Theatre

Honoring Chekov in Contemporary America

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which seems to be this year’s “regional favorite”, meaning that it’s appearing at many theaters across the country, will conclude a successful Michigan premiere run at the Tipping Point Theatre this afternoon. I was happy to be in the audience for Friday evening’s performance.

The play explores a modest web of relationships among siblings living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The titular Vanya and Sonia, so named by their theatre professor parents, live a quiet life in the country with occasional visits from neighbor and housekeeper Cassandra. The characters suggest they are not exactly happy with their idyllic existence, and it is quickly upended by the arrival of their sister Masha, a flashy and dramatic New York actress who pays the bills for their family home. Masha brings along her much younger boyfriend, Spike, while the group is later joined by neighbor Nina, a younger budding starlet who is familiar with Masha’s acting career and has her own dreams about a life in the spotlight.

Christopher Durang’s script initially leans heavily on expository rather than natural – seeming dialogue, but seems to find its groove as the play goes along. Preparation for an important local party is a highlight of the story, as Masha initiates an idea for all of them to reference Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, only to be upstaged by a different plan from Sonia. The party itself is left unseen, and the aftermath has a range of effects for all of the characters.

Tipping Point’s black box space was put to excellent use for this production, with a long promenade suggesting a sunroom or living room and an entry to the rest of the house in the rear of the stage. Modest sound design suggested the outer world of the play. Lighting design was also subtle and effective, with shadows on stage left in a morning scene giving way to the opposite effect for an evening scene, and brighter colors for solely interior sequences.

A tight knit ensemble of local actors had clearly been having a great time with the script and production, led by director James Kuhl. Real life couple John Seibert and Terry Heck feature as the siblings, and have many moments of playful, yet layered interaction. Janet Maylie brings suitably throaty and dramatic flair to the role of Masha, and seems to offer exactly the type of woman the script suggests. Brian Thibault has fun “playing dumb” and bouncing around the stage as Spike. Sonja Marquis brings inventive comedic choices and strong presence to what could have been an underwritten role as Cassandra. And Tara Tomcsik portrays Nina as an archetypal ingenue with a combination of starry eyed wanderlust and klutzy ditzy charm.

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Movies, Theatre

European Film Expeditions

This week I have caught up on some recently released and filmed in Europe films, making me stoked to go back to The Continent during spring break next March.

Two FacesFirst up was the new thriller The Two Faces of January, adapted from Patricia Highsmith and from the writer of Drive. Hossein Amini retained his costar in the earlier film, Oscar Isaac, and added Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst into the mix as a central trio caught up in a deceitful web within 1962 Greece. All three actors find several elements to highlight of their roles, with Mortensen nailing the disheveled intrigue of a shady businessman, longtime cinema veteran Dunst offering a mature portrayal of a young woman caught between several worlds, and Isaac continuing to come up the ladder, cinematically, filling in the role of a man who has his hands in several parts of Athens life.

The actors are aided by carefully chosen photography and film work, emphasizing the colorful contrasts of Greece, and a reminder of an era when locations felt more far away (presumably) than they do in the present day, with real effort needed to get a specific plane ticket, to make your next travel connection, or make sure you still have everything you need for your out of the country identification and security.

The film might suffer from what I assume is a flimsy source material. Highsmith’s interest in shady characters, same-gender relationships and European locales is all there, but at a 90 minute running time, there isn’t much depth aside from the inciting event and what happens after that experience. A more seasoned director might have gotten deeper performances from the leads, though Amini’s experience with narrative tension comes in well late in the film with a series of “will they or won’t they succeed in _______ activity” sequences.

