Review Fix chats with Regan Batuello, the artistic director of medicine show theater, who discusses their new production of “Caligula.”
About the Production:
This is the first production of the controversial classic in New York in more than a decade. This production blends perverse humor with swaths of vulgarity, covered in a vaudeville-style motif, adding to the tension and the macabre feel. Mark J. Dempsey, directs.
Camus’ Caligula was conceived and written in response to the rise of The Third Reich and the subsequent war. “We all know how that went,” observed Medicine Show’s chairwoman Regan Vann Batuello. “We do not, however, know how our future will go, but we see it as the role of the artist to highlight our own society with all its warts and blemishes. As such, Caligula is once again a leader for our times,” she concluded.
Caligula stars Richard Keyser, with Demetrius Blocker, Chris Cunningham, David Elyha, Janine Georgette, Alex Miskin, Samuel Muniz, Mario Peguero, Diana Westphal and Perri Yaniv, and begins previews Thursday, September 6, with the official opening being one week later on Thursday, September 13. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, at 4 pm. Caligula runs until Sunday, October 14. The Medicine Show Theatre is located at 549 West 52nd Street, Third Floor.
Review Fix: How did you originally get involved in theatre?
Regan Batuello: Medicine Show Theater is now a second-generation company. I was a young dancer when my mother, Barbara Vann, (artistic director and founder with James Barbosa-step dad) called and said, “We just lost an actor for the Poe project (later named Extraordinary Histories), I don’t think you can do it but come in and audition.” I did, and I did get the role. That was when I realized that speaking and singing gave you SO many more ways to play and tell a story.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Batuello: Barbara Vann had been working on the translation of Camus’ Caligula when she died. She had the actor for the role in the company and he is one of the handfuls of people who held the company together directly after her death in 2015. When I came back, roughly a year ago, it seemed both politically and sentimentally the perfect time to do it.
Review Fix: What makes this cast special?
Batuello: Barbara was one of the few people doing color blind casting forty-plus years ago. We have now committed our company to both multi-culti and gender less-specific casting. Our cast is a mix of the company members that have been with Medicine Show for many years and new talent that we look forward to integrating into the company.
Review Fix: Any pressure on you considering the political climate and state of men and female relations in this country and world?
Batuello: I think now more than ever the role of art can be the voice of dissidence. The political climate is appalling, the state of gender relations is getting more complex hourly, and while certainly there is a place for art as pure entertainment—we’re just not that cute. But we’re very smart, funny, and enormously outraged. Medicine Show has always been political, and we look forward to being on the next wave of rabble-rousers.
Review Fix: Why is this production timely now to you?
Batuello: Ummm…well, we do seem to have fallen in love with a despot…
Review Fix: What are you most proud of in this production?
Batuello: There are a lot of limbs that this production is going out on and while it is often scary, and one is not sure of success, I am terribly proud that the work is being done. You can’t make art thinking too much about the final product—that’s how you end up with nice, tidy, commercially viable pieces of fluff—and Medicine Show has never been about that. I’m proud of the cast members and the creative team putting it together and throwing caution to the winds.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Batuello: Barbara and Jim came out of The Open Theater and had a very specific “experimental’ process which they put pieces together with. I hear now that NYU has named it ‘Devised Theatre’. Often actors who come to the company are put off because it really does rely on the creativity of the performers creating a world and doing much of the heavy lifting. In a perfect situation, while the director is the facilitator and has the overarching vision of the piece, much of it is in the actor’s hands. Marvelous for the performer who has vision and something to say. Less so for the one who wants to be moved around and told what to do.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special?
Batuello: It’s a new translation of a classic done in a very modern way at a moment in history when the story needs to be heard again.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Batuello: I learned that I can be made uncomfortable and that’s a good thing. When you bring together a team of very righteous, very talented people it is impossible to control the outcome and you’re really along for a ride with an indefinite destination. Sounds great right? Scares me a little but that’s part of the fun.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Batuello: The beauty and horror of live theater is that it’s 100% impermanent. The goal is to have as many people as possible be a part of it, by watching it, and then doing it again…until it closes. Would I like to change the minds of a few folks who have differing opinions on the state of the world? Of course! We’d like to take the show to colleges and warp a few young minds.
Our ultimate goal for the future is to keep doing what we’ve been doing for close to fifty years. In the world, as it is now, that’s a pretty tall order.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Batuello: December brings us to “queer fest” a festival of new work by multi-gendered individuals. Our spring show will be “The Dragon” by Yevgeny Schwartz.