always think they're the most happy with who they are
Dennis: I think they are more aware of the "rules" of purgatory because they explain them to Hedda and Mammy. They know that for them to change means that they would not exist anymore.
Rasha Jay: Anything or anyone that is "first" has to be take the hardest knocks...and these guys know it.
Gary Glor: Funny, it's like LGBT people who have to understand the rules of the dominant society to get along
Rick Delaney: I think it's time to stress again that it's a COMEDY!
Gary Glor: Steven and Patrick are FABULOUS!
Rick Delaney: We all love the ideas so much that it's easy to get caught up in that when talking about it.
Dave Harris: What other character is most significant to each of your characters and why?
Rasha Jay: For me, the characters that are most significant to Mammy are Stephen and Patrick. They give her the tools to understand that although she is a sterotype, she must remain who she is.
Dave Harris: Rasha: And why must she remain who she is?
Rasha Jay: Because as she is told by Patrick, "We're baby steps. We're the pioneers".
Rick Delaney: To deny who Mammy is because that character makes us uncomfortable might make us (the audience) feel good. But it's also a way of negating who we are (or used to be). It's rewriting history to make us feel better. But it's not the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Dave Harris: So it does relate to poltical correctness?
Rasha Jay: Well, its a satire on that political correctness.
Rick Delaney: Yes. I think so.
Dennis: These characters are the starting point for things to come. Looking back at them from a 2012 perspective makes some characters seem dated and offensive, but when they first appeared they were revolutionary.
Dave Harris: How was Mammy revolutionary?
Dennis: Mammy and The Boys in the Band you didn't see Black actors much and certainly not gay characters
* * *
Rick Delaney: I think the play is serious in intent and brilliantly uses humor to get the audience to think.
Rick Delaney: Jesus says that the audience members, sitting alone and watching, can feel more compassion for the imaginary characters than they do for the loved ones sitting along side them.
Rick Delaney: I think each person in the audience will get something different from the play. Some will laugh more, some may get angry.
Rasha Jay: I think the author has multiple ideas and themes going on this play..the audience has to keep up!
Rick Delaney: They have to be willing to Change!
Dennis: I think at its heart this play is a zany romp and a heck of a lot of fun to be in and to watch
Rasha Jay: Yes, a "zany romp"...love it
* * *
Gary Glor: Liz Zazzi [who plays Hedda] is a powerhouse actress and she's got a real sense of Hedda as tigress
Rick Delaney: "soul" of the play?
Rick Delaney: or the heart?
* * *
Rick Delaney: I hope people [in the audience] have as much fun as we do!
Nobody would ever label Mark Spina a traditionalist. This award-winning director likes to challenge himself..and his audiences. Well-known for picking cutting edge material, he’s selected one of the most unconventional plays of recent years, THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER, to open his first season in Maplewood. Written by Jeff Whitty, who won a Tony for authoring the book of the hit musical AVENUE Q, the script uses the climax of the Henrik Ibsen classic as its point of departure. It sends the title heroine on a fantastic journey through a netherworld populated with other famous characters, including Medea and Mammy from GONE WITH THE WIND.
Amid a frenetic rehearsal schedule, Spina caught his breath long enough to comment on the project:
-What made you pick this script?
-I like plays that challenge social conventions, and embrace theatricality, rather than realism. We can't compete with movies’ ability to blow up buildings convincingly, but we can have actors play multiple roles on a simple set and take the audience as far as their imaginations will let them go. This show does that, entertaining and challenging us with some very interesting questions.-
-How do you classify it: A Farce? Satire? Fantasy? Dramady? All of the above?
-I think it's a fantastic satire of political correctness.-
-Most people are probably ignorant of the source material. Isn’t knowledge of the original HEDDA GABLER necessary to appreciate her “further adventures?” How will you compensate for a patron’s ignorance of Ibsen?
-In the opening scene, the author does a great job of filling the audience in: at the end of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, she shoots herself in the head. That's all you need to know.-
-This play deals with various stereotypes. Won’t some people find this offensive?
