A Conversation With In Tandem’s All The Great Books
In Tandem Theatre’s production of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s All The Great Books (abridged) closes this weekend. In anticipation of the final weekend of one of the season’s funniest shows thus far, here is Part One of an extended conversation I had with the cast and director Chris Flieller a couple of weeks before the show opened. It was a much simpler time: the presidential elections were in the distant fuure, the set hadn’t been built, other production elements were still settling into place and Kevin Rich was still appearing in a show with Milwaukee Shakespeare that hadn’t yet closed. There was a casual humor about the Tenth Street Theatre as the show began the headier part of its journey to opening night.
It may not translate really well in rough transcript format, but this is when this job is really fun: hanging out with four respectably funny guys and talking with them about an upcoming project.
THE INITIAL SUCK-UP
Me: [to R. Chris Reeder]: First of all, I’ve never seen you before. You’re in Madison, correct?
R. Chris Reeder: That is correct. I live in Madison.
Me: Have you ever . . . I know this your first In Tandem show, but I this your first show in Milwaukee?
Reeder: I’ve never done a show in Milwaukee before.
Me: Wow. . . but you’ve been here.
Reeder: I’ve been here.
Kevin Rich: And his resume is extensive.
Me: Yeah, I’d noticed. But when I’d seen the cast listing, obviously I was not familiar with [Reeder] at all, but the two of you (Jarecki and Rich) I’m familiar with and it was really cool seeing that both of you were going to be in this. You’re two of my favorite comedic actors in town.
Doug Jarecki: Oh, thanks.
Me: There are very few comedic actors that I really like.
Me: (Mostly been impressed with comedic actresses who filter through here on their way to either coast, but actors? Not really. So it was cool to see the two of you in this show, ‘cuz you’re two of the few.) Have you ever done a show together?
Rich: No, this is our first one.
Jarecki: Yeah, we actually met . . . [to Rich] . . . I’d probably seen you before . . . but we just happened to audition at the same time.
Jarecki: And right away when we’d auditioned, there were just a couple of bits that came out of it. . . . y’know . . . [Director Chris Flieller] said “be playful,” and we took it to heart.
Rich: (comically dramatic tone) like fireworks.
Jarecki: Yeah, it’s those little things, if you pull something out of thin air and someone else takes it, you know that there’s that playfulness that you need.
Me: Had either of you seen anything that either of you were in before?
Rich: Yeah, at the time you were in the show at Milwaukee Shakespeare, right? You were in Cymbeline?
Jarecki: right, and I know I’ve seen you in something, I just don’t . . . you were so good that you made me forget what it was.
ON TO BUSINESS: INTRODUCTIONS
Me: And having read the background on this the premise is that he audience is a classroom.
Me: And they’re being introduced to 89 works in 90 minutes.
Me: [to Reeder] and you are the professor.
Reeder: I am the professor.
Me: Uhh .. . Tenured?
Me: Do you know?
Reeder: associate’s degree.
Reeder: yeah, he has an associate’s degree.
Rich: He calls himself The Professor.
Reeder: Yes. He prefers to be called the Professor.
Me: because these are high school students.
Rich: uhh . . . remedial high school students.
Reeder: Yes. . . It’s an hour and a half until graduation and thy have to pass this class or they don’t get to graduate.
Reeder: That’s the conceit of the premise.
Rich: Chris has actually done . . . this is written by the Reduced Shakespeare Company guys. And Chris did the complete Shakespeare . . .
Reeder: I’ve done the Complete History of America.
Rich: Ah. Is that how you met Chris Flieller?
Reeder: Yeah, Chris and Jane came and saw me in that back in ’02 . . .
Me: And that was St. Croix?
Reeder: Yeah, that was up in St. Croix Festival Theatre.
Me: (to Rich) and you’re the teacher’s aid, is that correct?
Rich: Yeah. I am the student teacher. I used to go to school here. Now I’ve graduated and I’m coming back to help. And one of my first lines is, “when I was a student here, I didn’t have teachers nearly as good as Coach and Professor . . .
Reeder: Makes ya’ wonder what the hell he did have . . .
Rich: Not much, because it becomes apparent that I probably have not read any of the books that we’re actually covering.
Me: Which jumps ahead to another question: as actors have any of you . . . read any of these books?
Jarecki: For me, this show has shone its light on my ignorance . . . oh I was supposed to read that in high school . . . and I was supposed to read that in high school . . .
Rich: Yeah, I really think that more than the 89 best books, it’s the 89 books you should have read.
Reeder: Yeah, the ones we deal with the most are kind of the ones that NO ONE has read. Y’know . . . War And Peace and Ulysses by James Joyce ad the Iliad and the Odyssey. . .
Me: [to Jarecki] and now, you’re playing Coach.
Me: Now—there’s a lot of different ways that that could be comical.
Me: What type? Is he dumb or slow, or does he need to . . . like . . . describe everything in sports terminology?
Director Chris Flieller joins the discussion
Jarecki: I’m just gonna play him with a limp and hope that’s funny enough.
Chris Flieller: If it’s not funny enough, we’ve got a hump.
Jarecki: No, the coach is actually interesting ‘cause he’s NOT the dumb jock type. I’m sure he’ll have the tight shorts and tube socks. But there’s a brain there and . . . really, as we’ve talked . . . [we’ve realized that] Coach has probably read more of these books than either of [the other] two. An, yeah, so he’s extremely knowledgeable of the material, but maybe not the most polished performer.
Rich: And you’re right, he does operate within a sorts framework.
Jarecki: Yeah, that’s what he filters it through.
Flieller: . . . this piece does explode the myth of the big, dumb jock as the coach does turn t to have a lot more going on behind the eyes than you would suppose at the beginning.
Me: And that’s interesting because it sounds like there’s actually, in spite of the format, it sounds like there’s a lot of character work going on.
Jarecki: . . . it would just be chaos otherwise . . .
TOMORROW: THEMES, MONEY, THE "GSA" AND MORE.
This Weekend: In Tandem's production of All The Great Books (abridged) closes.