Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Russell Blackwood’s Parisian Thrills

Marissa Skudlarek, our resident Francophile, reports on a new Paris-themed musical revue. And no, she isn’t moving to Fridays, our Editor in Chief just started rehearsals for his next show this week, and so everything’s a little behind right now.

The Thrillpeddlers have been peddling thrills – in the form of outrageous, only-in-San-Francisco theater – for over 20 years. They love the tattered, tawdry glamour of the stage, and have made a name for themselves by reviving older performance styles like Grand Guignol and Theatre of the Ridiculous. That attitude shines through in their new show, Jewels of Paris, as well. It’s a musical revue that celebrates the City of Light and its legacy of beauty, art, and revolution. Under the direction of Russell Blackwood (who is also Thrillpeddlers’ Producing Artistic Director), the cast sings Scrumbly Koldewyn’s catchy songs, sports gaudy barely-there costumes, celebrates freaks and innovators, and does their best to épater les bourgeois.

One sketch in Jewels of Paris features Jean Cocteau saying (as he did in real life), “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture,” but fortunately for us, Russell Blackwood doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy. After seeing Jewels of Paris on Friday night, I got to interview him about how he brought bygone Paris to life onstage in 2015.

Animal lovers: Roxanne RedMeat and Steven Satyricon in Jewels of Paris. Photo by David Wilson.

Animal lovers: Roxanne RedMeat and Steven Satyricon in Jewels of Paris. Photo by David Wilson.

Marissa: Thrillpeddlers have met with great success reviving other Scrumbly Koldewyn musicals in recent years, but I believe this is the first new show of his that you’ve produced. Who had the original idea to create a Paris-themed musical revue and what was Thrillpeddlers’ role in the development process?

Russell: During the past seven years, Thrillpeddlers have worked with Scrumbly to revive and reinvent his musicals from the repertoire of the fabulous Cockettes, the queer counterculture theatre troupe from early 1970s San Francisco. The Cockettes created two Parisian-themed musical revues back in the day. They were comprised largely of published music that is not in the public domain, but included a few original numbers by Scrumbly and lyricist Martin Worman. Our title song “The Jewels of Paris” is among these. When Scrumbly began working with Cockette “Sweet Pam” Tent on a new show for Thrillpeddlers last year, the idea of a Parisian-themed musical revue excited the whole company into a flurry of group creation. Not unlike Shocktoberfest, Thrillpeddlers’ annual Grand Guignol horror theatre festival, I wanted our revue to have several playwrights contribute to the bill and use Parisian-born revolutions as our raw material.

Marissa: Revues and vaudeville shows often have acts written to showcase specific performers, and I know the Thrillpeddlers are a tight-knit troupe. Were any of the songs or sketches in Jewels of Paris created with a specific actor in mind?

Russell: Oh yes, about half the material was written after the production was cast. Then, once we were in rehearsal, group discussions led to more musical numbers like the “Quasihomo & Lesmerelda” duet for J Iness and Bruna Palmeiro. The song “Chic and Tragic” was definitely penned for the show’s Pierrot, Birdie-Bob Watt, well in advance; whereas the ballad “At the Sideshow” was written overnight for Roxanne RedMeat to sing as a precursor to a one-act sex farce about a bearded lady and her lover.

Marissa: You’re known for your impeccable research into historical theater and performance styles. For instance, just from a choreographic standpoint, Jewels of Paris features avant-garde ballet, a flirty cancan, a pugnacious Apache dance, and Josephine Baker’s Charleston Sauvage. As a director, what is your approach to bringing older performance traditions to 21st-century actors and audiences, who may not be so familiar with them?

Russell: Our long-time choreographer Noah Haydon did a fabulous job fulfilling Scrumbly’s and my desire to include French dance forms. YouTube, of course, came into play. Scrumbly and Roxanne RedMeat took their inspiration for our avant-garde ballet Façade from a video recreation of the 1916 choreography of the Ballets Russes’ Parade. Alex Kinney became our dramaturg and took on creating a 13-minute homage to neoclassical drama, Molière comedy and Jean de La Fontaine’s classic folk hero Renard the Fox, all in three short acts. We’re not slavishly recreating any of these performance genres. It’s more that we’re saying “What might that have been like?” and then spinning those elements that turn us on the most. We’ve got gusto and the best of our abilities going for us. We’ve also got a missionary’s zeal to save performance forms ending up forgotten footnotes.

Chic and Tragique: Birdie-Bob Watt as Pierrot. Photo by David Wilson.

Chic and Tragique: Birdie-Bob Watt as Pierrot. Photo by David Wilson.

Marissa: If I was describing Jewels of Paris to a friend, I’d call it a bawdy burlesque romp. But the show also has several torchy ballads and confronts some more serious issues: French racism and imperialism in the Josephine Baker sequence; gentrification and the passing of time in “Oh What a World.” What was your approach to handling this material so that these serious themes were given their due, yet would not overshadow the fundamentally upbeat nature of the show?

Russell: That is the very nature of revue. Music, dance, spectacle and satire play off one another to their mutual benefit. It makes the funny stuff funnier and the poignant stuff more poignant. Both of the ballads you mention, “But Underneath” and “Oh What a World” directly follow comic sketches written by Rob Keefe on related subjects. Pierrot’s tortured tune “Chic and Tragic” is witnessed by two Americans, in a sketch by Andy Wenger that tries to define what’s so funny about a sad clown. Answer: “He’s sad and you’re not.” These are examples of Scrumbly writing songs to be paired with playwrights’ companion pieces.

Marissa: Fantasy dinner party time: if you could have dinner with any 3 Paris-related historical figures, who would you choose and why?

Russell: Oscar Wilde for wit, Sarah Bernhardt for melodrama, and Jean Genet for filth.

Marissa: The finale of Jewels of Paris invokes San Francisco as the “Paris of the West” and exhorts the audience to express their creativity and individuality. In recent years, there have been countless articles fretting that all the artists are fleeing San Francisco and that we are becoming a stale, conformist city. Having led a niche-y theater company in San Francisco for over 20 years, do you agree with this characterization of S.F.? Do you have any advice for younger artists who want to keep San Francisco weird?

