Friday, Feb. 29, 2008

Q & A with Director Timothy Douglas

By Russ Bickerstaff
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New York-Based Director Timothy Douglas has had a remarkable career thus far. Having worked on projects all over the country. He has had the distinction of directing the world premiere of August Wilson's Radio Golf at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Locally last season, he directed a production of Gem of the Ocean with the Milwaukee Rep. This season, he returns to town to direct the Milwaukee Rep's World Premiere production of Charles Randolph-Wright's The Night Is A Child, which opens March 14th. Inspired by the playwright's trip to Brazil during the one year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the story centers around a mother named Harriet who lost her son in just such a tragedy, escaping to Brazil in an effort to free herself from the pain of memory. There in Brazil she engages in candomble: an enigmatic native voodoo-like ritual that brings her face-to-face with her dead son. Douglas was kind enough to answer a few questions about his involvement in the project.

 

Judging from early promotion, THE NIGHT IS A CHILD looks like it's going to be an even mixture of fantasy and tragedy as Harriet escapes the horror of the past in a kind of paradise. How are you addressing the challenge posed by that kind of dichotomy?


If by 'fantasy' you mean the hypnotic magic that is the culture of Brazil to where Harriet 'escapes', it is possibly one of the most ideal locations to obtain some relief from the kind of tragedy suffered by Harriet and her family.Although I've not yet visited, it is my understanding that it is impossible to resist the intoxicating spirit and the richness of its people. With the assistance of scenic designer Tony Cisek, lighting designer Michael Gilliam, (both of whom happened to take their respective vacations in Rio this past year), along with Tracy Dorman (costumes) and Ray Nardelli (sound), we've made every effort to evoke the flavor and rythyms of wildly popular tourist spot for the Rep audiences.


The story seems to have a kind of Alice In Wonderland feel about it. How integral is the unique atmosphere of Brazil to the production? What kind of research was done to bring Brazil to the Quadracci?

Because Brazil itself was the writer's original inspiration for the play, the specificity of location was integral to the story that unfolds. I focused a fair amount of my research on the evocative and often misunderstood condoble culture, for it is during the engagement of this ritual that Harriet travels through 'the looking glass', if you will. Often perceived as a kind of voodoo, this spiritual and Christian-based practice is an inextricable aspect of Brazilian culture at large. And even though a large segment of the population does not engage in the condoble practice, which was honed in the northern part of the country, there is a rooted tolerance for it, and evidence of its practices is evident throughout the cities.


On any project of this size, everyone has their own hook that draws them into the production. What inspired you about this project?


In their process of choosing a director, good fortune would have it that I was on both the playwright's and the artistic director's lists. I was immediately engaged by the play when I read it, and was particularly drawn to the challenge of bringing some insights to the navigation of grief. Equally, I was intrigued by the play's setting. There was a sense of 'no rules' - save the responsibility of honoring the playwright's love of Rio - which always excited me. Even before Charles Randolph Wright told me just how much Brazil's locale and culture meant to him, it was already palpable when I first encountered the play. What a vote of confidence to be chosen as the one to shepherd his newest work, and a particular honor, because Mr. Wright also has a vibrant career as a theatre director, and could have easily chosen to helm the project himself. Bottom line, as a freelance theatre director I remain a 'gun for hire'. The bonus is that 'NIGHT' is one of the more compelling projects to cross the path of my very active career.

The Rep's production of The Night is a Child runs March 14 throguh April 13 at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre.

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