Review Fix chats with the craft of the upcoming production “Small Craft Warning” to find out what inspired the production, their performances and more.
About the Production:
This play centers on a motley group of people gathered in a seedy coastal bar in Southern California. The guests read like a list of Williams’ favorite types: lusty Leona Dawson (Nicole Greevy*), an embittered middle-aged woman; her ne’er-do-well live-in lover Bill McCorkle (Jed Peterson*); Doc (George A Morafetis*), an alcoholic who lost his license to practice medicine (but still does); Violet (Jenne Vath*), who has eyes for Bill regardless of Leona; Steve (Jon Spano*), a depressed middle-aged short order cook; two gay men – Quentin, a washed-up screenwriter, and Bobby, a young man Quentin picked up on the road (Jason Pintar* and Christian Musto*) … and Monk (Robert Maisonett), the obligatory bartender running a place of refuge for the vulnerable and the lost.
Williams himself said of this play: “It is the responsibility of the writer to put his experience as a being into work that refines it and elevates it, to make an audience feel the truth of that work.” One feels a bit of Williams in each character.
SMALL CRAFT WARNING by Tennessee Williams presented by Barnaby Edwards and Regeneration Theatre runs Thursday – Saturday: November 1-3 at 7:00 p.m.; Sunday, November 4 at 2:00 p.m.; Special showing, Monday, November 5 at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday: November 8-10 at 7:00 p.m.;
Saturday, November 10 & Sunday, November 11 at 2:00 p.m. at the Thirteenth Street Playhouse, 50 West 13th Street, NYC. For tickets: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3609319
*appearing courtesy of Actors Equity Association
Review Fix: What was the inspiration for this project?
Barnaby Edwards: Until I read John Lahr’s masterful biography of Tennessee Williams almost the day it came out, I subscribed to the common belief that his plays of the 1960s onwards were terrible and best avoided, but this book inspired me to revisit them. I immediately fell in love with several of them, but especially Small Craft Warnings. As I was putting together a follow-up season for Regeneration Theatre, I know it was something I wanted to present. Not only does it feel like an evolution of Williams’ themes throughout his career, but updated to the slightly more liberated 1970s, but it also resonated with the sense of community I have found in New York City in bars and restaurants where the different and the outcasts can find a home away from home, which is sorely needed in a time where social media makes us ever more isolated and where when you need help, you cannot count on it from a government that only cares about lining their own pockets, rather than those who actually need help.
Jon Spano: I’ve always been drawn to pieces about social outcasts,those who are stuck in their lives, didn’t move on, or were afraid to, and before they knew it, years, even decades flew by and their unconscious (or maybe even conscious) self-pity has stalemated them to a drab, daily repetition. Deep down inside, these folks still yearn for a better life, albeit unspoken, outside of the trap they’ve made for themselves. But they take no action to improve it, other than to perhaps drown their sorrows in alcohol or drugs. What I find interesting, and this would apply to many people in the American heartland today, is that while they accept the situation of their life, they don’t actually accept the terms, meaning, for the most part, their lives today are a consequence of their individual choices and behaviors, yet they want to blame others. It’s a “me (or us) against the world” philosophy. “We’re fine, but the others out there are what’s making life hard for us.” An inability to be accountable, and the internal bitterness this creates shapes their world view and is redirected towards others. And yet, these character’s inability to see themselves clearly is what reveals their humanity and and makes them funny. In every “loser” is still the heart of a deeply wounded child.
Nicole Greevy: I was very fortunate to be cast by Regeneration for their inaugural production (“Kennedy’s Children.”) It was such a wonderful experience, as was the 2nd show I did with them, that I will gladly work on any production in which they want me.
Jason Pintar: Barnaby asked me to read it and to look at the role of Quentin, and I enthusiastically accepted.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Robert Maisonett: My two mentors, were so different, but gave me the same advice. Learn about every method and take whatever works for you and create your own. My first step is getting the lines down. It’s during that process that I discover the character, their objective and the overall story. This way during rehearsals I can play off of my fellow cast memebers. That is when things might and will change ,as now I’m working off their energy, what they are giving to me. I work internally. I want that freedom to listen and react.
Nicole Greevy: I love rehearsal (even more than performing, truth be told). I like to work things out with other actors, making discoveries as I go. That said, Leona, my role in this script, has so many lines that I’ve had to spend a lot of time with the script at home, and as I discover things on the page, I jot down notes of what I’d like to try out in the rehearsal room. And I continue to discover new things right up until closing night. That’s the best part about doing plays- always finding something new.
Jon Spano: It begins with reading the script, and going back over certain sections that for some reason stay with you or stick out. I have to have a feel of the tone and atmosphere of the piece to understand what level or frequency the performance is going to be played at, so that it’s true to the play, the time period it takes place in, and is balanced with the other characters and the director’s vision. Then its lines, lines, lines… I type condensed versions of the dialogue to practice in my down-time so I don’t have to carry the whole script everywhere. I can pull out my one-page cheat sheet of page 22-25 and rehearse and review. Once there’s a stronger sense of character nd text (his conflict, needs, goals, stakes and all that actory stuff), I wonder about physical behavior. How does he walk, talk, what’s his rhythm in the play and in his life outside the play? I like to fill in blanks and have backstories. I look for the character’s silent parts – and Steve is largely silent in this play – to understand what he’s doing when he’s not talking. It’s almost like a very subtle kind of contemporary silent-movie acting where stillness and listening can be so powerful. I almost always envision how the character dresses. I realize it’s totally external, but how shoes and shirts feel, and how color reflects personality… it’s important. And while these visions of character and costume come quickly, I apply it last. If you’ve done all the other work, it’s a real boost at the end.
