Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009

Conscience and Intention: Next Act's GOING TO ST. IVES pt. 6

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 a brutal 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 . . .

Conscience Amd Intention

Me: So you’ve only got three entrances and three exits?

Ora Jones: That’s it. Once you’re on, you’re on.

Me: The other danger is being up there and feeling that it’s not . . . you don’t have timeto analyze it while your up there, do you?

Mary MacDonald Kerr:
No. If you start analyzing it while you’re in it . . .

Me: you’re not in it.

[laughter]

Ora Jones: Yeah, you’re not doing your job anymore.

Mary MacDonald Kerr:
[the play] is not very long, but it couldn’t be any longer. What we’re finding is that its so dense—so rich. We’ll be rehearsing for two hours and I’ll realize we’ve done  page and a half.

Me:
How detailed do you get? Are you focusing on inflection with every single line?

Mary MacDonald Kerr:
Not as much inflection, but definitely intention. It is important to me, not just because its an intimate space, but we want to know what’s going on every second. How you get from A to A and a half to A and three quarters to B. There aren’t giant, broad strokes. If you take a giant, broad stroke with this language, it becomes meaningless. It becomes a history lesson. There has to be within these giant ideas, incredibly personal. So we’re taking our time discovering what every moment is because it’s a very important, extraordinary hour and a half that these ladies are spending. And you couldn’t do it without really skilled actors. It’s a difficult piece.

Ora Jones: What I find really interesting is traveling between a universal theme and how one is personally impacted by it. You can state something—and it happens all through the play where—where someone says something huge and then it gets distilled down to how you are personally affected. How you personally move through this so-called universal theme no matter what it is whether its motherhood whether its humanity, whether its genocide. No matter what it is, it always gets filtered through your own personal experience and how you get impacted by it on a very human level, so you’re never very far away from all the little slings and arrows. 

Mary MacDonald Kerr: And talking to Chip [Duncan,]—this gentleman who helped us out so much, it might not seem incredibly accessible to an American audience—this theme of the English history with Africa. But so much of the world—the giant portion of the world—live in circumstances like she’s talking about. This isn’t like—there once was a queen who . . . had a kingdom fall apart. This is like—huger portions of the population—a third of the world lives under these kinds of circumstances. And on of the recurring themes with May [N’Kame, Ora’s character] is . . . the world doesn’t care. And . . . the world turns a blind eye. Conversations that countries like ours should be having—who do we choose to pay attention to?  CAN you choose to pay attention to everyone? I mean—obviously not. But who DO you choose to help? And how brutal that conversation has to be. It’s not just big themes. This really IS happening to individuals.

Big Ideas/Small plays—Parting Comparative Thoughts

Mary MacDonald Kerr : And so that’s why I like these small plays that address big things. Two examples may be Mater Harold and The Boys versus—like—Syringa Tree. Master Harold, because it was about those people—they’re relationships and what happened to them, I found much more compelling than Syringa Tree, which I thought when I saw it [the recent local production starring Colleen Madden ] . . . which . . .

Laura Gordon: . . . was masterfully done. 

Mary MacDonald Kerr: The actress was great but it’s . . .

Laura Gordon: you know hat it was with that piece form me? She was a brilliant actress in t, but there were so many times where she would be in te middle of a discssion and I wanted to see the reaction . . . of the other person, but she had to be the other person by then, so I left me—it left me a little cold.

Mary MacDonald Kerr: Yeah, it did.

Laura Gordon:
Even though it was brilliantly done.

Mary MacDonald Kerr:
But you can’t expect to be moved by topics like that unless they’re down to relationships between individuals and there was no one to have a relationship with but yourself.

Laura Gordon: Right

Mary MacDonald Kerr: and we adore Colleen Madden. But that’s why I think this play is so effective.


Truth And Staging


Mary MacDonald Kerr: And they’re forced to tell the real truth to each other. The nature of the characters is to have really honest conversations. Not so pretty conversations.

Laura Gordon: That’s something too that . . . for me in my career right now, I’m really, really only interested in finding the truth—in having real conversations with someone onstage. I’m not that interested in things that don’t get to some sort of . . . if I go to see something and I don’t believe it, I’m losing patience . . .

[laughter]

Laura Gordon: You know, it’s like . . . I really need to see that exchange.

Ora Jones: I think that we ay be in an advantage at a space like this because when you work in a larger space, you absolutely tell the truth even more. You have to be even more specific about how honest you are and hw intimate you are with other people. When your working ina larger space—when your working in an 800 seat space. But the thing about a small house is that you DO have an opportunity to kind of let go of the hazard of declaiming, so that . . .

Mary MacDonald Kerr:
. . . you can hit the back of the wall . . . when there’s 900 people . . .

Ora Jones: You do. And it is a really brilliant actor who can maintain that closeness and that intimacy and sill hit the back wall of a 900-seat house. And it IS an advantage in a space like this to be able to—just even vocally be able to have a conversation with someone and have it be that . . . the other challenge about this play, though is that—and it’s the kind of theatre that I’m finding that I really, really like to do—is when I wake-up an say, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to achieve this honesty that I want. To be able to do what I need to d to do my job. To be real. To be honest. To be truthful. To get to the absolute heart of this, but I can’t wait to get there. I can’t wait to get to work. To see if I’m going to be able to do it. And you’re exhausted by it, but you’re also—you can’t stay away from it. Once you get to that point, it’s almost an addiction. You’ve gotta go there every day and see if you can do it. That’s kind of the thrill of theatre. There will be nights that you lose people—nights where you lose an audience. And you feel terrible about it. But until the end of the run you have an opportunity to go back and try it again. And see if you can get to it again. And the theatre process is such that—six months from now, you’ll wake-up in the middle of the night and think, “OH! I understand that moment now! I want to do this again! That’s the thrill of it. That’s what keeps you getting to the honesty of it, because when you do . . . I don’t play golf really well . . . but my friends who do . . . it’s like golf. You hit it and it sticks. You hit it flies off into those trees, but if you can get that sweet spot, you can hear it and you see it fly off into the stratosphere. It’s on its way to a hole in one and THAT feeling is what you work for every time you go into the space . . .

Laura and Ora continue to seek truth, honesty and perfection in Going to St. Ives through February 22nd at the Off-Broadway Theatre.

 

Tomorrow: impressions on the Rep’s Mirandolina

 

 

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