Review Fix chats with Ben Lerner, 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?
Ben Lerner: It really depends on the role. Sometimes, I’ll research and spend time alone looking through lines, memorizing and analyzing. Other times, I feel most connected to the text and character when I’m rehearsing alongside fellow actors and find my creativity blossoms most then – when actually performing it. With LINE, I discover more and more layers in the dialogue and characters’ relationships with each rehearsal. In fact, some of the best – the funniest, or most intense – moments happen organically, when playing off my costars’ spontaneous and ever-changing energy.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Lerner: It doesn’t always happen that a project is hilarious, terrifying, dramatic, silly and profound all at once. All five characters in this piece are comic forces to be reckoned with, but we can all flex our dramatic chops due to the sheer intensity of the (very mysterious) premise. Horovitz’s play maintains relevance half a century later because it’s malleable. No characteristic or interaction is set in stone, which is why they change and evolve. No one is purely good or evil and motivations are revealed and altered. The lack of concrete setting and context makes it full of surprises for everyone, including those of us onstage.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Lerner: No need for “did” in the past tense! I’m still learning. I’ve learned that I shouldn’t let others typecast me, but that I also shouldn’t put myself in a box, because even subconsciously limiting oneself as an actor closes doors on unexpected opportunities. My character in LINE isn’t a “type” or character role that I’m used to in scripted comedy or improv, and a nontraditional play like this has helped me outside of my comfort zone in unexpected and interesting ways.
Review Fix: How does it feel to be a part of something like this?
Lerner: Very exciting! My dad actually saw a production of LINE at this same space, at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre, in the 80s. It’s very cool to join a project that has such roots in the NYC theatre scene, which I grew up obsessively consuming. The fact that many great actors have had “a spot” on the LINE makes me feel hopeful for the future, honored and inspired.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Lerner: I hope everyone sees it! On paper, this might not seem like it’s up everyone’s alley, but I’m excited to share what I’ve come to regard as a brilliant absurdist comedy with as many New Yorkers (and visitors!) as possible. This is my first open run show, so I hope for a long and profitable run that thrives on word of mouth. You never know who’s going to walk into the audience, and I’m grateful we’ll have more than a weekend’s worth of opportunities to perform.
Review Fix: What do you think your audiences will enjoy the most?
Lerner: This play is short, fast, funny and full of surprises. I think audiences will first enjoy the very clever comedy and our cast’s interpretation of it. The twists will keep them on the edge of their seats. Lastly, they’ll enjoy unpacking its morals afterward – there’s a lot to interpret and marinate on. Not many theatrical experiences are hilarious, surprising and meaningful.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Lerner: I’m appearing as Mushnik in 9 to 5 Productions’ LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS the first weekend of November with an incredibly talented cast. It’s a brilliant, timeless musical comedy with a gorgeous Menken/Ashman score, and I’m excited to do my first musical in two years in a comic character role that’s utterly different than LINE! I’m hoping to gain representation and work more in film and TV, as well.