Review Fix chats with members of the Regeneration Theatre who let us know what makes the revival of the Arthur Miller production a special one.
About the Production:
Regeneration Theatre presents a revival of a Miller play never produced for the public in New York City. Three old friends meet up in an unnamed country, probably in Eastern Europe and cannot be sure who is still a friend, who is still an enemy, and whether higher powers are listening in on every word they say for their own ends. We’ll leave the audience to draw their own conclusions… Production directed by Barnaby Edwards
Regeneration Theatre is excited to present 2 shows in our 2019 season. In May we will be bringing you a New York City premiere, with Arthur Miller’s The Archbishop’s Ceiling, a play set in world where anyone could be listening. Or are they? This will be followed in November by Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box, which asks what happens when our health can no longer be helped. Regeneration Theatre is dedicated to featuring a diversity of subjects and styles and artists that is appropriate for the world in which we live today and our mission to bring back to life works that have been neglected, or underestimated in the past.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration behind choosing this play?
Barnaby Edwards: I’ve been looking at The Archbishop’s Ceiling for a couple of years now. It seems remarkable that this work, by one of the world’s greatest playwrights has never been seen in New York City, and if ever there was a time for a lay that forces us to think about abuse of power and corruption, and their impact on every day people, and on artists, then that time is 2019.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like – especially when it comes to rare and even unseen works?
Jessica Carollo: I treat this work as any other piece. After reading it over numerous amount of times, you collect any information relevant to the character and start to build from there. This particular play has a lot of history that needs to be explored both politically and way of life. Once I understood more of the culture of the time, it became easier to start building those relationships.
Michael Meth: It’s always a thrill to be able to participate in creating a show for which the audience and the actors’ preconceptions are few to none. In this project we have been working in a real collaboration, under Barnaby’s direction, to make this play feel alive and relevant. After all, the Iron Curtain of the Soviets may have fallen but there are still people – and machines – monitoring us and analyzing our behavior. And, isn’t posting on social media a piece of theatre?
Kristen Gehling: New works are my absolute FAVORITE! There is no expectation and infinite discovery. There is no comparision – there is only risk. It’s scary, challenging, and delicious. I try to approach every line with an open mind and heart. This is when rehearsal becomes like a sandbox – it’s just about play. When something falls into place, there’s a distinct change in energy in the room. It’s spiritual. When an audience is witness to these moments of discovery, they sense it. They leave knowing they witnessed something magical. Often, pieces that have been seen/presented before carry the weight of the past experience – who the actors were, how they said a specific line, how the set was constructed, what they ate for dinner before sitting in the theatre. New work offers a clean slate, the possibility of an unexperienced opportunity. How thrilling!
Jon Spano: It begins with reading the script and going back over certain sections that for some reason stay with me or stick out. I have to 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: style, meaning, impact… This is a very challenging play to learn, interpret, and stage, which is one reason why it’s rarely produced. Because in addition to its stylized dialogue, there is often an archaic quality to it. But Archbishop was written in the ‘70s, not the ‘40s or ‘50s when characters often sounded too profound or poetic for who they actually were or, if archetypal, were representing. A big challenge is how to make expository, over-worded dialogue sound like every day speech. These characters are just speaking how they speak, so it has to sound free-flowing and completely natural and unaffected.
Once there’s a stronger sense of character and 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 and secrets that none of the other characters know about. That can inform the meaning and interpretation, and therefore the delivery, of a line depending on the moment. It can also inform how I interpret what another character is saying to me: Do I believe the response or am I suspicious of it?
I always envision how the character dresses. 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 them last. If you’ve done all the other work, it’s a real boost at the end.
Review Fix: What makes this different or special from Miller’s other canon?
Kristen Gehling: Miller. God. How do you begin to unpack his genius? He managed to capture humanity on his pages. He zeroed in on what drives us as a species – our fears, our sense of purpose. He exposed his characters down to their veins. He shined a glaring light on their journeys to discovery and destruction so we could be witness to our own challenges and shortcomings. He is timeless because he showed us that a good life, leaving your mark, and preserving your name are worth fighting for.
Barnaby Edwards: I’m not sure how different it is from the rest of the Miller canon. It revisits themes that are very important to him – persecution, art, writing, politics as theatre, prejudice, and government authority going too far. It is an important piece, however, that deserves a second look, coming as it does late in his career, before the slight 1990s renaissance of “The Ride Down Mount Morgan”, “Broken Glass” and some major revivals of his 1950s masterpieces. Much like Tennessee Williams, whose late period “Small Craft Warnings” we presented last November, there is a tendency to focus on the 4-5 acknowledged masterpieces, and to ignore later work that, while perhaps not reaching those pinnacles of “greatness”, nevertheless is unafraid to challenge the audience with undeniable truths that continue to resonate today.
Review Fix: What did you learn/are learning about yourself through this process?
Jessica Carollo: Like, Irina there is so much more then meets the eye. Although she may not speak much of the language she is still very much in tuned to what’s going on around her. There’s a good amount of time i’m on stage i’m not talking but i’m listening. I’m learning just how patient I can be and the value of her voice. When she does speak, it’s worth paying attention to.
Michael Meth: I am learning that I can be complacent and naïve when it comes to accepting surface reality.
Kristen Gehling: I’m learning how to trust my instincts and surrender to the choices I make. Miller did not give us truths, only suggestions. We don’t know if the room is bugged. We don’t know if anyone is listening. We don’t know if the government is hunting Sigmund. We don’t know who is aligned with who – if anyone is at all! And who the heck is the random dancing Swedish girl? It’s scary to fail. I might choose wrong, Maya may get herself into trouble. We’ll never know the outcome, Miller didn’t write it. So, I have to dive in and trust I resurface.
Review Fix: What are your ultimate goals for this production or your company for the future?
Barnaby Edwards: For this production, I would like audiences to embrace the idea presented in an almost forgotten play by one of the most important playwrights who ever lived. As with Tennessee Williams, the later plays that Miller wrote have tended to be either misunderstood, or not supported by producers, critics, and audiences alike. This play is no different, and possibly an even more neglected piece given its lack of a major New York production. I hope seeing this piece will encourage people to take a look at some of the other plays he wrote in the 1970s, and even more so in the 1990s, that are no less relevant and to the world we find ourselves in today.
Review Fix: What’s next?
Jessica Carollo: I’m very fortunate enough to not only be an actress. I’m also a producer and video editor. I’m the Producer of an online series called, NYC Smile 4 Me where we go around different red carpets asking the simple question, “What makes you smile?” Based on their answer we do a full interview. I’ve been a part of it for 3 years now and since it’s award season for theatre in New York, we’ll be busy. Please visit nycsmile4me.com to check out our past interviews which include Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Bette Midler, Lin Manuel Miranda and many others!
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 Tennessee 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.
Kristen Gehling: I closed a two-person musical (“John and Jen”) two days ago in Alabama. I Skyped in for the first read-through with this lovely cast. After this, I have a month before I head to The Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival to play the role of Raffaela in “Grand Hotel” directed and choreographed by Brett Smock.
Barnaby Edwards: Next up for Regeneration is Michael Cristofer’s “The Shadow Box”, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award in 1977 and asks us what happens when our health fails, how we react, and how are we supported; once more it is a timely discussion we should be having given the important of healthcare in our national discourse, which is what Regeneration strives to encourage.
The Archbishop’s Ceiling by Arthur Miller
May 9 – 19
(Thursday – Saturday @ 7:00 p.m. and Sunday @ 2;00 p.m.
with a special Monday showing (May 13) @ 7:00 p.m.