Review Fix chats with Adam Belvo, who discusses the powerful production that is “The Brutes.”
About the Production:
After a powerful run at Planet Connections 2018 Theatre Festivity, spit&vigor revives THE BRUTES, written by Casey Wimpee (2x Samuel French Short Play Finalist; NYIT Outstanding Original Short Script) for a longer run at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street. Sara Fellini returns as director bringing Adam Belvo, and other members of the original cast. Performances are November 23 — December 9 (Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm). Tickets are $30. For reservations, please visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/999133.
Casey Wimpee takes you backstage of an historic performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar featuring the renowned Booth theatrical family – brothers, Edwin, Junius Jr. and John Wilkes, Booth. This was the first and only time the three brothers shared a stage together. The backstage drama becomes the focus of this portrait of a tempestuous relationship fraught with political conflict ending in an American tragedy.
THE BRUTES is an intimate portrait of a family divided. The piece is staged In-the-round with a minimalist set pieces that transforms into a theatre, a dinner table, and a nation on the brink of sweeping change. Civil strife, family devolution, and a country sharply divided – 150 years ago or right now – the parable of this drama remains strong.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Adam Belvo: Spit and vigor generally produces two mainstage productions every year that deal with current topics and themes. This piece fit the time and pressure of this age perfectly; THE BRUTES is a play that deals with a divided nation and families torn apart over entrenched beliefs by examining a famous American stage family, the Booths. Originally, the script was workshopped by Aztec Economy, and a staged reading of an early draft hit the New Ohio Theatre’s stage in January of 2013 (the entire reading was videotaped, and exists on Youtube.) THE BRUTES then sat on a back-burner to other projects, until the summer of 2017 when Casey re-wrote it for a production company based in Austin, TX. It seemed that the themes Casey had woven into the fabric of the narrative were now more relevant than ever, and to us it seemed like an excellent time to revisit the play. It also fits with our general mission; we are committed to producing theater that brings people together and challenges them, intellectually and emotionally. We choose to present scenarios without easy answers or alliances, with all the real complications of life lived fully. We believe in healthy conflict and unsatisfying resolutions. We think that this type of art is especially necessary at this moment, socially and politically.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Belvo: We like to approach our projects by coming up with an aesthetic vision for the play, including design elements, and then pull in cast and crew who can help us flesh out the vision. We are pretty ad hoc, making the most use of the little we have to create the worlds we want to bring into existence; for instance, in this production we have a steamer trunk that we built using the shell of an old amplifier box someone left on the curb. We cast our shows with people we trust to carry out their roles brilliantly, and keep an open eye and ear in our rehearsal processes for ideas from everyone. We believe our productions belong to all of us, and we should each have a say in how their development and execution. We like to roll with the punches, and are eager for moments when the unexpected happens.
We aim to make the most of what we have, and to use those resources to produce theater that explores human relationships in all their glorious messiness. Our creative process reflects and amplifies these elements.
Review Fix: What makes this different from the original?
Belvo: The original script read at the New Ohio in 2013 was more of a rough sketch of the Booth family, surrounded by Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Initially, the Shakespearean scenes were much more involved and complicated. This version expertly blends Shakespeare, American history, and Casey’s genius, poetic writing into a fluid, dreamlike narrative. It also streamlined the story brilliantly, while remaining true to the original themes Casey wanted to explore; brotherhood & sibling rivalry, Civil War and civil strife, and the relationship between art and given, present circumstances.
This production will also be different from our successful run at the Planet Connections Festivity this past summer, as we will have a dedicated theater for a full three week run. We will be able to bring the play to a larger audience, and we are excited to explore the piece in further depth than before. We will also be joined by several new and talented performers, as some of our cast mates from the summer have gone on to graduate school and other projects this fall.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Belvo: We’re still in process, but it is amazing to discover all the ways in which this play reflects aspects of each of our lives, and how that is something we can bring to our art as a gift to the audience and ourselves. We are learning that the best solutions are really the simplest, and we have found that in streamlining the show, we’re ending up with a tighter, more exciting production. It is also exciting to have another chance at such a phenomenal script, and to get to approach the play with one run under our belts – we have a good idea of what works, and now we can use that knowledge to build a stronger production with our cast.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production and for the future?
Belvo: It has been a dream of ours to produce this play at the New Ohio Theatre, and we are extremely grateful to be hosted there and to realize this goal. We look forward to sharing this production with a new audience, and to make interesting, new choices with this process. spit&vigor is committed to bringing high quality theater to the downtown NYC scene, and we intend to honor that commitment.
Review Fix: What’s Next?
Belvo: We host a play reading series monthly called the Blue Light Reading Series where we are hoping to develop our next production, and we are keeping our eyes and ears peeled for our next project. Sara is also currently writing a play based on the life of Sabella Nitti, a woman wrongly convicted of murder in Chicago in the early part of the 20th century, and how media depiction & public perception led not only to her conviction, but also to her acquittal on appeal.