Russell: While some aspects of life here have become more difficult, we have new outrages to respond to and flames to keep burning. Thrillpeddlers is a multi-generational freak theatre. Man, that makes me proud! On our stage now are some of the hottest acts I’ve seen in a quarter century in this town. If you want to see what makes San Francisco theatre exciting – come see this show!

Jewels of Paris performs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at the Hypnodrome, 575 10th St in San Francisco, through May 2. Tickets here.

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Theater Around The Bay: And Home Before Dark

Here’s part three of our INTO THE WOODS discussion panel (you should check out part one and part two if you haven’t) with Stuart Bousel, Brian Katz, Corinne Proctor, Marissa Skudlarek, Oren Stevens, and Nick Trengove. Today we’re winding the discussion down and looking at how this show has impacted us, as artists and as people. But first…

Is there a fairy tale you wish was included in Into the Woods but is not?

Corinne: Not really, no.

Brian: I find the nods to Grimm and Disney fun, but not my favorite parts of the show. Generally, I want more of the (somewhat) original tale of the Baker and his Wife.

Marissa: I can easily imagine a version of Into the Woods that incorporates “Hansel and Gretel.” It’s a well-known Brothers Grimm tale that involves journeying into the woods, parents & children, loss of innocence, baked goods, feeling “excited and scared” — so it would fit the style and themes of the show very well. But perhaps Sondheim felt like he’d already written enough about cannibalism in Sweeney Todd?

Nick: “Hansel and Gretel”, for sure. There could be a whole duet about, like, gingerbread or something. But seriously, where are their parents? They have that in common with Jack and Little Red – absent parental figures.

Stuart: Actually, in the Public Theatre production in 2012, they did work in “Hansel and Gretel” into the show, somehow. I’m not sure how. I’d like to know how, but for all my Googling I’ve only been able to come up with references to it in reviews and such, not an actual explanation of what happened or if material was added. “The Three Little Pigs” were also worked into the first Broadway revival, but as time goes on that whole production seems to be a case of “The Less Said the Better” so they are hardly “canon”.

Oren: Honestly, there are so many more fairy tales that could be woven in. But most of the ones I love are just a little too dark even for this show (“Donkeyskin” comes to mind — Wikipedia that shit), but actually what I’m most sad about is that “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White”, two incredibly well-known stories that have so much going on in them (mostly about gender politics — “Snow White” is a condemnation of female vanity and “Sleeping Beauty”, in its original form, involves an already married king cheating on his wife by impregnating the still sleeping princess), are given such short shrift. Ultimately, though, the show is so completely and tightly crafted that throwing any additional stories in there would throw the whole thing off balance — and throw the whole thing over the three hour mark.

Why are fairy tales something we keep coming back to- not just as the backbone for this show, but for so many shows? Why are they so endlessly appealing to many audiences?

Marissa: The rise of fairy-tale-themed entertainment in the last few decades is pretty astounding. Some of it can be attributed to capitalism and Hollywood (Disney got us Millennials hooked on fairy tales young, and now we’re loyal customers for life) but I also wonder if it could have a deeper, more spiritual meaning. Like, as the world becomes ever more technological and scientific, we’re trying to counter-balance that with these age-old tales of magic and mystery. I’d like to believe that. I think it’s important to cultivate the imagination. When I was a lonely teenager it always seemed to me like Rapunzel’s tower was a metaphor for the loneliness and isolation of adolescence, and having overprotective parents who don’t understand you. That’s a hard truth to face and sometimes it helps to face it in metaphorical ways, through the medium of a fairy tale. “Cinderella”, on the other hand, is an insidious tale because it teaches children that women who have big feet are grotesque. As someone who wears a size 10.5 shoe, I simply must protest.

Once a stepsister, always a stepsister. Backstage at the 2006 Vassar College Drama Department production of Into the Woods. Summer Scott as Florinda, Noelle McMurtry as Cinderella, and our very own Marissa Skudlarek as Lucinda.

Once a stepsister, always a stepsister. Backstage at the 2006 Vassar College Drama Department production of Into the Woods. Summer Scott as Florinda, Noelle McMurtry as Cinderella, and our very own Marissa Skudlarek as Lucinda.

Stuart: All Cinderella bitterness aside, I am inclined to agree with Marissa: I think we need magic in our lives, not just right now, but always. I think the acute desire for magic becomes more pronounced in some eras over another, but it’s always there. And I don’t see it as escapism, but rather I think it’s tied in with the part of us that needs language, math, meaning. Myth and folklore are sense-making mechanisms, which we use to understand things like love, death, wonder, loyalty, betrayal, courage, fear- all those aspects of the human experience which we can’t truly explain but so desperately want explanations for. Fairy tales and myths are the language of the imagination, the attempt at charting the unchart-able, with a language as flexible as the thing it’s trying to capture.

Corinne: Fairy tales have staying power because of their simplicity. The stories aren’t tied to a particular time and place and the characters are archetypes that are eternally relevant. Fairy tales are satisfying because they paint a picture of a satisfying world that wish existed – a world where it is easy to tell the difference between right and wrong, where evil is punished and good people are rewarded. (Even the older, gorier, earliest fairy tales of oral tradition nearly always have a sense of justice and triumph of good over evil, though the picture of the world is much less rosy.) The brilliance of this show is how cleverly it contrasts the simple world of fairy tales and then deconstructs it as the characters face challenges that place them in a world more like our own – a world of grey areas and in-betweens where the right way isn’t clear and life is far from fair.

Nick: The strength of this musical comes from our cultural familiarity with fairy tales. We look to them, I feel, in some small way like the ancient Greeks looked to their myths. As sort of moral compasses, or cautionary tales. The lyrics are brilliant and the book’s fantastic, and they succeed in taking these deceptively simple parables and breathing fresh life into them.

Brian: Parents love fairy tales, because first of all they were taught them, so they are sharing a piece of themselves and, secondly, they are tales in which to learn life lessons like “don’t steal” and “don’t run away”. However, Woods and my own feelings go toward Dr. Bertleheim, which hopes that these tales are used in the way Woods uses them, not Disney: harder lessons are beneath their surfaces, such as coping with loss, and dealing with our hidden fears. But it’s because they can be explored on so many different levels, they have remained universal.