The second film of the week, My Old Lady, is a cinematic interpretation of a play originally seen at my “other” hometown theatre, Gloucester Stage Company, in 1996 and 2005. (I remember hearing of both productions but did not see either of them performed.) The film also marks the belated cinema directorial debut of Israel Horovitz, former artistic director of GSC and well – known in the theatre world. Throughout the film, its stage origins are clear, with some positive and some negative results.

my old ladyThe film also seems to be an excuse for its central trio – Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas – to flex their acting muscles in a new project. Scott Thomas has been seen onscreen before with both Kline and Smith, but not in the same film. IMDB says her role was originally scheduled to be played by Jane Birkin, which might have made more sense in the story.

As it is, the start of the film introduces Matthias (Kline), a down on his luck New Yorker who has recently traveled to Paris to inspect an apartment his recently deceased father has left him. He quickly learns that the apartment has been inhabited for many years by Mathilde (Smith), a woman now in her 90’s, and her daughter (Scott Thomas), neither of whom is receptive to his intention to sell the house for income purposes. The focus alternates between the three central characters as Matthias debates whether or not he wants to go through with the sale, while through a series of circumstances, Mathilde reveals that she knows more than she lets on about her family history and how the two younger people are connected to her and each other.

The script’s stage origins are clearly visible throughout the film, with several long monologues still in place and a few scenes clearly added to “open up” the plot and take advantage of the perennially picturesque Parisian locations. Most of the story settles in the central location of the Marais apartment, which seems to be quite large and endless, complete with an attached garden.

Kline seems to be enjoying the demands of the part, showing awkward alcohol – induced stodginess in several scenes, but then following it up with hints of long emotional neglect. Smith also goes beyond her current Downton Abbey stereotype of twinkling eyes and cutting comments, not hesitating to be forceful in several scenes while also showing genuine heart. Scott Thomas falls somewhere in between with a difficult part that seems to be in the middle of the two-character seesaw solely for reaction – based purposes. I can’t say that the film fully convinced me as a drama, but if its taken as an acting class from veterans and perhaps isolated out with just a few of the character monologues and moments, then the best parts come to light.

It was cool to see the full Art Deco experience of the Main Art Theater in action last night.

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Theatre

Theatrical Throwback, 9/11

The Mercy Seat continues provocative playwright Neil LaBute’s early 2000s streak of intense, polarizing dramas that are heated and very much of the moment… and may be seen as dated in the present era.

I never saw this play performed, instead becoming aware of it sometime in 2004 when I placed an increased interest on LaBute’s work in preparation for directing The Shape Of Things at Hampshire College. The script focuses on a World Trade Center worker, Ben, who was coincidentally played by Hampshire alum Liev Schreiber in the original production. Ben happens to be away from the office on the faithful morning, and ends up at the home of his mistress, Abby, originally played by Sigourney Weaver. Ben discusses whether he wants to make the tragedy into an opportunity for him to run away from his existing life, believing that his family will think he has died. Abby tries to reason with him and take both sides of the argument, as they sit there in her apartment just one day after the attacks.

It would be interesting to know the production history of this play, as on the one hand it seems to have quickly dated, while on the other hand it continues to exist as a time capsule of a tense, uncertain time in US history when people didn’t know who to trust and couldn’t believe what had happened on that sunny Tuesday morning. And the US has moved so far away from that initial period of uncertainty — not in the best directions IMO — it sometimes seems like much longer than 13 years has passed.

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Summer Solstice Arts Binge

I spontaneously yet purposefully structured this year’s Summer Solstice as an opportunity to focus on local culture and arts offerings. I felt that the harsh winter made Detroit – area culture rescind into the background for me more than I would have liked – though it was probably more a case of having to seek it out more directly – and so I am happy to see various cultural festivals and outdoor attractions now back in force. (Including my current project of working on The Penny Seats production of Elektra, due to open on July 10.)

First up was a drive to Detroit to check out this year’s edition of the River Days Festival. (I was in the city during last year’s festival, but did not attend for unknown reasons… I think that was the first time I went over to Windsor instead. Shows how times and priorities change!)