-The author includes modern characters in the play who express that disapproval. The question is, how do we deal with the stereotypes from the past? Should we pretend they never existed? Or do we somehow try to integrate them into the continuum of our constantly evolving social consciousness?-
In the original production, 5 actors played multiple roles. Have you duplicated the same assignments? How hard was it to cast this play?
We've divided the roles a little bit differently. We needed actors with a strong sense of period style to be able to switch back and forth between the old and the new in the play. It was a long process, but we found a great cast. Liz Zazzi plays Hedda and heads our group of seven, alongside Gary Glor, Rick Delaney, Rasha Jay, Rachelle M. Dorse, Jason Gillis and Dennis DaPrile. (The first four are members of Actors Equity Association.)
What do you want audiences to “take away” from this experience?
I think The Further Adventures ... has a lot to say about the vital part storytelling plays in bringing us closer or farther from people who we believe are very different from ourselves. Books, plays, legends, films -- if there were no Will and Grace, would there be gay marriage in so many states? But mostly, it’s a play about the nature of life: figuring out what you can change, and making peace with what you can't.
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER will run for three weekends, as follows:
Thursday, Sep 20 8PM
Friday, Sep 21 at 8PM
Saturday, Sep 22 8PM
Sunday Matinee Sep 23 2PM
Fri Evenings, Sep 28 & Oct 5 8PM
Sat Matinees, Sep 29 & Oct 6 2PM
Sat Evenings, Sep 29 & Oct 6 8PM
Sun Matinees, Sep 30 & Oct 7 2PM
A post-show discussion will be held after each Friday performance. Performances will be held at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, 10 Durand Road in Maplewood, NJ. Call 973-763-4029 or visit www.thetheaterproject.org for further information.
The Theater Project, a professional theater company now based in Maplewood, New Jersey began in 1994 with the goal of bringing productions of the best contemporary plays to New Jersey. In the 18 years since, the project has presented over 50 plays on its main stage, many within a few years of their New York premieres, and has received numerous awards, most recently including two 2012 New Jersey Tonys from the Star-Ledger. The Star-Ledger's theater critic, Peter Filichia, described the project as "the state's best company in finding off-Broadway plays and premiering them for NJ audiences." The Theater Project and another leading New Jersey professional group, the What Exit? Theatre Company, recently combined their resources to form an enhanced company.
Theater Project productions range from pungent comedy to fierce drama, and its next presentation, Jeff Whitty's "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler," includes a little of each. Taking up from where Henrik Ibsen's classic ends, Hedda, after taking advice from Medea (the murderess next door on the Cul de Sac of the Tragic Heroines), resolves not to commit suicide ever again. Abetted by her servant, Mammy of "Gone with the Wind," she sets out on a perilous quest through literary limbo, a place where death is possible for fictional characters only when they are forgotten by the real-life public. Along the way, they meet characters from science fiction, Black feminist theater, TV cop shows, and Biblical dramas, as well as a couple of the wisecracking Boys in the Band. Once Hedda and Mammy arrive at their fiery destination, they face a heartbreaking truth about themselves, their creators, and the forces that make them eternal.
Mammy also encounters figures from Black feminist theater who want nothing to do with her, a black character imagined by a white author who – until now – has never questioned her enslavement. This clash between cultural icons from the past and present reflects society’s evolving views on race, sexual identity and women’s roles, and provides a springboard for discussion about the changes wrought over the last 100 years, and the role fiction and drama play in shaping social attitudes.
Mark Spina, the Theater Project's artistic director since its inception, directs this production. Casting was directed by Bev Sheehan, What Exit?'s long-time artistic director and currently the Theater Project's casting director. Sheehan is also an accomplished actor who received the Star-Ledger's 2012 New Jersey Tony award as best actress in a comedy for her leading role in the Theater Project's "Miss Witherspoon." Spina also received a 2012 New Jersey Tony for his direction of another Project production, "Penny Penniworth."
Cast members for "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" include Dennis DaPrile, Rick Delaney, Rachelle Dorce, Jason Gillis, Gary Glor, Barbara Guidi, Rasha Jay and Liz Zazzi. It opens on September 20 at the Burgdorff Cultural Center in Maplewood, New Jersey, and will be presented Thursdays through Sundays, closing on October 7.
Written by David Harris