Saturday, July 19, 2014

New York City, the Friendliest Place on Earth

New York is the greatest city in the world for a different reason than you'd think. Last night we walked in Chelsea, passing restaurants filled to capacity, shops open selling everything from neon-colored wigs to designer shoes, all open, and people in animated conversation everywhere you look.

Sure, we all know that, it's the city that never sleeps.

What is new to me, what keeps drawing me back to this great city, is its warmth. People are friendly. Total strangers are genuinely warm, funny, and much of the time, smart as hell. A random exchange on the subway turns into an enlightened conversation.

We stopped at a Bar and Grill off Perry St and Greenwich Ave and sat outside where it was balmy and perfect. Our waiter was Irish, engaging and very funny. We could have been long-time residents or tourists who just stepped out of a cab. It didn't matter to anyone where we came from.

That's New York City.  The rush of people who all want to engage, who crave connection with art, theater, dance, music, history, and intellectual stimulation create a collective buzz that is seductive and exciting. And everyone's invited.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Casting Virago's New York production of "AROUSAL" and "The Lover"

AROUSAL and The Lover Go to NYC

After losing Virago Theatre Company's original San Francisco and Los Angeles Clifford in AROUSAL and Richard in The Lover, director Chloe Bronzan, playwright George Pfirrmann and I knew we had a very tall order on our hands.  We needed an actor for the New York City run at The Flea Theater. In beginning the recasting process, we looked at two scenarios: hire an actor from New York and rehearse there in July. We were thrilled and intrigued by the idea of hiring a NY actor, but it would mean no Bay Area photo shoot, so no early images to promote the show. Our New York producer, Ian White, auditioned a wonderful actor out of The Flea Theater’s repertory company, The Bats. Ultimately, it made more sense to hire locally. 

I hit the TBA files from the 2014 generals (mercifully well-organized by Bay Area producer Susan Dunn). We called actors we knew and actors we didn’t, in an attempt to meet all of the criteria: Are you able to drop everything and rehearse days and evenings for 2 weeks at the end of June? Free to travel to NY for 3 weeks to tech and perform the show? Okay to share a small apartment with another actor and stage manager? And asking ourselves, is this person someone we want to spend this focused and intimate time with? And can they bring both of these very different characters to life? 

After ruling out some and getting “no I can’t make that work” from others, we were down to two actors, one I’d seen on stage and was very strong, and Dan Fagan. I didn’t know Dan or his work, none of us did.  In person he was friendly, somewhat reserved, and very focused.

We started Dan’s audition with a scene from AROUSAL, the top of the play, when Clifford, a 25 year old virgin with Asperger’s, comes to visit Albena, a 45 year old Ukrainian prostitute, after finding her on Craig’s List. As soon as we started the scene I felt an intense energy from Dan that absolutely was Clifford. He didn’t look directly at me. He stammered slightly. He moved away when I moved my hand near his. All of this was subtle, and heartbreakingly real. We all knew instantly that Dan understood Clifford.

But the question remained, even if he can play this young man with Asperger’s, can he switch gears and play a 40’s middle-upper class Englishman in Harold Pinter’s challenging masterpiece, The Lover? This piece is layered with seemingly humdrum exchanges between a couple 10 years into their marriage, the subtext of which is erotic, sexually charged innuendo. We’d found so much subtext in the previous San Francisco and Los Angeles productions, was it really possible for another actor to find much more?

Dan started the scene with intense, fearless eye contact. As we started the seemingly everyday exchanges between Sarah and Richard, we instantly found an easy and yet highly charged connection.  Dan brought fierce intelligence and sensuality to Richard and his alter ego, Max, and in his delivery we heard levels we had never heard. We had our actor.

We started rehearsal on June 22nd. We had only 12 rehearsals scheduled to completely re-work both shows, get the lines down solid, and to develop a rapport and trust with each other, essential for these two very intimate plays. Chloe Bronzan, our amazing director, wanted a completely new, more stylized style for "The Lover," with more intimacy and danger,  We worked with dialect coach Rebecca Castelli on our English dialects and to refresh my Ukrainian, and with choreographer Lisa Bush Finn to refresh Albena’s lapdance, all with one overall goal: to make these two plays as smart, funny, sexy, and high-stakes as possible.

We had a run-through Thursday 7/3 for a select audience including playwright George Pfirrmann, joined by one of our original milkmen, the wonderful Steve Budd. Our energy was high, we felt connected, and the audience honored us by laughing and responding through-out, and with hugs and lovely compliments afterwards. Dan and I are a team now. We cover each other, we get each other’s rhythms, and we trust each other.

We go back into rehearsal July 17th, here in New York. 

Virago Theatre Company’s production of AROUSAL and The Lover previews at The Flea Theater in New York City on Wednesday July 23rd, and opens Thursday July 24th,9:30pm. The show runs 12 performances, closing Sat Aug 2nd 9:30pm. 

Publicist: Scotti Rhodes

Poster/photos: Laura Lundy-Paine, Dan Fagan in George Pfirrmann's AROUSAL and Harold Pinter's The Lover. Photos by Luis A. Solorzano, graphic design by Edna Cabcabin Moran.