This festival is a great way for the city to turn its eye to the river, which seemed more blue and inviting than ever, and there was a similar festival apparently taking place on the other side in Windsor. Multiple ships were plowing the waters, some seeming to party more than others, and there was even a Tall Ship at dock, which had come down from a point in the Saginaw area. 

I don’t usually post travel-blog type photos here but I feel compelled to share a few highlights since it was such a scenic day:

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As I enjoyed the sights, I couldn’t help recalling what the same vista had looked like just five months ago:

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But it’s the wrong time of year to focus on a view like that 😀

I might have stayed longer in the city, but had made a decision earlier in the day to stop by Tipping Point Theatre in Northville to finally catch a production at that company. Their current production, The Red King’s Dream, will be running for one more week in its US premiere.

Written by a Canadian playwright, this script reminded me very much of Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet, which my friends and colleagues The Penny Seats produced in their inaugural season three years ago, and later seemed to enjoy a brief revival of interest, with productions popping up in San Francisco and New York City, and probably a few other places. As for this show, I’m not sure if it will enjoy continued productions, but Tipping Point seems to appreciate it.

It follows the story of Steven, a classic loner type who works diligently in his crowded apartment to created indexes for an overbearing boss. The boss figure, a domineering woman, often visits him and clearly exerts a strong control over his actions and activities. He’s also often visited by a close friend who lives nearby, and his mother calls him, but there seem to be no other people in his life. One day, an attractive woman, Zoe, moves into his building and they meet by chance. Steven begins to feel an attraction to Zoe, but because he’s so socially inexperienced, he isn’t sure if he wants to reveal that attraction or not. Naturally, everyone’s relationships with Steven come to a head in a climactic dinner party scene. The script also includes some not well thought out (IMO) references to Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland (hence the title) although that element does give a chance for the actresses to sport some great costumes in bookend-type scenes.

Sooo… this show struck me as something I’d usually refer to as a “crowd pleaser,” meaning that it can appeal to a wide audience but won’t necessarily end up on a critic’s top 10 list. All four actors deliver committed performances, although Zoe (Maggie Mayer) isn’t really given a chance to speak for herself until the final scene. The script often ventured a bit too readily into slapstick or “oh I can’t believe he said that” moments, and the awkwardness of the Steven character could have been easily suggested rather than so obviously spelled out.

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On the other hand, the set design, as seen in the above image, could have been a character in itself, with a richly detailed checkerboard floor, hundreds of books carefully set in locations around the 3/4 thrust stage, and a hint of offstage activity as well.

Later in the day, back in Ann Arbor, I paid a visit to the unique Carriage House Theatre for the first time. This group shows an impressive commitment to challenging works. This summer they plan three productions, and their first one, Phedre, was enjoying a sold-out closing performance.

I tried not to compare the production too much to the filmed-theatre version I saw in 2009 with Helen Mirren in the lead role. This time the action was much more immediate, with just a small suggestion of a set and the actors doing their best to let the words speak louder than their actions. I don’t feel like I want to single out a particular moment in this production, but I was impressed with the actors capability and commitment. 

Attending the production gave me the stamina I was looking for to finally attend an installment of the State Theatre’s monthly midnight movie series. After noticing, wanting to attend, and ultimately not making it to screenings of films including 2001Fight Club and Wet Hot American Summer, this time the movie of the night was Serenity, which is now (gulp) nine years old but was met with much anticipation when it was released in late September 2005. Several friends from Hampshire College and I eagerly attended one of the first screenings at CInemark Hampshire Mall soon after it opened.

But despite that early anticipation, the movie’s box office returns disappointed, and no further sequels were made, though the film’s storyline leaves the possibility open.

And so in 2014 I was/am looking at the film in a historical context … would it be more successful if it was released today? (perhaps.) could Joss Whedon’s vastly increased celebrity and cache impact a future revival of this show? (probably.) did this show contribute to the now popular binge watching trend, where its predecessor Firefly TV series was under appreciated in initial airing but became hugely successful on DVD? (yes.) was the show and movie a launching pad for greater success for the actors involved? (mostly, from what I can tell.)