Oren: I read an article recently about someone who read children’s stories to her daughter replacing male protagonists with female ones. As I think about it more, I think it was actually The Hobbit, but ignore that for the sake of argument. What’s so lovely and useful about fairy tales is that they are just a little bit hollow — there’s just enough room for us to squeeze ourselves into them and push and prod to make them fit our purposes. Is Cinderella a heroine who gets rewarded for her hard work with a life of ease? Or is she an entitled princess who crashes a party and manipulates royalty to force her way into luxury? I’m also a big fan of adaptation in general, because I think that a strong way to make a big impact on an audience member is to force them to rethink and reexamine something that they believe they know backwards and forwards. That’s exactly what Into the Woods does.

So, speaking of parents and children- is INTO THE WOODS, unedited, for kids?

Brian: ”Kids” is too large a range. I think it is appropriate for age 10ish and up. But if it is right kid and the right parent, go for it. We don’t give children enough credit for having the capacity to understand basic life concepts like love and death, and sheltering them into some kind of make-believe security (which is more about their parents romanticizing their own childhoods) deprives them of necessary emotional skills, such as courage and empathy. Many of us working in theatre started going to much heavier shows than this at a young age. Then again, maybe that’s a case against it? The world needs more financial analysts, I’m sure.

Stuart: Woods was my second Broadway show ever and I was 10 the first time I saw it, so clearly I think it’s okay for kids, but then again, clearly I’m also screwed up for life because of it. Then again, maybe the only reason I’m still here, still working to be a good person in a tough world, is because of Woods, so who knows- it may have saved me even as it condemned me, right?

Corinne: It always depends on the kid, doesn’t it? In general my answer is YES. That said, it is nearly three hours long. Some people are worried about the deaths and adultery being inappropriate, but as far as I’m concerned the more important thing to consider is whether or not the child in question has the necessary attention span.

Oren: I would absolutely read it to kids starting at around fourth or fifth grade. At that point they could get everything, and anything they don’t get they’ll ignore. But just because I take my kids to see it doesn’t mean you have to. You decide what’s right; you decide what’s good. (See what I did there? I seriously think I could spend a week doing nothing but speak in quotes from this show.)

Nick: I’d read it to my kids. Depending on their age, I’d maybe gloss over some of the deaths a little bit, maybe the sex scene between the Baker’s Wife and C’s Prince. I don’t think it’s for kids, though, necessarily. I think it’s written more for parents or adults – you need to have some perspective on your childhood to understand what the book tries to say about parents and their effect on their children.

Nick Trengove, eating the baby prop from his production of INTO THE WOODS.

Nick Trengove, eating the baby prop from his production of INTO THE WOODS.

Marissa: It’s hard to say, because I’m not a mother myself and I’m not even sure how fast kids grow up/what’s appropriate for kids of various ages. I definitely don’t think it’s for small children, because they’ll get bored and the wordy lyrics will go over their head, but older kids may appreciate it. As I said, I first saw Into the Woods at 12, and I think I could even have seen it and enjoyed it at 9 or 10. But I was a precocious kid who loved theater, and it might be different for others. By the time I saw Into the Woods, I’d already seen several Shakespeare plays, so maybe there’s your answer: if your kids are mature enough for, say, Romeo and Juliet, they’re mature enough for Into the Woods. As an aside, it’s kind of a shame that none of us on this panel (as far as I know) has kids, because so much of Into the Woods is about parenting, and it’d be interesting to hear a parent’s perspective in this discussion. If I ever have kids of my own, I wonder if it will deepen or change my relationship to this show.

So who is the ideal audience for this show?

Oren: Preteens and their parents. I’m not kidding. For the preteens, the idea of hammering the childishness out of fairy tales will be attractive, and it’ll be the wittiest damn thing they’ve ever seen. They’ll enjoy the breakdown of moral absolute, because they’ll be just getting into their seriously rebellious phase and “because I said so” will be starting to wear thin. Their parents, of course, are starting to see the rebellious phase. They’re going to be in the mode of clutch-as-hard-as-you-can-so-they-don’t-slip-away. So much of the parent-child relationships (failure to communicate, disappointment, struggle) is going to hit home for them in a very real way.

Brian: I believe this is an everybody show, at least above the age of 10. It works on so many levels; therefore, Woods is enjoyable from pre-teen just getting the silly humor and adventure, to those further along in life thinking about things like morality and passing along the little we have learned. It is also a great show to bring for those who say they hate musicals, which to me is like saying “I hate sculpture.” If they are going to dismiss an entire art form, Woods can be used as a conversion tool, one that will make them go, “okay, you were right, there is a reason to sing sometimes. “Then make them watch Sunday In The Park With George. If they don’t get that, give up – they don’t want to enjoy life.

Corinne: I also believe this show really does have something for everyone, which is one of the main reasons it gets done so often. But I guess I’ll say parents and children. (Everyone is someone’s child after all!)

Marissa: Corinne’s earlier comment that the book and lyrics of Woods contain over 400 questions, plus my own prejudices when it comes to art, makes me want to say that Into the Woods is a show for people who question things. You know, if you’re the kind of person who likes easy answers, you’re not going to like the second half of Into the Woods. I also think it helps to be acquainted with the darker side of life — I’m not saying that this is a show only for neurotic or melancholic people, but it will resonate more with people who’ve already learned, through their own experiences, that happy endings don’t last forever. Also, it probably goes without saying that the show works best for people who come from a Western cultural background and were exposed to these fairy tales as a child. I’d be curious to know how someone who didn’t have that childhood experience would experience the show (although, considering how Western pop culture now blankets the globe, it might be difficult to find such a person). People also talk about how East Asian culture focuses more on the group than on the individual, and has a strong tradition of reverence for parents and ancestors. Those are major themes of Into the Woods, too — does that mean it has the potential to be a hit show in China?

Nick: I think it really helps if you like Sondheim, going into it. And really, what’s not to like? But it does take some getting used to – the orchestrations and the melodies are a bit more substantial than, say, Legally Blonde the Musical, and even most Rogers and Hammerstein. But the thing is, and I know that I may totally be wrong, but I have the feeling that nowadays, the ideal audience are 20- and 30-somethings – people who may be starting families, or new careers. People who are in the midst of sloughing off the last vestiges of childhood idealism and settling, more or less, into an understanding of the world. So much of the show is about children and parents – the inheritance of mistakes, the effect parents have on their children. The ideal audience member for this show is old enough to look back on their childhood and understand it from the lens of adulthood.

