Charles Lewis III returns with part two of his interviews with the creative team behind Pleiades, which opens later this week at the Phoenix Theatre.
“A son is a son ‘til he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter all of her life.”
– Old Irish Proverb
I had the pleasure of taking part in the ‘Pub’s production of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, newly-translated by Marissa Skudlarek. I wore a horse’s head and that is all you need know about my involvement. It was my first – and hopefully not last – time working with director Katja Rivera. I’d first heard of her in 2011 when she directed another primarily female show set in the early 1970s, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Star of that show, actress/songbird Michelle Jasso, affectionately Katja described as “no bullshit, but incredibly open to collaboration and suggestion”. With the full production of Marissa’s Pleiades about to enter tech week under Katja’s direction, I was able to briefly catch up with her to talk about the play. As a complimentary piece to last week’s interview, I got to ask Katja about her approach to the material, historical accuracy, and bringing a maternal perspective to a story of young women trying to find their place in the world.
Did you attend the original Pleiades reading in 2011?
No, I didn’t attend the first reading of Pleiades. I didn’t even know about the Olympians Festival then!
What about Marissa and her script encouraged you jump aboard this project?
Marissa had sent me her script, and I particularly was impressed with how she understood the dynamics of a large family. I’m from a family of seven, so that aspect of the script particularly resonated with me. I also enjoy working with Marissa (on Pint Sized and Orphée), so I wanted a chance to collaborate with her on a full production.
Whereas Marissa’s script was written by someone trying to imagine a specific time in history, you were actually alive during that time. How important was historical accuracy to you? Are you on the lookout for specific anachronisms or is it better to have just a general sense of the era, so as to focus more directly on story and character?
I like to be as historically accurate as possible, and do think we are products of our time. I do look out for anything that smacks of anachronism, because I don’t want to distract audience members. I feel like Marissa has a good sense of the period, as I remember it, so she’s made my job easy in that regard.
Having myself assisted with the Pleiades auditions and seen the embarrassment of riches in terms of local female talent, how does one begin to whittle that down to “the right” eight women you needed for this play?
The 8 characters in the play are all so individual, so while we had some women in the play who could have played more than one of these roles, their personalities lent to making it easy to slot them into their roles.
Was there any special consideration in choosing Paul Rodrigues (a talented fella whom I’ve had the pleasure of directing) as the sole male role?
With Paul, we definitely wanted someone who was likable, so it wouldn’t easy to dismiss the character out of hand for what he does. Paul is also such an intelligent actor. He is bringing qualities the role that I didn’t see before we started the rehearsal process. It’s delightful.
On the surface, the play would appear to simply be “the problems of eight rich White girls and one White guy”. What would you say is a more accurate description and how would you sell it people who don’t resemble the characters portrayed?
I would say it is about 7 young women, sisters, who are trying to figure out how to live an authentic life, as the world around is shifting below their feet.
Is there a particular character with whom you identify more than the others?
Alison, played by Annabelle King. I’m the middle child of 7, as is she, and there are some character traits that particularly resonate with me.
The proper “adults” in the play are alluded to, but are never seen. It almost as if the sisters live in an insulated world all their own, with disruption immediately followed by the arrival of an outsider. As a mother yourself, how do you approach a story with one of the most frustrating scenarios a parent can think of – namely children holding onto secrets (one becoming the victim of a serious crime) and not turning to their parents for help? Furthermore, how do you think your own daughters will react to this play?
All characters have secrets. That’s my belief. Some of their secrets are revealed in this play, but I encourage actors to have secrets for their characters. As to my daughters’ reaction, I hope they will love the play. They are in the age range of these characters, age 25 and 22, and avid theatergoers. My goal in directing this is for them to love it.
To end with the generic-but-informative questions: What have you got coming up theatre-wise? What projects do you want to do, but haven’t had the opportunity (yet)?
I’m directing Three Tall Women by Edward Albee in November at Custom Made Theatre, and filming Merritt Squad, a webseries, this summer. And I would love to do some more acting soon, as well as some writing. We’ll see what the Universe has in store!
Pleiades begins previews this Thursday, August 7, with opening night Saturday, August 9. The play will run for 12 performances, Thursdays through Saturdays, through August 30th at The Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/780504. For more information, press inquiries, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://PleiadesSF.wordpress.com.
Charles Lewis III thinks that if you have any appreciation for women in theatre, independent theatre, and creative new work, then you should hurry and get your tickets for Pleiades before all twelve performances are sold out.