The State was at least 3/4 full for the screening, and the audience was more like a live audience at times, eagerly responding to twists and turns in the plot. Seeing the film again left me with an active looking-back feeling, where something I/you appreciated some time ago is right there in front of you, and so associated sensations and memories come back… but then it’s time to return to the present.

 

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Theatre

Sudden End of an era in the South Bay Area

Today San Jose Repertory Theatre announced that it has filed for bankruptcy and will no longer produce shows or any output, immediately canceling the remainder of its season and its planned 2014-15 offerings.

Although I never made it to see a show there, I was familiar with its output as a notable producer of plays in the South Bay region. Additionally, I had worked with its now-former artistic director, Rick Lombardo, in the Boston area, and he and I actually made the move to California at the same time, though bound for different locations.

It’s a shame – and seems quite incredulous, actually – that the Rep couldn’t form an alliance with one of the deep – pocketed tech companies in the Silicon Valley area. I don’t know the whole story, of course, though it may be tied in to downtown San Jose’s ups and downs with making itself into a destination rather than just a place that people work. I applied to work there at least once between 2008 and 2011, though it was always just a little too far from my Marin County home base to go for a night. However, many regional actors based more in the central Bay Area (SF, Oakland, Berkeley) appeared there regularly in a variety of shows and roles.

There are uncomfortable parallels with a similar situation unfolding here in Ann Arbor at the moment with the city’s premiere resident theatre company, Performance Network, although in that case the organization’s board has “suspended operations” and a new business model is set to be presented to the board at their upcoming meeting next week.

And on a personal note, this news comes just as I’ve been accepted to study for an MFA at an arts management program. But I remain committed and hopeful that the power of the arts as a beacon of the community – and way for people and places to come together – will shine through.

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Theatre

Belated impressions of a Philadelphia premiere

There are just a few days left to catch Annapurna at Theatre Exile, and for some reason probably connected to my travel itinerary, I did not write it up here after attending the April 20 preview performance.

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Actors Pearce Bunting and Catharine Slusar, pictured above, truly shine in this play, and I was very surprised to learn they had not worked together before, though they have likely crossed paths in the Philadelphia theatre community. I was interested to learn that the play premiered at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre shortly after I left the Bay Area in 2011 and also enjoyed a concurrent New York run this spring with the starry team of Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman, as The New York Times highlighted prior to that production’s opening. Additionally, I had seen one prior production of the playwright’s work, and wish that I had seen another, and felt that this script offered a more mature and seasoned writing style than the earlier pieces.

In Philadelphia the setting is (presumably) more intimate from the bright lights of Off Broadway. Anything can happen in Theatre Exile’s versatile Studio X space, nestled in to the character – filled and city – wise South Philadelphia neighborhood. This time, the studio was evenly divided between an expansive set, designed by Thom Weaver, and the audience assembled on risers, with the stage management booth beyond that. The noticeably detailed and artfully strewn set evoked curiosity from the first moments of the play, with screen doors, a running shower and faucet, a bed, and several cabinets all contributing to the strong impression of Ulysses (Bunting) living an isolated life on a Colorado mountain.

A brief slapstick introduction, when Ulysses can’t believe that his wife Emma (Slusar) suddenly reappears after a 20 year absence and no contact whatsoever, gives way to a quick shift into a strand of mystery-based drama, as Emma’s motivations for coming to visit become more apparent, though never explicitly spelled out, and we learn more about Ulysses and his choices to live in isolation and face a terminal illness.

It sounds a little bit “movie of the week” cheesiness as I describe the plot there, but the reality of the tale was much more gripping. Aided by Joe Canuso’s tight and specific direction, the two actors subtly juggled power dynamics and held the audience’s attention through the 90 minutes or so of the play, which is not always an easy thing to do. As well, the plot continues to slowly unravel in such a way that the Big Revelation could be considered the start of a wider contemplation and reflection that continues after the lights have gone down on the show.