Stuart: Right… and maybe still young enough to learn something from it and make some better choices for the future.

Pick one thing you just love about this show. One thing that just rocks you to the bottom of your soul, the jewel of the crown, so to speak.

Nick: Okay, this is kind of a hard question for someone who tends to think that this entire show is just one giant jewel. But if I had to choose just one facet, I’d say it’s the mad dash to the end of Act I. The stakes get higher, everyone’s running around, ingredients are flying everywhere, Milky White gets RESURRECTED FROM THE DEAD, the Witch transforms (spoiler alert!), and that all folds in nicely to Happy “Ever After”,  a song which is totally overlooked and the most perfectly wry ending to the Act possible. It just really gears you up for the next half of the story, which is the mark of really good story construction.

Oren: Surprise! That’s what I think is the jewel in the crown, the thing this show does best: the element of surprise. Here we have a musical built out of the most culturally iconic stories, we’ve all heard them a million times before, we know six different versions, and it still has the capacity to make us laugh, to push us back, to make us think, and to surprise us. Whether it’s the Baker’s Wife and Cinderella’s Prince haggling over a shoe, or the Witch exclaiming “The giant’s a woman!” each scene pulls something fresh and exciting out of stories that we heard before we could make out any of the words. That’s what makes it great theater, and for the sake of this question I’m going to pretend that it’s one thing in the show, and not something that applies to all the best parts of it. Don’t tell Stuart I’m cheating, please.

Stuart: Stuart knows and Stuart agrees with you, actually. SURPRISE!

Corinne: I know I already raved about “No One is Alone” when you asked us about it before, but here I go again. The biggest ideas in the piece — the nature of morality, the relationships between parents and children — come together here as we see the Baker and Cinderella become ‘parents’ to Jack and Red – and try to help them understand that there aren’t simple answers to questions about right and wrong.

Corinne Proctor, as Little Red, definitely struggling with one too many moral quandaries (Jeffrey Brian Adams and Ryan McCraryin the SF Playhouse production of INTO THE WOODS. Photo by  Jessica Palopoli.

Corinne Proctor, as Little Red, definitely struggling with one too many moral quandaries (Jeffrey Brian Adams and Ryan McCraryin the SF Playhouse production of INTO THE WOODS. Photo by Jessica Palopoli.

Brian: I’ve noticed that I am apparently the only one on this panel drawn primarily to the father/son relationship, so bear that in mind with this answer, but in the end, this is a story about relationships, and the first thing we learn is that there is a childless baker, and we then soon learn his father is possibly dead from “a baking accident,” but then probably ran away from life. The baker is internally convinced he IS his father, and has trepidation about having/raising children, especially after his wife is gone. This is what takes Woods from being a fun mash-up of fairy tales to something deeper for me. It’s about not succumbing to our fears, and all characters have this, but what really hits me hard, so “works for me”, is the Baker’s story-line, and how in the end he learns there is true strength inside him – not just giant-battling (that’s kind of easy) but being able to take responsibility for raising another human being.

Brian Katz, deep in the Humboldt redwoods with a mysterious man of his own- CMTC’s first TD, Dave Ampola (left).

Brian Katz, deep in the Humboldt redwoods with a mysterious man of his own- CMTC’s first TD, Dave Ampola (left).

Marissa: Reading the first round of the panel discussion and seeing the huge outpouring of affection for the Baker and the Baker’s Wife made me fully comprehend just how well that element of the story works, and how it’s another thing that I should have credited James Lapine for when we were discussing what’s successful about the book of Into the Woods. It’s hard enough to make familiar fairy-tale characters like Cinderella or Little Red seem human and complex, but I’d wager that it’s even harder to create original characters who coexist in the same world as the familiar characters and have the most meaningful journeys of all. The Baker and Baker’s Wife may have originated as a gimmick to tie together the stories of Cinderella, Jack, Little Red and Rapunzel, but they became so much more than that — they offer a modern, adult audience a way into the story, through a fairy tale that was specifically designed to resonate with yuppie New York theatergoers. (Kids and teens are likelier to find their way into the story through identifying with Cinderella, Jack, Little Red or Rapunzel — because those stories are familiar and, as Brian pointed out, they’re about adolescents coming of age. Adult theatergoers required another way in.)

What have you learned from the show- both as a person and as a theater maker? How has it influenced you?

Oren: “Never wear mauve at a ball. Or pink.” No, but there are so many things! I’m going to reach into the hat of my brain and just say whichever things I pull out first, but trust me there’s a whole lot more where these came from. First, if you haven’t heard me harp on about transitions you’ve probably never spoken to me at all. People tend to forget transitions, but they can suck all the life out of a show if they don’t flow. Every transition in Woods is totally seamless, and it’s beautiful. I think it’s also encouraged me to tell complicated stories – I like it when there are lots of words and lots of characters, and everything is firing off in different directions, but it’s all making one connected, complete, unified picture –– and I think I only got there because I encountered Woods right when I first started writing. It was also the first musical I encountered with rhythmic speech and sung-through scenes (“Very Nice Prince” I’m lookin’ at you), but they sound totally organic (not quite natural, but like exactly how the character would talk). I think that gave me a lot more confidence to tackle things like, for example, writing an entire play in iambic pentameter. Or an essay on a college exam, but that’s another story.

Oren Stevens, learning all the different things theater could be, as the Baker in INTO THE WOODS, set in a Walmart.

Oren Stevens, learning all the different things theater could be, as the Baker in INTO THE WOODS, set in a Walmart.

