Review Fix chats with ‘The Gruesomely Merry Adventures Of NELL DASH, An Irrepressibly Sensible Capitalist With A Vengeance’ creator Doug DeVita and director Dennis Corsi to find out what inspired the play and who will enjoy it the most.
About the Production:
THE GRUESOMELY MERRY ADVENTURES OF NELL DASH, AN IRREPRESSIBLY SENSIBLE CAPITALIST WITH A VENGEANCE or What would happen if characters from Oliver Twist, Sense & Sensibilities, The ThreePenny Opera, and Sweeney Todd all met in a high-comic melodrama? Imagine… The Artful Dodger, after witnessing Fagin’s demise, disappears to be the best criminal in Fagin’s honor… reappearing as Mack, the knife. Meanwhile, Nancy – who was originally from an aristocratic family (“Nancy” could be the nickname of Marianne Dashwood) — and her sister, Elinor… or Nell (our heroine) could be short for Nellie (as in Mrs. Nellie Lovett) get themselves into quite a nasty bit of trouble with Bill Sikes … and the fun starts there! Hudson Guild Theatre, 441 W. 26 St. (btwn 9th/10th) Tuesday, February 28, 6:15 PM, Saturday, March 4, 8:30 PM, Sunday, March 5, 1:30 PM
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Dennis Corsi: To me, creativity is about being spontaneous and having the insight to notice what works. When working on a concept for a show, I allow my mind to go down whatever random path it wants and let it keep going until I feel an instinct in my gut that I’ve come across something. With this show I was struggling for a while to figure out how to approach it. One day I was listening to random music and I came across one song I had never heard before called “Get Free” by Whissell (an artist I had also never heard of). Something grabbed me about the song even though at first glance it didn’t really make sense for the show. But I trusted the instinct and listened to the song over and over and even read some scenes out loud while playing the song, until suddenly it clicked. It all started to fall into place and the entire concept for the show (style, tone, set, costumes, etc.) was born out of this one song.
Doug DeVita: For the most part, I write every morning for at least an hour, sometimes two or three. Then I spend the rest of the day thinking about the script and editing it in my mind, often jotting notes or recording thoughts on various phone apps. I bring pages into one or both of my writers groups (The 9th Floor, and The 36th Street Writers Block) and get feedback, and continue until I get a first draft finished. Then a seemingly endless series of public and private readings, editing, revising, etc… until, as Karen Hartman likes to say: “You’ve made it worse.” (I always save every draft, so I can go backward when necessary.)
Review Fix: What makes this play different or special?
Corsi: It’s a bunch of classic characters that many of us grew up loving, thrown together in one world under entirely different circumstances. The story Doug has weaved is incredibly clever and delightful. Even as people are being gruesomely murdered, you can’t help but feel merry satisfaction in how it’s all unfolding.
DeVita: It’s totally insane, and while I have kept to the issues I write about (surviving and flourishing despite having to deal with seemingly insurmountable odds), I’ve never written anything this freewheeling and raucous before. Despite some very dark currents rumbling through the piece, they remain under the surface of what is essentially a lighthearted period farce.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process? How did it enhance your artistic partnership?
Corsi: I don’t know that I learned anything about myself. But I did learn from my assistant director that sometimes the best ideas can come out of limitations. This script has a lot of blood, other disgusting bodily fluids, and tea (yes dear, tea) but we aren’t allowed to have any liquids onstage. William Spinatto, my assistant director, came up with a genius way to handle this that ended up working out amazingly for the concept of the play. So much so that even if we are allowed liquids in future productions, I would stick with his idea.
DeVita: I’ve never had as much fun writing something as much as this, and that I was able to keep track of all the various plot lines and characters while keeping them fairly faithful to their literary antecedents was a testament to something. Gin, perhaps? How did it enhance our artistic partnership?This is the second play I’ve put in Dennis’ hands, and I realized he was put on this earth to make me happy. As a director, he’s a gift to a playwright.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of this?
Corsi: I love Doug DeVita’s plays, they are so much fun to work on. This is my second, and hopefully not the last. And I am so grateful for the cast we assembled, they are such a joy and all incredibly talented. So it feels wonderful and a privilege.
DeVita: How does it feel to be a part of this? I’m exhilarated watching Dennis and our gifted cast bring this to life. I love seeing what works and what doesn’t, I love that Dennis challenges me on almost every line, I love going home and revising, cutting, changing, and sending improved pages for this extraordinary group of actors to chomp on the next day. AND it thrills me that several cast members (Rob Maitner, Carole Monferdini, Doug Rossi, and Jessica Vera) have been part of this journey from page to stage from the very first readings. Their contributions to developing this piece cannot be over-emphasized.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Corsi: World domination. Or an off-Broadway run would be cool too. I actually do think this play would do wonderfully off-Broadway. I’m confident it will have a life beyond this festival. So if you’re a producer, call me.
DeVita: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future? I’m hoping to get this script published, and that it will have a robust life on the regional and college circuit. And, of course, a longer run in a small theater in New York would be nice.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Corsi: Hopefully the death, because there’s a lot of it. And the surprising ways in which all the characters from different classic novels intertwine.
DeVita: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most? Finding and/or catching all of the relentless literary and theatrical references peppering the script, as well as the enormously creative and energetic production Dennis and his cast and crew are giving it.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Corsi: I already told you, world domination. If you want to keep up-to-date on my progress you can follow me on Twitter @corsidennis.
DeVita: What’s next? A martini, a nap, and plowing into the next script. Another period piece set in Europe, but definitely not a comedy.
Patrick Hickey Jr.
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