It was great to “touch in” again with the work of Theatre Exile, where I spent an intense two months working on A Behanding in Spokane exactly two years ago. I was happy to see a healthy audience crowd in place for that Easter Sunday matinee, with a noticeable (and welcome) diverse age range visible, and know that the play has matured even further as it moves towards a sure to be strong finish this Sunday, May 11.

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Movies, Theatre

Don’t shoot her

elaine372Versatile and legendary actress Elaine Stritch first came to my attention in a somewhat unmemorable role (for her – as I learned later) in the 1997 comedy Out to Sea, part of a series of films that comedy legends Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau made together near the end of their careers, and sadly, lives. In a classic eye roll inducing example of Hollywood casting, Stritch portrayed Dyan Cannon’s mother, even though the actresses are only 12 years apart in real life. Stritch commanded the screen in her few scenes, most notably tearing up a rug with fellow veteran Donald O’Connor to a cheesy rendition of “Sea Cruise.”

At some point in the next couple of years I became aware that Stritch is, in fact, a legendary stage actress, arguably best known for originating a role in Company by Stephen Sondheim but boasting many other accomplishments. As a theatre professional I recall noticing that her most recent Broadway appearance, starring in A Little Night Music with Bernadette Peters, was perhaps more successful than the original revival marquee pairing of Catherine Zeta – Jones and Angela Lansbury.

In the present day, Stritch has slowed down, somewhat, and departed her longtime home base of New York City for a new/old home right here in the state of Michigan, where she was born and lived until her late teen years. It seems that old age (she’s now 89) and health have caught up with her, although, on the other hand, she also seems to be a textbook study in “never say never.”

And so the documentary film Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is making the rounds at cinemas around the country. I first heard about this film well over a year ago and found the actual experience of seeing it to be somewhat anticlimactic for that reason. I also may have been feeling some residual annoyance that I did not attend its Michigan premiere over in Birmingham last month, for which Ms. Stritch was also in attendance.

The film takes an unflinching look at Stritch’s life circa 2011 – 2012, as she continues to perform mostly in cabaret settings, struggles with problems related to the aging process, begins to tire of life in Manhattan and (somehow) maintains a resiliency that “the show must go on” – to use a cliched but true phrase. Stritch demonstrates resiliency, commitment and salty enthusiasm in all of her projects, perhaps most notably in her balance of masking her difficulty in memory into a sort of comedic act with her musical director when they are performing… to the audience’s delight.

I found the scenes where Stritch was at her most genuine to be the most appealing. These moments took the form of when she was with family members or close friends. There she was as a veteran and accomplished performer earning her accolades but also going with the flow and not getting too worked up about something not going right, a deadline or an impending decision that had to be made. It seemed those moments, with her broad and genuine smile and satisfaction, showed her at her most honest.

Ms. Stritch has been vocal about a seemingly and understandably rough transition into her life in Birmingham, but based on recent interviews it appears that things have settled down for her a bit more now, and I do hope that she’ll make a few more appearances in the metro Detroit area, which seems very honored to count her as a regional native.

 

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A Highly Theatrical week in London (flashback from February, 2007)

Again cut and pasted from live journal. I’d like to combine these recent two archival entries into a “then and now” post to be made here on this blog.

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One of the best things about this particular week was that each day was theatre centered, 

On Monday night, I caught one of the final performances of Therese Raquin, a mesmerizing thriller that was the best directed show I’ve seen since returning to London. Last year I was similarly impressed by Pillars of the Community done by the same director. The show was preceded by an intriguing Q&A session with the two main female stars, and it was fascinating to see them “out of character” and then completely inhibiting their roles just 45 minutes later. 