Marissa: I think Into the Woods made me see how I could engage with fairy tales on an adult level, how I could grow up and still remain attached to the stories of my youth. When I first saw the show age 12, I definitely enjoyed it, but my dad could not stop talking about how awesome it was, in particular the brilliance of how Act II shows you “what happens after Happily Ever After.” And I think it was really beneficial for me to see my dad react that way. When you’re 12 years old and in junior high school, there’s all this peer pressure to stop acting like a kid and start acting like a teenager. But there were so many things I loved about being a kid, especially the fact that it was socially acceptable to like fantasy and magic and fairy tales. I really didn’t want to give those things up! Later on, of course, I learned that there’s a whole 20th-century tradition of smart adult artists engaging with fairy tales in a serious way: Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber… But Into the Woods was my introduction to that kind of art, and I was glad to learn that fairy tales didn’t have to end when childhood did. I don’t know if Into the Woods has influenced me as a theater-maker — I don’t write musicals, and while I like shows with large casts and lots of moving parts, I’ve never sat down and looked at the book of Woods and said “let me see how James Lapine did that.” Perhaps, though, Into the Woods serves as Exhibit A for a theory I’ve been developing: if you want to write plays that deal with big philosophical issues, but you actually want people to come see them, you need to pair the big themes with a shiny/humorous/entertaining “hook” that gets people into the theater. I don’t know how successful I’ve been at this (either at engaging deep themes or at pairing them with cool hooks) but it’s something I’ve been thinking about, at any rate.

Nick: This is really gonna be the most cheese-ball thing I write, like, ever, but I guess this show always makes me think of my parents and the way they raised me. When I was younger I was a bit of a Rapunzel – no music aside from country and the occasional soft rock favorite. No R-rated movies until I was 16. Phone updates as to my whereabouts at regular intervals. My parents kept the leash pretty tight, and it was only after I escaped to college that I fully realized this. But I think about how people make mistakes – fathers, mothers. I think about how scared shitless I’d be if I was raising a child in this world full of wolves. I can’t say I’d raise my child under such heavy supervision, but I can’t say I wouldn’t be frightened all the time of making a mistake, of letting them get hurt. As an artist, this was the show that taught me how to direct, plain and simple. As an actor, it helped me to understand a show from a director’s perspective, and as a theater artist in general, it taught me that I was capable of so much more than just acting.

Stuart: Identifying as strongly as I did with one character at such a young age, I was able to pull from Into the Woods both comfort and a kind of vocabulary for beginning to talk about myself and others, and society and the world. It really introduced me to the concept and power of archetypes, both in narrative and life, and it was most definitely the beginning of my own personal cosmology, which has been developing ever since, and is a sort of hodgepodge of medieval legends and Greek mythology. As an artist in general, I think it’s safe to say that my whole life has been more or less dedicated to both preserving and reinventing our mythological roots, and Into the Woods certainly plays a role in that. As a director, Broadway in general has been hugely important (you’ll notice, I basically direct all plays as if they were musicals), at least as important as independent film has been (you’ll notice, I basically direct all plays as indie films). It’s as a writer, however, that I think Woods‘ influence is most evident in my work: even when I’m not writing new versions of old stories, I still tend to create larger stories about groups of people, ensemble plays with multiple lead roles and through lines, and I love breaking the fourth wall, direct address, post-modern structural twists, and surprising you with characters who don’t always act the way you expect them to. But perhaps most of all, I pride myself on writing plays where even the smaller roles are complex, nuanced, and everybody, good or bad, has a soul. I’m big into compassion, as an artist, and as a human being, and I definitely learned that value from Into The Woods, where compassion ultimately wins the day. Especially storytelling as an act of compassion.

Stuart Bousel: lover of trees and stories.

Stuart Bousel: lover of trees and stories.

Brian: The line that hits me hard at the end is “Children may not obey / But children will listen.” I think about that a lot when I teach, and sometimes when I direct; it is a reminder that even if someone is rebelling, pushing buttons, just being what one would consider “difficult,” they are still looking to you. Rejecting a parent/teacher/authority figure is often a necessary stage in someone finding their own path through the woods; the ones who come out of that darkness are the ones you truly reached. As for being an artist… two words: James Lapine. He is an early influence, although Sunday is the show that blew my mind, specifically at the moment George doesn’t like where a tree was onstage, and then it disappeared. The psychological reach of that was, of course, that nothing you see here is real. Or maybe it is, but it can all be altered at a moment’s notice by the creative forces telling us the story. Woods has moments like that too, when Milky White is simply picked up, when the Witch transforms, with the narrator’s warning of the story out of control. I love the deceptive simplicity of Lapine’s staging and writing, and try to remember is whenever I’m stuck: a tree can disappear, if we simply will it.

Corinne: Having the great good luck to work on the show at both 18 and 28 has reinforced for me how much you can find in a piece when you really dig into it. There’s a lot in this show that can pass you by the first few times, but there is SO much there once you begin to pay closer attention. On a more pragmatic level, it’s where I learned how to sing harmony – but only for 5 notes: “MAYBE WE FORGOT!”

And last but not least… what’s the moral of the story?

Corinne: Morality is self-determined; there is no “right” way to live.

Brian:I know this is the obvious choice, but it really is CHILDREN WILL LISTEN, with the added thought that we are all children in this way, we all need these stories to help us navigate life. That is the reason for all the humor, pathos, wrong turns, magic beans, and deaths. It is the reason we do theatre in the first place, or maybe it is how we justify spending a life in the theatre, we have to believe that someone is listening. That the tales we tell, even if misunderstood, mangled, applauded or scorned, have touched at least one person that night, and helped them work through something. Or maybe take something else less seriously, or maybe more seriously, or create empathy, sympathy or maybe just made them laugh when they really needed it. The point is, they are listening, watching, and learning. To me, to always know this is the responsibility of the artist, and our contract with the audience. Careful before you say, “listen to me.” Into The Woods says it better, in its finale, than any other show I can think of: “What do you leave to your child when you’re dead?/Only whatever you put in its head/Things that you’re mother and father had said/Which were left to them too…” This is how our stories continue, and within them are all the truths, lessons and myths we, in the theatre, try to pass along.

Oren: The first act is so full of morals. Every midnight we get another smorgasbord (opportunity is not a lengthy visitor, the slotted spoon won’t hold much soup, the prettier the flower the farther from the path) but in the end we get the truth: shit’s complicated. The point of “Children Will Listen” (which sits exactly where the moral should go) isn’t “be careful what you wish for” but “careful the things you say.” Ultimately what we’re warned about isn’t yearning –– we couldn’t stop that if we tried –– we’re warned against telling these stories thoughtlessly, teaching our children empty, hollow, meaningless lessons that simplify and diminish the world. I know, it’s not fun, but god damn if it isn’t the prettiest song you ever heard.

