The very first show I directed was called Icarus’ Mother and that was in undergraduate school at Chico State. It was part of the student directed One Acts and our highly influential teacher Donna Breed, at the time, was advising and coordinating the festival – a great woman, she inspired a lot of students to go off and have solid careers and advance beyond undergraduate school. Icarus’ Mother was a Sam Shepherd play, who I’ve always respected, appreciated, loved – the material just being Americana but with an existential twist to it. He was definitely influenced by Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. A lot of non-realistic elements woven into the fabric of American personalities and American activities, coming out of the influence of the nuclear family of the 1940’s and 50’s and kind of turning those concepts on its head. And that was a lot of fun. Then I went to graduate school in Arizona and continued to direct plays there. It’s always been an interest of mine.
What was your concentration in grad school?
It was Acting. At the University of Arizona. And then…(he chuckles) I washed out of the program because I couldn’t sing and dance. It was a musical theatre program. So I studied acting in Seattle for a year or so and then came to Monterey and started directing plays at the Unicorn Theater for Carey Crockett. The first play being The Mystery of Irma Vep, which was a wild, crazy play for two actors, each playing three or four different characters – they were cross-dressing throughout the play. It was originally written by Charles Ludlum for him and his partner, so instead of having two males play the roles, I had a male and female play the roles, and much comedy ensued. We came up with the most outrageous bits possible. And definitely aimed at an adult audience.
You’ve been assigned two comedies this season: Born Yesterday and The Boondawgle Estate. What similarities or differences have you found between the two?
Well, there’s a huge and striking difference between the two. Boondawgle Estate is just purely intended to bring enjoyment to the audience, and humor, and it’s light and fun. There’s obviously the romance, which is evident in all comedies. There’s always an element of two people or more coming together at the end. And in Boondawgle, the main character, Entrance, and his wife are already together, but there are some conflicts to their relationship. But the real joining together is the family, who are disparate at the beginning of the play, and through the course of events of the influence of the uncle, Edward, come together at the end, pulling their resources to overcome the odds. It’s just meant to be light. Whereas, Born Yesterday has a broader theme about coercion of brute power and strength and manipulation by the wealthy to advance their power. But at the same time, there’s a great deal of comedy, along with a solid theme evident and pushed by the playwright Garson Kanin, so in that sense they’re a little bit different. Very similar with respect that both playwrights want the audience to enjoy the play and laugh.
What can you tell us about the basics of comedy? What does an actor or director need to know?
The essence of performing effectively in comedy is you have to be clean – in your delivery and your execution. You can’t be muddy. Muddy works for drama, because drama or tragedy is muddy. Emotions are muddy. In comedy, the old cliché is,“The world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel.” So you have to think clearly to be effective in comedy. Clear thinking leads to clear annunciation, clear articulation, clear execution. The best comedians are almost robotic and very calculated and very deliberate. In terms of physical action and mobile action. That’s what leads to their success. It’s always math. “Badum bum” (he really did a rim shot). Breaking a rhythm leads to comedy because that surprises your audience. A child playing with a jack in the box leads to laughter because the child is seduced by the rhythm of the (he proceeds to sing the jack in the box song…for a guy who doesn’t sing, it wasn’t half bad) It’s the surprise that comes out – and the goofy clown, of course – but it’s the surprise that leads to laughter, not just the goofy cloud. The goofy clown is just a spectacle that’s the icing on the cake. But it’s that breaking of the rhythm that is the foundation of humor.
When I directed Laughter on the 23rd Floor, we spent the weekend prior to tech going back and forth, back and forth, making sure the jokes were delivered with that in mind. Setting them up and boom! The punchline. And that’s hard work. Often times actors think that they’re doing it, and it takes that outside eye and ear to say, “Oh no, we need to work on this” and one of the things I’m going to be working on today in rehearsal is actors making sure that their delivery of the punchline is clean. There’s some gesticulation with some actors that is covering up the punchline; whereas, if they just deliver the punchline clean and clear, there’s going to be a better payoff.
Why should people see The Boondawgle Estate?
(laughing heartily) If they want to take a vacation from life and just have a delightful two hours, enjoying the comedic misery of other people, and the mess that they get themselves into, come see it. Comedy is that sort of sweet instruction. And this is very sweet, and there’s some instruction that comes out of it. Yesterday I told the cast to enjoy themselves and enjoy themselves with each other. Because spending time with people that drive you crazy and enjoying that is a lot better than sitting at home alone in your room. And that’s what this is about. Families drive each other crazy. And that time together is maddening. But isn’t that better than sitting at home alone? That kind of tells us who we are. Human beings define each other through our contact with one another. How can we know ourselves by looking in the mirror? It’s only through the chaos of engaging with others that we grow to know ourselves and each other better.