Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009

Two Actresses/Two Acts: Next Act's GOING TO ST. IVES pt.5

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Trough February 22nd, Next Act Theatre stages 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 . . .

Me: In the traditional epic sense, the climax of this play is during intermission. Here [with Going to St. Ives] we’re focusing on what happens afterwards, which is more of a modern thing, right?

Mary MacDonald Kerr: mm-hmm. But there are definite peaks in the aftermath. It’s not like a long dénouement. I think the juiciest tidbit—the salacious thing. The most exciting thing is . . . what happens at intermission. If we were doing a soap opera, that would be the end of it. If we were doing an episode of a television show, that would be the end of it, but that’s not what this is. I think from watching the show—you get so invested in . . . you care deeply about these characters. And I think that we keep getting reminded that this sort of thing has personal consequences. You can believe absolutely in one side of it, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be personal consequences.

Me: [to Ora and Laura] and it’s you’re job as actresses to get people emotionally invested in the story . . . how long is it all together? Two hours?

Mary MacDonald Kerr: What is it Jess? How long is it going to run?

Resident Stage Manager Jessica Connelly: I’m guessing around 1:45 or 1:50

Me: Okay. That’s a lot of time onstage.

[laughter]

Me: You were talking about how exhausting it is. It’s just the two of you. There’s no monologue in there. It’s all dialogue back and forth for two hours, right?

Mary MacDonald Kerr: There are some longer sections.

Me: But you’re always up there.
 
Laura Gordon: mm-hmm

Ora Jones:
Yeah.

Laura Gordon: In a way, I’ve sometimes felt that if you’re doing a play where you have a few scenes where you have to come on and hit the ground running and then you go off stage and you’re like—“I missed it!” Do over! This image came into my head when I was doing the play Skylight a number of years ago where it was two or three people onstage or a long time. It’s like skiing. It’s like—you start at he top of the hill and you go and you can’t think, “oh, I missed that,” or you’ll hit a tree. There’s something about the forward momentum of it where you’re not giving yourself a break offstage that can actually be pretty helpful, I think.

Ora Jones: And overall, you have to remember what has happened before the person entered the room or whatever and that really has to be present. With this kind of storytelling, it’s true—there’s a lot of give and take with this—interrupting one another and then there are larger sections. There are tiny moments and there are huge moments. You DO have to be present for every single bump in the road, otherwise it really is just two people sittin’ around. And I will also say as an actor and as an audience member that—all we can do is be alive in this story. What you cannot do, eve if you want to, what you CAN NOT do is try to make the audience do something. I think people forget because we spend so much time with our headphones on and sitting with our televisions on and whatever. And our lives have become so much more insulated and therefore isolated. Audiences forget the invitation and the opportunity that they have to come and actively participate, which as less to do with sitting in the dark and being quiet because we have something important to say and more to do with being as present as the storytellers are. That they are invited. There’s no point in DOING theatre without an audience. And it has nothing to do with all of the easy answers like instant gratification. It has to do with bearing witness to an experience. And there’s no point in doing it without the audience. And it’s exciting to travel with them. There will be people who ill come and they will have a set of ideas and they WILL NOT get off that. They will not change their minds. They will refuse to do it. There will be others who will not be able to get themselves to break down barriers to try and understand this character or that character. What I find thrilling about this play, though (what’s good about ANY play) is that there are no black hats and white hats in terms of who the good guys are and  who the bad guys are. . . And at the end of the play you are left wit your own thoughts and your on experiences. You might learn some factual things you didn’t know before, but it’s just a wonderful invitation for the audience.

Laura Gordon: I think that it’s important to point out too that Lee Blessing has done a great job in creating characters that are multi-dimensional and it’s our work to make that happen. It’s also very funny.

Ora Jones:
It is.

Laura Gordon: There’s a lot of humor. There’s a lot of different facets to these people.

Ora Jones: That’s true. We have to keep reminding ourselves of that. There actually are some hilarious moments. Hilarious the way things are really hilarious when there’s just—so much pressure . . . that you need a release. It’s relentless in tat it’s kind of a roller coaster ride. It’ll be funny for a second and then something awful will get said . . .  and just when you think you can’t take any more, some other hilarious  thing will happen.

TOMORROW: The final part of a conversation with the cast of Next Act’s Going to St. Ives.


THURSDAY: Rambling impressions of The Rep’s new sow at the Steimke.



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