Post-Mortem: Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade, MadKap Productions

This winter I was happy to be involved as the Assistant Director for Same Time, Next Year, produced by MadKap Productions. This was my first official Chicago area theatre credit. And therefore, it will always have a special place in my heart.

The production ran for three very successful weeks at the Skokie Theatre. For those not familiar with the play, it is a visceral trip down the memory lanes of the 1940s through 1970s, as told by an adulterous couple meeting every year in the same place. Each scene takes place five years apart. These are the two elements that still work beautifully for this play: nostalgia and the idea that you are not the same person you were five years ago. There are ups and downs during this affair, a predictable pregnancy scene, a timely hippie scene, and some archaic dialogue, yet, the morsel of honesty and humanity at the center shines.

Assisting Directing is a strange job. Until one establishes a working relationship with the director, it is hard to predict how little or how big one’s influence in the rehearsal room will be. Directors often work in indirect ways in order to ultimately influence or coach an actor or production into unfamiliar territory. So as an assistant, I find that I am at my best directly before and after a rehearsal. Those are the periods in which I am discussing with the director the quirks of the rehearsal and the shortcomings being foreseen. Usually this pre and post rehearsal moment is needed to organize thoughts before diving in or going home to the impending barrage of emails. Directing is a lonely profession. We rarely co-direct (it’s great when we do though!) and having an experienced assistant who knows the nuances of the craft is a relief. That’s what I try to be when I assist. A resource both in and out of the rehearsal room 

Same Time, Next Year was a wonderful experience that allowed me to do the aforementioned things. Plus, it was great to be in a rehearsal room with only two actors, witnessing that relationship develop over the short rehearsal time. The four of us in the room could focus on the nuances of the dialogue, 180 degree character shifts, and complexity of telling a story from 40 years ago about 70 years ago. This was a great experience and I hope my next assistant position is just as fulfilling. 


Afterthoughts: finding gräfenburg, written & directed by Graham Brown, produced by trip

The theatre company trip seeks to “bridge the gap between artist and audience.” Graham Brown, writer and director of the latest trip experience, finding gräfenburg, creates an entanglement of sexual exploration, innocuous flirtation, and office politics in a beautiful gallery space at Hairpin Arts Center, overlooking the bustling intersection of Milwaukee and Diversey.

There is minimal lighting, no central playing space, no seating, and anyone around you could be an actor. This is part of the joy of witnessing this theatrical experience: it feels both familiar and unexpected. This was the feeling of a veteran theatregoer anticipating the unexpected, but being blindsided while waiting.

That is the surface allure of finding gräfenburg. And it works. Ultimately. I will admit having some issues with the first phase of the piece, in which the jump cuts between scenes suffered from partial realized dramaturgy, akin to a poorly conceived long-form improvisation. Space and time were marginalized by relationship and wit. The wide open ground plan of the gallery did not help. Once the play shifted into longer, more focused scenes, I enjoyed the story being told in addition to the marvelous theatrical event I was witnessing.

Sure it is an old trick to hide actors within the audience, but this production blurred that line. What if that actor in the audience was eyeing you the entire time and then began to speak lines? What if there were actors in the audience that never spoke any lines? finding gräfenburg entices one to think like that. This is what succeeds. It’s not just a play. You can go to any theatre in town and sit in a dark room and watch, or, you can go and take a trip. 

Afterthoughts: Really Really by Paul Downs Colaizzo, produced by Interrobang Theatre Project

Theatre leaves you with images and thoughts to be perused again by way of conversation or private meditation. Great theatre adds in leftover feelings that electrify a connectivity to the work, humanity, and a fierce debate within one’s own head space. These feelings are usually described as cathartic or enjoyable. Really Really by Paul Downs Colaizzo and produced by Interrobang Theatre Project was one of the rare productions that throws those feelings into chaos. By the end of the production, one feels betrayed, used, tormented, and equally amazed by the onstage tightrope act. This is a play that needs to be produced on universities across the country to engage in dialogue about the state of sexual assault, obtuseness, and fragility on American campuses.

That was some aloof thoughts about the feelings evoked from the production, now for how it elicited those feelings. What worked? A stellar cast of beautiful and wonderfully talented actors who perpetuated the Chicago ideal that ensemble trumps all. There is no black and white character in this play, everyone exists in a dirty gray. This gray overshadows the characters so that by the end one is questioning every decision made onstage and therefore concluding over and over again where one personally falls on the issue. This cast was maneuvered by superb directing and a smart script that avoided labeling its characters as anything other complex, contradictory, and human.

The final image of the play is a cacophony of visceral theatre. I sat in a foggy state as the play ended. This fogginess was not from lack of understanding but from being astounded that a production ventured into a darkness. The production climaxed, withdrew, and then tossed the audience aside. This is the theatrical language of this production and it evokes a queasy feeling of self-edit during discussion.  

The set was a box. But it was the kind of boxed set that makes designers and directors want to chase a boxed set. This unit set was shared as two separate, believable college apartments. The design captured the uniformity the made-for-students apartment communities existing on the peripheral of universities. Every aspect of this design meshed together.

This script denies a safe side of the argument to fall into. It forces you to confront issues that are not simply she said/he said. This rewards the audience at the end with a night of theatre to be remembered months and years later.

The one small issue I had was the seemingly superfluous scenes in which Haley is direct addressing the audience as the Future Leaders of America. She does so in a less prepared state each time, as the world of the play beings to break down, and the scenes serve as a segue between the apartment scenes. During the production this stood out; however, this jarring effect was later revisited during the brilliant ending. I wonder if these scenes are a necessary hurdle to achieve the dénouement, or if they could be incorporated more into the private world of the play.

I am beyond excited to see what Interrobang Theatre Project produces next. This is a company that is not fretting from its ambitious tagline: Changing Our World One Play at a Time.

Go see their next production. Really.