Marissa: What ISN’T the moral of the story? Trying to distill the musical’s many morals, both explicit and implied, into one overarching message, I’m tempted to say that all has to do with cycles of various kinds. Wisdom is passed from parents to children, who grow up and have their own children. Violence is a cycle and it takes extraordinary effort and courage to break the cycle. One wish begets another. You go into the woods, you come out of the woods, you go back to the woods. And you can’t run from your problems because you can’t run from yourself — no matter where you go, you’ll still be part of that great cycle of birth and maturity and decline and death.

Stuart: Life is complicated. Life is complicated and it’s never going to cease being complicated until you’re dead- and then, we’re actually only assuming that because we don’t know what happens after we die. I mean, in Into The Woods, if you’re the Baker’s Wife, or the Mysterious Man, or Cinderella’s Mother, or Jack’s Mother, or Little Red for that matter, death isn’t exactly the end, isn’t? Even beyond the grave, our stories continue, our influence continues to work itself on the people who shared the world with us and live in it after we’re gone. Life is complicated because everything is connected- there are paths between point A and point B, but also point X, and point Q, and point D, and point O. Far too many points than we can really see or even, maybe, begin to see, sometimes because the woods are dark and sometimes because we’re blind and sometimes because we’re just not meant to see all these paths because if we did, we’d almost certainly lose our way. Not that it’s the end of the world when we do lose our way- sometimes we have to do that, to find it again. Few paths are straight, and all paths lead into the woods… but all paths lead out of them too. And there’s always a light to guide you, you just have to find it, believe in it, wish for it. If there’s one moral in Into the Woods for me, it’s that: “Hold him to the light now/let him see the glow/things will turn out right now/tell him what you know.”

Nick: “No one is alone…” And no prosthetic wolf dongs.

We hope you have enjoyed our panel on INTO THE WOODS. We’ll do a follow up after the movie is out and we’ve all had a chance to see it. In the meantime, leave us questions and comments below!

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: Someone Had to Throw a Bomb

Marissa Skudlarek unpacks the luggage, la-la-la…

On Monday April 15th, around lunchtime here on the West Coast, the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I saw the headlines, kept the breaking news feed open in my internet browser. I watched the shaky footage of the explosions, with the Boston cop saying “This is fucked up ovah heah.”

And then I recalled that I was producing a show that night at Theater Pub, and quickly reviewed the script of Orphée in my head, wondering if the day’s events would lend any moments in the play an unintended resonance. I realized, with a jolt, that in the first scene of the play, Orphée says “Someone had to throw a bomb.” He’s speaking metaphorically, of course – he’s expressing his belief that the artist’s duty is to “throw a bomb, create a scandal, [provide] one of those storms that refresh the air.” Nonetheless, I wondered if it was appropriate to include that line in performance, on a day when real bombs (not metaphorical ones) had been thrown. Would it upset the audience? Would it prejudice them against the character of Orphée?

I emailed the director, Katja Rivera, and the actor playing Orphée, Andrew Chung, to say I was thinking of cutting the line. Both of them responded that they’d prefer if I left it in, and, upon reflection, I decided that they were right. If we left the script as is, we’d make a statement that art cannot be constrained or cowed by terrorism. And if our audience was mildly scandalized, so be it – one of the messages of Orphée is that true poets do not fear scandal and death. If we cut the line, I realized, we’d betray the spirit of Jean Cocteau. And the terrorists would win.

And really, why should I be afraid to leave the “Someone had to throw a bomb” line in the play when, all around me, people were doing far braver and bolder and more provocative things with their art? For the 2012 Olympians Festival, Stuart Bousel wrote a play (Twins) based on the myth of Artemis and Apollo killing Niobe’s twelve children – and then the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred the day before Stuart’s staged reading. Stuart didn’t cancel the reading, though he did warn the audience that the play dealt with a difficult and sensitive subject. Perhaps some people stayed home rather than see a play about the murder of children; perhaps a few people were offended. But many of the people who did go see the reading found it incredibly cathartic and moving. No Olympians Festival show has ever made people weep the way they did at the reading of Twins that night. Art needs to tell difficult truths; otherwise, it’s just pabulum.

I attended some of the 2012 Olympians Festival readings with the man who is now my boyfriend. The festival must’ve made quite an impression on him, because a few weeks later, he wrote me an email telling me about a dream he’d had:

I dreamed that we were at the Olympians Festival and the city was in panic because  the gods were coming to punish us for blaspheming them. “But we didn’t blaspheme them,” I protested. “Oh, but we did,” you said, turning to Stuart, “in so-and-so’s play and in what’s-his-name’s play too, really.” You turned back to me and nodded slightly. You seemed not the least bit concerned and Stuart had his usual air of interest and mild amusement. Your body language suggested that this was part of the writer’s life: sometimes you win trophies, sometimes you inspire blogs, and sometimes ancient gods come to punish the city, and that’s just how it is.

I was flattered that he was dreaming about me, of course, but even more flattered by the way that I appeared in his dream. I liked how the dream-Marissa had the artistic and moral courage to say “An artist must be permitted to write whatever he wants, even if he blasphemes the gods and attracts divine retribution.” These sentiments also seemed to tie in nicely with Stuart’s Theater Pub blog post about artistic courage (otherwise known as “the post with all of the Lord of the Rings in-jokes”), which appeared the same week my boyfriend had this dream.

In real life, I may not yet have the courage of Eowyn the Shield-Maiden, or of Orphée the poet who faces an angry mob, or of the coolly nonchalant figure in my boyfriend’s dream. But I’m trying to be braver and more honest in my work this year. I’m trying to live up to that ideal.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. Find her online at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.

Katja Rivera: Reigning Orpheus Interpreter Of The Bay Area

We’re doing a double post today because Orpheus is part of a pair and so is our director du jour, Katja Rivera! She’s not only directed tonight’s Theater Pub, but also directed the recently opened EURYDICE at Custom Made Theater Company. We wanted to know what it’s like to have the same story so much on the brain and with a headshot this charming we think you’ll agree there’s always room for quality time with Katja.

Seriously. How can you not live this smile?

Seriously. How can you not love this smile?

So, how did you end up with your hands full of Orpheus and Eurydice?