Tuesday night I finally made it down to the Battersea Arts Centre, a boiling pot of contemporary theatre work. Every Tuesday night they have an “after-hours masterclass”, which is essentially a short lecture about a different topic of theatre-dom. This week it was playwriting, taught by Julian Fox, and I was pleased to get back in the groove of creative writing, crafting a stream of consciousness piece and then editing it down to something more concise. It will also likely be an effective precursor for a “play in a day” writing workshop which I’ll attend all day tomorrow at the Soho Theatre. On the way home I ran into a friend from Hampshire on the tube (the number of coincidences needed to make that work was extraordinary) and we exchanged contact info to hang out sometime soon.

Earlier on Tuesday night, I got a 24-hours notice email about a special question and answer session that would happen the following evening at the Old Vic Theatre. It sounded like a perfect way to get more professional advice about theatre company work, so I emailed back that I wanted to attend. Wednesday mid-day brought a reply that the event was “regretfully fully booked”. On hearing that news, I felt both annoyed that they had given such short notice, and also ambitious and daring – I really wanted to hear what those people had to say. So I decided to go anyway. 

Getting into the event was much easier than expected; I simply walked up to the stage door of the theatre, signed in, and then went upstairs to a top floor rehearsal room, and joined the crowd already there to hear the panel. Their advice was fascinating and informative – some of it familiar, others consisting of pr/marketing/publicity angles I had not considered. 

Thursday night brought a trip down to the Shunt Theatre, located underneath London Bridge railway station, to see my former professor Mick Barnfather’s show that he directed, called Bitches Ball. I’d seen an earlier version of the play when I was here in December, 2005, which had been focused on the physical comedy and overly grotesque elements of the storyline. Mick had let me know that this version was quite different, and I was impressed how he (and the actors, presumably) had changed the focus of the play completely. They went from deriding the main character, Mary, to humanizing her and making her story captivate the audience as she had various misadventures along her career track to being an actress. I thought that some deliberate parallels were drawn to current “actresses” who are in fact more famous for only being in the gossip pages. The performances were typically high-energy and as they’d just finished a UK tour, I sensed a contentness of being back in London.

The SPACE for the show was INCREDIBLE. I walked into a dimly lit long corridor that had the appearance and atmosphere of a subliminal cathedral, with very little lighting and lots of stone and some brick in the walls. I could see a light at the end of the tunnel (literally) which turned out to be the performance space, a large room converted into the equivalent of an indoor ampitheatre. One rounded the corner to reach the bar area, also carved into the walls with ease, and flanked by numerous tables lit by candles, as there was very minimal natural lighting in the entire club. It felt like a film set inhabited by extras there to enjoy the atmosphere (instead of just to be seen) and I have full intentions of going back there for a drink and show again sometime.

Tonight it’s back to the Donmar Warehouse for a production of Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman with Ian McDirmid (better known as Star Wars’ Emperor Palaptine) taking the lead role.

Tomorrow I’ll return to the Soho Theatre for a special “write a play in a day” workshop, which should be exciting and a fun opportunity to meet some like-minded peers.

On Sunday afternoon, am planning to see the final performance of Rock’n’Roll by Tom Stoppard. I hope it will be better than the last play of his I saw, which was the aptly named Travesties in SF.

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Flashback: Theatre Workshop at the BAC in London, March, 2007

Just pulled this off my live journal; it was written in September, 2007.

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Exactly six months ago at this time, I was riding an energy high from one of my most memorable nights living back in London. I never really wrote about the experience at that time, and would like to do so a little bit now on the anniversary. However, I think I’ll make this a “To Be Continued” story, as the pictures and video from that night (to be posted later on from my own laptop) may tell the story better.

The leaflet advertising that week’s After Hours workshop at the Battersea Arts Centre described the next class, entitled “The Wrong Moment”, as Using physical performance and digital media we will be focusing on the unconsious, awkward, unexpected spaces between our deliberate actions. It sounded different and exciting to me, so I decided to go down for it, even though it was an hour’s tube and bus ride from home, and the show was particularly draining that week as we went to locations in Southwark.

