Review Fix chats with “Jericho” writer Michael Weller, who discusses the creation of the production, as well as how he’d like audiences to be affected by it.
About the Production:
Based on the play LILIOM by Hungarian master Ferenc Molnár (which inspired Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel), JERICHO by award-winning screenwriter and playwright Michael Weller, revolves around the love affair between a scoundrel carousel barker and a maid at a Catholic Young Women’s Inn. His confused violent passion and her simple unshakable devotion, form the combustible heart of this dark fairytale for grown-ups. Staying true to Molnár’s marginal Budapest, Weller sets JERICHO at Coney Island during the Great Depression of the 1930s; a place and time when work was scarce, and life was a matter of desperate survival.
JERICHO plays the following schedule through Saturday, February 10:
Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m.
Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m.
Thursdays 7:00 p.m.
Fridays at 7:00 p.m.
Saturdays at 7:00 p.m.
Sundays at 5:00 p.m.
Review Fix: What inspired the creation of this play?
Michael Weller: I always thought the original Hungarian play was wildly inventive, entertaining, edgy and mysterious…. Far ahead of its time in both its storytelling and its blend of cosmopolitan sophistication and genuine emotion. Every student I assign this play to read is amazed that it exists, that it was written so long ago, that it still seems radical to experience. A good love story is rare – a love story as original as this one is almost unheard of.
Review Fix: What was the research process like?
Weller: Apart from various histories and picture books of Coney Island during the 30s, my main research was at the Coney Island Museum. Just to walk in the building is like a voyage back in time. It gave me a vivid sense of a lost era when recreation was dangerous and public and cheap. It was a place where different classes came seeking pleasure, where the wealthy ventured into the society of louche and sketchy have-nots. Like Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s South Bank, all of humanity rubbed shoulders in Coney. That kind of society is irresistible to me. Also, my father was a WPA artist, and rode the rails across America making woodcuts and lithographs of the hobos he travelled with. His pictures have always evoked powerful feelings in me about the Great Depression in America.
Review Fix: What makes Coney Island during the Great Depression special?
Weller: Coney Island was one of the few places poor people could find entertainment. It was largely an outdoor experience, a place you left with your pockets empty, a place where fun lived cheek by jowl with danger. Also, it was one of the few places working people went to splurge, to treat themselves to a good time and let off steam. I love the world that grows up around this society, and I’ve written about it much less often than I’d like to. It was a pleasure to discover this place and spend time here.
Review Fix: What are your goals for this project?
Weller: The original play by Molnar, called “Liliom,” is known by American audiences mainly through its musical adaptation, “Carousel.” Though I didn’t calculate this to happen, my play will perform in the same season as a revival of Carousel on Broadway, and I’m hoping that theatre-lovers will find this a great opportunity to see two very different treatments of Molnar’s masterpiece. Carousel is a supreme entertainment, and manages to tip-toe charmingly around the universe of the original play, which was set in a rough-and-tumble fairground in turn-of-the-century Budapest… an environment more like Coney Island than a happy seaside Maine full of jolly fishermen and difficult gals. The situation that interested Molnar – the peculiar and combustible mix of love and violence – is at the very center of my play. My attempt is to communicate something of Molnar’s ambiguous and disturbing treatment of this love.
Review Fix: Who do you think will enjoy it the most?
Weller: I honestly think this is a play for everyone. Students love it, grown-ups love it – lovers of drama and fantasy and adventure love it. The original play is a bona fide world classic. Interestingly, when it was first performed in Budapest, the critics were utterly baffled by its manner of story-telling, its sophisticated and original mixture of genres. It was a resounding flop. Ten years later it was revived and the play swept across the world stages like a brushfire. It was one of the most successful plays of all time, and deservedly so. My hope is that by lifting it out of Budapest, and setting it in a world closer in feeling to Molnar’s original, audiences will get some sense of how fresh and original Molnar’s imagination was, and how strikingly evergreen it still feels.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Weller: A one-man show about Ronald Reagan for Tim Matheson (“Otter” in Animal House, and now a dead ringer for Ronald Reagan) which will premiere this summer at Contemporary American Theatre festival.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Weller: It’s been amazing to once again work on a play with such a large cast… In the current theatrical atmosphere the truism seems to be that any play with a cast larger than 4 is impossible to produce. I hate that. When I see a cast of three or four, and when they’ve all been on stage at least once, if I haven’t enjoyed any of the performers I feel as if I’m stuck in hell for the next two hours. That the Attic Theatre has assembled this many remarkable actors to strut the stage is for me a totally unexpected treat, and of course the chance of finding five or six of them who you really love is exponentially greater. Actually, they’re all pretty remarkable. In fact, it’s one of the best casts I’ve ever enjoyed. I wrote the play as a labor of love. It’s a dream come true that I’ll have a chance to see it burst into life on a New York stage.
To learn more about JERICHO visit www.theattictheaterco.com
Photo by Lia Chang