Ah, synchronicity. Marissa Skudlarek had been working on her translation of Orphee at the same time I was working on Eurydice at Custom Made, so she thought it would be fun to have me do both.

And how did you get involved with this reading?

Lovely Marissa asked me. I had directed a play of hers at last year’s Pint Sized Festival (“Beer Theory”), and she felt I’d be a particularly good match. How could I say no?

What do you consider the major differences between Sarah Ruhl’s version of the story and Cocteau’s?

Ruhl uses the myth to explore the grief she’s experienced since her father’s death, and really, to get a chance to spend some more time with her pops. It’s poetic, visceral. It reminds me of of Alice in Wonderland. Cocteau’s version explores the myth surrealistically, and focuses more on the relationship between Eurydice and Orphee. And it has a happier ending.

Is there anything that stands out to you as a real strength of Coctaeu’s vision?

The element of magic and carnival, which in a full production would be a blast to explore.

What are some of the differences between directing a reading and directing a show?

Oh my goodness. Readings are instant magic. You throw your instincts at the piece and–go! A show you’ve got a longer period to let the collaboration stew and get rich. I’ve loved watching how Jessica Rudholm’s performance in Eurydice has become more and more nuanced.

We noticed you are using some of your custom made cast (Jessica, Jeremy Parkin, Stefin Collins) in this reading- any particular reasons behind that?

They are good, reliable actors who fit the roles. And I loved hearing echoes of lines from Eurydice as we rehearsed Orphee. My own private joke.

What’s next for you? Any more trips to the underworld in your future?

Next, I am directing at Playgrounds Best Of Festival opening on May 11. And the I am going to Washington DC to see my daughter graduate from law school!

When enjoying a dramatic reading at the Cafe Royale, what’s your favorite thing to get from the bar?

Ginger Beer!

Don’t miss Orphee, for one night only, tonight at Cafe Royale at 8 PM! And dont’ miss Eurydice, playing all month at Custom Made Theater Company!

Hi-Ho The Glamorous Life: The Flowers of Youth

Marissa Skudlarek is forever young.

Jean Cocteau disowned his first two books of poetry. Fortunately for him, his lifetime artistic output was so vast that, even if he disowned two of his books, he was still left with a remarkable body of work. Cocteau was an artistic prodigy. His first books of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp and The Frivolous Prince, came out when he was barely twenty years old and made him the delight of Parisian literary circles. Other people were less charmed, and thanks to the title of his second book, they nicknamed Cocteau himself “the frivolous prince.” That’s not exactly a flattering name, nor one that you’d like to keep into adulthood, so I suppose I can see why Cocteau came to disown that book of poems.

At the same time, it always makes me uncomfortable when artists disown their early works. I guess I can understand disowning one of your books if it promotes ideas and beliefs that you no longer hold, especially if you now consider those ideas downright dangerous or wrong. But if you’re disowning something just because you think it’s poorly written or too juvenile or not up to your usual standards… that, to me, seems like a cruel rejection of your younger self. Despite its flaws, that work was part of your artistic development. Maybe you had to write that ludicrous, melodramatic story at the age of 15 in order to write a subtle, nuanced story at the age of 30. Our juvenilia can be embarrassing to read — artless and awkward, or else pretentious and striving too hard to impress. But that’s often because it reflects who we were at the time we wrote it. I strive to embrace my younger self, with her pretensions, her awkwardness, her bad taste in music. I might still laugh at some of the things I wrote when I was younger, but it’s an affectionate, indulgent laugh, not a mocking one.

Some people think that they look smarter when they disdain their younger selves but, in fact, this can make them do and say foolish things. Recently, in Slate, Alyssa Rosenberg published a screed denouncing Romeo and Juliet as “horribly depressing” and “full of terrible, deeply childish ideas about love.” To be fair, Rosenberg doesn’t exactly misinterpret Romeo and Juliet: she understands very well that it is a play about heedless teenage infatuation, and she makes a good point that the play can fall apart when the actors playing Romeo and Juliet seem too adult. (She is not looking forward to the upcoming Broadway production starring 36-year-old Orlando Bloom as Romeo.) But rather than praising the play for how well it captures the grandiose “us against the world” feeling of teenage romance, she believes that it’s dangerous to promote this idea of love. Reading her piece, I hear a subtext of “I was so stupid when I was a teenager and had those intense, heedless crushes and relationships! Why would I ever want to go back to that time? I’m so much more mature now.” The thing is, I don’t think that Rosenberg’s dislike of Romeo and Juliet makes her look intelligent and mature. Instead, she seems full of self-loathing and bitterness, lacking compassion for her younger self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, because I just produced a staged reading of a play, The Rose of Youth, that I wrote five years ago. Perhaps there’s not a huge difference between a 20-year-old and a 25-year-old, yet my writing has improved in the past five years, and there are definitely sections of the play that feel characteristic of a younger, less skilled writer. I introduced the male romantic lead in the most boring possible way, for instance; and the play is full of moments that made me sigh and go, “Oh, Marissa, you were just trying so hard to impress your professors there, weren’t you?” (The play was my senior thesis at college.) However, I didn’t have the time or the inclination to revise the play; I left the script as I had left it five years ago, awkward moments and all. I had to put my theory into practice, and embrace my younger self. I acknowledged that I’d learned a lot from writing The Rose of Youth, and that it was exactly the play that I needed to write as a college senior. But I also realized that my artistic development has continued, and I’ve now moved to another level as a writer.

Yes, it’s possible to develop as an artist without feeling the need to disown your earlier work. Indeed, in another respect, that’s what Jean Cocteau did. Fascinated by the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, he wrote his play Orphee in 1925 — but that didn’t end his engagement with this story. Twenty-five years later, he made a film called Orphee, which bears some similarities to the 1925 play — for instance, both depict Death as a beautiful and imperious woman — yet develops the story in a different direction. Orphee the film is now better known than Orphee the play, and perhaps it is a better, more mature work. (I, for one, find the film more emotionally affecting.) Yet Cocteau did not disown his earlier play. He let both works coexist with each other — a testament to his artistic development and his fruitful, ever-active imagination.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. See her new translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphee (the play) on April 15 at Theater Pub. For more, you can follow her on Twitter @MarissaSkud or visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com.