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I never did write a follow up, but maybe I should here.

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Theatre

Fallen Stars that Still Shine

Behanding group
Opening night of A Behanding in Spokane, Philadelphia, April, 2012.
(l-r) Matt, Reuben, Pearce, Jamel, me, Joe; Amanda, who played the lone female role, is not pictured here.

All this week I have been thinking about how Tuesday 11/12 was the one year anniversary of former theatre colleague Reuben Mitchell dying from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. While I don’t feel I can offer as heartfelt a tribute as his friend wrote here, or as immediate a memory as someone else he knew wrote here, I did want to mention him here on my own blog.

What to say about Reuben, or rather, what not to say?

He was a kind and generous Greenville, North Carolina native who maintained a sense of good humor and congeniality in everything he did. When I mentioned that my mom and my cat and I had visited Greenville in late 2007 and were surprised by some late-night violence happening across the street from our hotel, he laughed it off, saying “oh, that happens every week!” – but he was proud of his Southern heritage.

Reuben lit up the stage for the Martin McDonaugh play we worked on, taking what could have been just a stereotypical part and turning it in to a full individual. He was dedicated to his craft as seen in his extensive professional training, studying in locations such as New Orleans and Toronto among others, followed by moving to Philadelphia to pursue a career. This training was also evident in his daily preparation for our performances, as he was almost always first at the venue (and I was genuinely concerned when he wasn’t), undertaking a rigorous 10-20 minute vocal warmup and brief physical warmup as well – even though he spent 2/3 of the show tied to a wall. He showed a sense of civility and fun in his interactions with everyone on the production team, while clearly understanding that the “play was the thing” and that was our focus. He was an incredible storyteller with a vividness to his tales I’ve rarely heard other people make use of.

Inevitably I look back at that production bittersweetly, with Reuben gone. At the time I was excited to work on a script by a favorite writer, Martin McDonagh, and am grateful to have had the opportunity. But I had to juggle the theatre work and a more 9-5 oriented job alongside commuting from Delaware to Philadelphia, thus limiting my social opportunities with the actors. Eventually I felt a natural ease when I was able to join in on the social time (as seen in the photo above from opening night), but it was not as much as I would have liked. And we can never re-create that same dynamic.

I only saw Reuben once more a month after the production closed; he’d been invited to return to the same theatre company we’d worked with for a fundraiser/festive evening , employing his subtle and uncanny Barack Obama impersonation skills to use in several skits. (Incidentally, the event got some official political humor by featuring Arlen Spector, who died a few months later in 2012, as the opening act.) Reuben jumped me with his characteristic enthusiasm as we waited for the show to begin, and we chatted briefly before he went onstage…

It was very clear (painfully now of course) that Reuben loved his motorcycle. He often appeared at our rehearsals and performances with it. While I’m not a motorcyclist myself, I think he and I shared a love of driving towards the unknown and engaging in some derring-do along the way; I recall energetically describing my favorite road in Marin County (Ridgecrest Boulevard) to him, while he replied with tales of curvaceous roads in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania that he’d gone out to explore one Sunday morning.

I hope Reuben knew how much he impacted others, and they cared about him. I’m sure I will always remember him.

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One day this week when I thought of Reuben, I also recalled another theatre-impacted tragedy out in the Bay Area. Summer Serafin, whom I never met nor saw onstage, but she did work with several people I knew in the Bay Area theatre scene, died in 2011 after an accidental fall from a fire escape in San Francisco. It is clear from a quick Google search of her name that she also made an impact on many individuals.

I don’t want to read too much into this – and it’s probably just a coincidence – but I noticed that Summer died on Reuben’s 30th birthday, while Reuben died one day before what would have been Summer’s 33rd birthday.

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