This is your first time working with us at Labyrinth. Where have you been all our lives?
Ha! Maybe the question is, where have you been all my life, LAB? I’m a native New Yorker, although I lived in San Diego for a few years while I was getting my MFA. I am primarily a freelance director, but because of my commitment to new work, I’ve ended up in a few institutional positions. I was the Artistic Associate for New Plays at Williamstown Theater Festival from 2005-2007, which was an amazing experience, introducing me to so many wonderful artists and pushing me to grow, and I am now the Director of New Play Development at Dorset Theater Festival, in Vermont, where we’re just beginning to build a new play program. I’m also on the faculty of Princeton University, where I’ve taught acting for the last six years. In 2009, I actually directed a play in the Bank Street Theater, then called the Cherry Pit—Jailbait, by Deirdre O’Connor—so the space feels like home! And I did have a bit of an introduction to the wild world of LAB last summer, when I directed Cusi’s Fuente Ovejuna: A Disloyal Adaptation both at the Intensive and again in the Barn Series. That gave me such a huge appreciation for the Company Members, who are an incredibly talented, dedicated, fearless group.
This, however, is not your first time working with Cusi – what have your past collaborations been like? How did you guys come to know each other?
We met through the work—I fell in love with her play Lucy and the Conquest as an observer at the O’Neill in 2001, and couldn’t get it out of my head. When I started at Williamstown four years later, I called her up! She didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, but was incredibly gracious. And she had spent time at Williamstown back in her acting days, so there was a connection there as well. That first summer, we did a reading of Lucy, and the world premiere the following year.
This will be our fourth collaboration, and it’s been so rewarding to work together repeatedly. There are times when I can catch her eye during a rehearsal and we can have a completely silent conversation about what’s working and what isn’t, just via facial expressions, which is an amazing shorthand to have with another artist. I like to think it’s super-subtle, but we might actually look like chimpanzees at the zoo!
I think we work well together because we have similar goofy senses of humor, a love of striking visual imagery, and a commitment to honoring the story above all else. I really adore Cusi’s strong sense of narrative, which is particularly skillful in this play—she’s feeding you bits of information throughout, allowing the whole to assemble from fragments. Also, Cusi has great compassion for her characters, which makes them infinitely rich and rewarding to explore—no one in her plays has simple motives or desires, everyone is complex in a very human way.
As a director, what do you feel is your primary goal when approaching a new play?
Always, always, always to serve the writer and the play.
What are you looking forward to exploring in Radiance?
I’m particularly excited by the intensity of the emotions in Radiance—although there is a fair amount of humor, it’s not an easy journey for these characters. That kind of ferocity can be intimidating to me, so I’m eager to take on the challenge. The historical aspect has been really interesting to me as well, and I’ve been reading so much about World War II and the atom bomb, which is central to the play.
Why should our audiences come to see it?
I love the incredibly complex moral and emotional dilemmas at the center of the play. I love how the audience’s attention is rewarded, as bits of information accumulate and a complete picture appears. I love how our current historical perspective makes Radiance feel like a true tragedy: the inevitable progress toward a devastating event. I love spending time with these charming, tortured, angry, funny, confused, sexy characters. And I love how much I can’t stop thinking about the play, long after it’s over.