Review Fix chats with Connor Mullen, who discusses his role in the upcoming Genesis Repertory production of “Line.”
Next year will mark 50 years that Israel Horovitz’s stunning surreal play, LINE, will have been performing in NYC. Beginning its life at Ellen Stewart’s LaMaMa, ETC in 1967, the play moved to the 13th Street Repertory Theater in 1974 and has remained there ever since.
The original production has seen innumerable reiterations over its five decades, but now 13th Street Rep in association with Genesis Repertory (an arts & educational organization) will revive the classic in a version similar to its original form (which included a then-unknown Richard Dreyfuss).
A connection to the original production is its director. The production is helmed by Jay Michaels, who studied with Carol Ilson, the original director of the production at 13th Street.
The cast, as it did back then, is comprised of young talented artists emerging onto the New York theatre scene. The rotating repertory includes Angelica Adams, Daniel Berger, Mario Claudio, Nina Cudic, Robert I. Gottlieb, Ben Lerner, Conor D. Mullen, Brady Richards, Andrew Schwartz, Beth St. John, and Elliot Wygoda.
The new “March to 50” production begins October 17 @ 7:30 p.m. at 13th Street Repertory Theater (Joe Battista, artistic director) in association with Genesis Rep (Mary Elizabeth Micari, artistic director) and will run Mondays.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Conor Mullen: One of my favorite genres is the “throw a bunch of big personalities together and watch them bounce off each other” genre. Line is very much that kind of play and as such there’s a huge focus on character. Given all that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my relationship to every other character on stage. Every relationship has to be unique. It’s not as simple as “well, I dislike all these people except this one guy who I’m worried is smarter than I am”. It’s much more complicated than that. I like to think of it like a set of variables that my character is trying to keep track of. There are 10 or so variables I have to keep track of when I’m interacting with Stephen, and 10 different variables I have to keep track of when I’m interacting with Fleming, and when I talk with both of them at the same time I’m keeping track of those 20 and and another 5 or so my character notices between them. I have to keep all those variables straight in my head and let every line be informed by them as well.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Mullen: Working on an absurdist play is always a unique challenge. The characters in this show never feel 100% real. There’s something off about them. They’re a little too much of a clown, a little too much of a caricature, and they don’t follow things with the same logic and reason that we do. Trying to pin down exactly what defines these absurdist characters as an actor is very difficult, let alone performing it. There’s a certain sense of unease that has to be conveyed in this show and just like everything else it’s very hard to pin down exactly what it is that’s off, but there’s definitely something not quite right.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Mullen: It’s always interesting to see the points where you overlap with the character you’re playing. I find this especially interesting when I’m playing villains, antagonists, and “bad guys”. Dolan is a manipulative selfish man who is only looking out for himself. But he and I do have some things in common. As an example I believe in hanging back and waiting for the right time to step in and take the lead, doing so only when necessary. Dolan believes almost the same thing, but he’s doing it for his own gain as opposed to what’s best for the group. It’s funny to think how easy it would be for one of us to start behaving like the other if I cared about people less or if he cared more.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of something like this?
Mullen: Anytime you can be a part of a production in this city it’s a gift. Any show you do could be the first step in an important part of theatre history. Of course, for Line, that first step happened 49 years ago. Those actors who were just working another gig had no way of knowing they were opening what would become the longest running show in NYC. But all of us in the show now already know how special this production is. It’s really an honor to be a part of it.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Mullen: The longest running show in London is The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. I was lucky enough to see that show a number of years ago and when I saw the play I left the theatre with a difficult to describe feeling: even though The Mousetrap isn’t the greatest show in London or the greatest play of all time I still left with an implicit understanding of why it was still going after all these years. For lack of a better term, I felt the play “deserved” to be the longest running show in London. If audiences can leave Line with that same sense, that same implicit understanding, then we’ve done our job.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Mullen: The fights. I’m biased here because I’m also the fight choreographer for the show. Just like everything in this show the combat also walks the line between comedic and dramatic all the time. One move is silly and the next is gut wrenching. If we’ve done our job right the audience will be laughing one second and then suddenly gasp. Hopefully it’s as much of a roller-coaster to the theatre going public as it is when I’m helping put it together.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Mullen: That’s the best thing about theatre, you never know what’s next. Fortunately I always talk about what I’m working on next at my website (which is also the best way to get in touch with me) at www.conordmullen.com