A character has a voice. Yes, it’s always gonna be my voice, but if it’s a grounded, secure character, or a drunk, or a neurotic, the voice will have different pitches and meters. After a long day’s work, the voice might be strained and raspy. The appropriate shoes for a character can inform the walk, which informs behaviors and attitudes towards, not just in the world of the character you’re playing, but in the world of the play itself, which means – and this is one of the most important things – the relationships between the characters.
Jason Pintar: Who am I? What do I want? Why am I here? What color are my bath towels? Make choices.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special from the original?
Barnaby Edwards: We are in a time now where Tennessee Williams is fully recognized as a true American poet and a genius. At the time this play was written that was not really the case. He had become a joke in many ways, and critics were downright hostile, which means that many of his later works are far less well known than the “big four” plays that we see revived over and over. That’s a shame. So, I hope with this production enables people to see the great value in this play, and the relevancy that it has to today’s America where once again those people at the end of the road are having any support system they may need to rely on systematically taken away because they are weak, downtrodden, and different. I am pretty sure that that is not the America Tennessee Williams believed in, and it’s not one I believe in either.
Nicole Greevy: Tennessee Williams wrote this play in the 1970s, and it’s certainly of its time, especially in regards to how homosexuality is discussed and portrayed. I think there’s great value in exploring, in a contemporary performance, scripts and stories that would be told in a very different way were they written today. We’ve come so far in our understanding of sex and sexuality since then. But the themes of loss and loneliness and regret are timeless and I think resonate just as much today as he intended them to then. Also, Leona is described in the script as big, which I am not. It’s a fun challenge, as a petite person, to take on such a big character.
Jon Spano: That I’m not sure about, since I never saw the original. But I think every incarnation of a Williams play is going to have it’s own signature. You have different actors, directors, venues, audiences, time periods in which it’s actually performed. I’m hoping we can find the pace, and have the juxtaposition between pathos and humor. The play calls for multi-dimensionality; otherwise I can see how it’s just a bunch of losers acting out and behaving badly in a bar. We want to transcend that. I’ve worked that bar scene in real life, and it, too, can be a tedious bore. I’m hoping we can give the audience a different experience, so that if they’ve seen it or lived it before, that what the cast and directors bring to the piece will make the scenario lively, human, and relatable for them.
Jason Pintar: I’ve never seen another other iterations of this play, and given how excellent the cast is, it will indeed be special.
Review Fix: What did you learn about yourself through this process?
Nicole Greevy: I learned that I need to embrace the ugliness in Leona’s character, because I think she made some choices in her life she really regrets, and to be unafraid to explore the grief that comes from making mistakes you can’t fix. Because through that, I think one truly learns how to forgive.
Jon Spano: At a surface level, that I like acting on stage. I’m also a playwright, and I’ve written a lot of plays. But since I returned to acting, it’s mostly been film. So I try to do one play a year. Last year was Golden Boy, where I played a mobster. At a deeper level, tapping into that part of myself (when I actually finally, feel content, happy, successful, and comfortable in my skin) that is still an alcoholic loser. My Small Craft character is a diner cook. It’s dirty, tedious, low-paying, laborious work that no one appreciates. I’ve worked so many support jobs (grill cook, busboy, waiter, apartment cleaner, bar tender) that I have to go back to that place of despair where I wondered what it’s all worth and what’s the point? The only thing that makes the day bearable is knowing you can go hangout at a local dive and get shit-faced and stumble back home and do it all over again the next day. I’ve had that rotten life. Now I have a really great one. There’s a long journey and story between those two points. But for some reason, I knew life would get better. You have to want a good life and want it bad enough. You gain strength, learn about yourself, learn about others, get burned a lot, used a lot… but you keep going. You work your ass of for it. And that’s what most of the Small Craft characters don’t do. They settle or accept, and get very angry, bitter, and drunk about it.
Jason Pintar: I’m so glad I’m not a bitter, homosexual.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production or your company for the future?
Nicole Greevy: I want the audience to be entertained, and to go home thinking about what beautiful things they’ve had in their lives to remember. And I hope very much Regeneration Theatre has me back for more!
Jason Pintar: Do the work justice and get the company some recognition.
Jon Spano: I’d love to be a part of a company where I could act in a few wonderful plays once or twice a year.
Barnaby Edwards: I hope that this encourages people to revisit late Tennessee Williams plays and take the fresh look at them which they richly deserve. Alongside SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS our Next Up series will feature readings of some one acts, so if folks are curiosu they should check that out as well! (It’s free!)
Review Fix: What’s next?
Robert Maisonett: In January I will be performing in Allison Eikerenkoetter’s ” You Think You Know BKLYN”
Jason Pintar: World peace. (A boy can dream.)
Nicole Greevy: I write for and appear in a horror-comedy podcast, Uncanny County, that is wrapping up its second season, so I’ll be writing scripts for Season Three (shameless plug: available on iTunes).
Jon Spano: Getting my play Dennis to the next tier of production since it’s successful first staging this past April. Then doing a staged-reading of Sebastian, which is a prequel to Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. And it pertains to today’s political shenanigans and attitudes. I also have a screenplay adapted from my play Muskego Lake, that I’d like to get to Lifetime. As an actor, I’m aiming towards more film and TV work, and of course theatre.
Barnaby Edwards: We’re doing our first musical next spring, which I am incredibly excited about (watch this space for an announcement soon!), and then planning our Fall 2019 show, and beyond.