Friday, Jan. 30, 2009

Big Picture/Small Space: Next Act's GOING TO ST. IVES pt. 1

By Russ Bickerstaff
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This weekend, Next Act Theatre opens its production of Lee Blessing’s drama Going To St, Ives. It’s the story of a British ocular surgeon and the mother of an African dictator. The Next Act production features Milwaukee Rep resident actress Laura Gordon as the surgeon and Chicago-based actress Ora Jones as the mother. The production is directed by Mary MacDonald Kerr. I spoke with them backstage a few week ago . . .



A SMALLER CANVAS

Me: I’d seen A Walk In The Woods with Milwaukee Chamber. This is the same playwright ad a similar set-up. You’ve two characters, two actors, two acts, two conversations, two situations. It’s a very small canvas with huge implications and concepts beyond it. You [Ora Jones] work with Stepenwolf [in Chicago] . . . and you [Laura Gordon] are more familiar with larger ensemble stuff. When is the last time either of you have worked onstage with just two people in a theatre this intimate?

Ora Jones: There’s a stage manager at Steppenwolf . . . who has a theatre in Vermont, which is very popular, but very tiny and we did Doubt there, which is four people. Twice as many . . . but as far as something less than that . . . I guess it HAS been a while.

Laura Gordon: It’s been a while. Doing plays in the Steimke is obviously more intimate than the [Quadracci] Powerhouse. I’ve done some smaller character plays, but . . . they’ve been in larger spaces. I used to do this all the time—I used to wok in more intimate settings, but I guess it HAS been a while . . . okay, now you’re freaking me out . . .

Me: [laugh] Are you preparing any differently?

Laura Gordon: No.

Ora Jones: No. The story is the story . . . I don’t know what would happen if there were more people in this particular piece. There’s so much that happens in one little room.

Laura Gordon: I guess if I’m preparing any differently, it’s just because I’ve seen so many plays here [at the Off-Broadway Theatre] and I know how it is . . . I’ve heard stories of people being distracted by the audience, so I’m aware of that. I feel that it’s even more important . . . having my focus and always knowing what it is that I’m doing. It feels like I need to hone that a little bit here, because I know the potential of a distraction is greater here than it might be in another space when the audience completely disappears.

Mary MacDonald Kerr: Next Act has this special added feature of an almost in the round feel. Because . . . Chamber’s Studio has 99 seats like this one.

Laura Gordon: But it tends to kind of disappear in front of you.

Mary MacDonald Kerr:You can feel far enough way in that one . . . you can feel alone, but here there’s just no place to hide. So it’s got some special challenges of staging. Laura has a long history with this company, she just hasn’t happened to be in this space.

Laura Gordon:
I’ve directed in this space, but I’ve not acted.

Mary MacDonald Kerr: But [Lee] Blessing does that . . . that large canvas, tiny situation. To me, that’s the way that human beings need to have these giant kind of ideas presented. When you’re talking about the history of Africa versus Britain and there’s troops and there’s history and king and queens . . . it’s not personal enough. When it’s two people in a small pace three feet from you the you can really begin to understand what people are going through. They become individuals and not countries or factions.

 

 

The rough transcripts from my conversation with director and cast continue tomorrow.

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