An Interview With Marissa Skudlarek

We’re one week away from the staged reading of Marissa Skudlarek’s new translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphee. A well-known local writer, actress, blogger and (most recently) director, Marissa has been part of many Theater Pub nights, but this is her first time taking the reins for an entire show.

So, you’ve been a part of Theater Pub from the early days. Want to tell us how it all began and what you’ve been involved with?

I vividly remember being present at the first Theater Pub show, Cyclops, in January 2010! I was friends with co-founder Bennett Fisher at the time, and seeking to become more involved in San Francisco theater, so he suggested that I should support his new theater-in-a-bar venture. My first real involvement with Theater Pub — also the first time one of my plays was produced in San Francisco — came when my play “Drinking for Two” was selected for the inaugural Pint-Sized Plays festival in August 2010. Since then, I’ve had another play produced in Pint-Sized (“Beer Theory,” 2012), and written poetry in praise of props masters and costume designers for the Odes of March show. I’ve also appeared onstage at Theater Pub several times in several silly costumes: a fake beard and toga for Congresswomen, reindeer antlers and smudged mascara for Code Red, pajamas and a dressing gown for Pajanuary. Additionally, for the last year, I’ve been writing a biweekly column about Bay Area indie theater, “Hi-Ho the Glamorous Life,” for Theater Pub’s blog.

What made you first want to translate Orphée?

At college, I double-majored in Drama and French, which led to a lot of people saying “Oh, are you going to write plays in French?” (To which I would reply “Who do you think I am — Samuel Beckett?”) Then, the summer I was 19, I won a national youth playwriting competition, which flew me to New York City for a whirlwind two weeks of theater-making and theater-creating. When the competition’s Literary Manager, a guy called Lucas Hnath, found out that I was a Drama-French double major, he asked me if I had ever read Jean Cocteau’s Orphée. “I haven’t read it,” Lucas told me, “but a friend of mine says that the script is based around an untranslatable French pun, so that made me curious, and I wondered if you’d read it.” Well, when someone tells me a script contains an untranslatable French pun, I become curious, too — though I didn’t actually get around to reading Orphée until the spring of 2010. And, indeed, there’s a pun that’s deeply woven into the fabric of the script and poses problems for the translator. Carl Wildman’s translation makes a decent effort at dealing with it, but is less than satisfactory; John Savacool’s translation doesn’t even try. I looked up what the phrase is in the original French, and was turning it over in my head one day, when I came up with, dare I say, a brilliant solution to the problem. I don’t want to give too much away, but let me just say that the pun involves a curse word, which makes it all the more fun. My solution was so brilliant that I decided I might as well translate the whole play — to place this jewel in an appropriate setting, as it were. Also, I have the same birthday as Jean Cocteau (July 5). As far as I know, he’s the only playwright born on this day, so I’ve always been interested in his art for this, somewhat selfish, reason.

Marissa Skudlarek: Cocteau Incarnate?

Marissa Skudlarek: Cocteau Incarnate?


There are a lot of different versions of the Orpheus myth- what makes this one unique?

Cocteau’s take on the Orpheus myth is pretty wild — it’s like no other version I’ve seen. It all takes place in Orphée’s living room, so you don’t actually get to witness Orphée’s trip to the Underworld or how he pleads to get Eurydice back. Death appears as a beautiful young woman, attended by two servants named Azrael and Raphael (which are names of angels in Christian theology), rather than as the Greek god Hades. Moreover, Orphée himself has a guardian angel, a character called Heurtebise. Yet, although the play takes place all in one room, a lot of crazy and quasi-surreal stuff goes on — we’re going to have someone reading the stage directions because there’s no way we could possibly stage everything at the Cafe Royale! Cocteau also pays a lot of attention to Orphée’s death: the myths tell us that Orpheus was torn apart by the Bacchantes (Dionysus’ followers), but most adaptations ignore this part of the story. However, this sacrificial death is central to Cocteau’s vision, which focuses much more on Orpheus as a poet than on Orpheus as a lover.

What’s your favorite version (aside from this one)?

I can’t pick just one, so I’m going to provide a sampler of Orpheus-related goodies. The aria “Che faro senza Eurydice?” (What shall I do without Eurydice?) from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice is simple but absolutely heartbreaking. Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld contains the most famous cancan music ever written as well as the hilarious “Fly Duet” (look up the YouTube video of Natalie Dessay and Laurent Naouri singing this — it is NSFW and very, very funny). The movie Black Orpheus has a bad rap nowadays because it’s problematic for a white writer-director to make a movie about black people in a Brazilian shantytown, but I really like some of the tricks it uses to translate the Orpheus story to the modern era. (It was also one of my grandfather’s favorite films, evidently.) Moulin Rouge was my favorite movie when I was a teenager and Baz Luhrmann is on record as saying that Christian’s attempt to rescue Satine from the “underworld” is inspired by the Orpheus legend. Finally, Cocteau’s 1950 film version of Orpheus is fascinating to compare to Orphée (which he wrote in 1925). There are some similarities between the two works and even some passages of dialogue that are the same, but also some really intriguing differences.

Assuming you’ve seen the current production of Eurydice at Custom Made Theater Company, how do you think Sarah Ruhl’s and Cocteau’s visions match up?

To my chagrin, I haven’t gotten around to seeing Katja’s production of Eurydice! In my defense, I’ve been really busy this month and, as soon as I complete these interview questions, I’m going to figure out when to go see Eurydice. But I’ve read Ruhl’s script, so I’ll take a stab at answering this question anyway. One major difference between Ruhl and Cocteau is that Ruhl is a feminist and I really don’t think that Cocteau was. (He depicts Orphée’s nemeses, the Bacchantes, as a mob of crazy lesbian bluestockings.) However, both of these playwrights are really drawn to magical realism, impossible stage directions, and breaking the laws of physics onstage. Moreover, both of them have found an intensely personal perspective on this ancient legend. Ruhl has said that she was inspired to write Eurydice because her father died when she was a young woman (hence the scenes of Eurydice meeting up with her father in the Underworld), while Cocteau used the Orpheus myth to showcase his ideas about the role of the poet/artist in society.

Well, one thing your Orphee and Custom Made’s Eurydice have in common is director Katja Rivera. What made you want to bring her in to direct this first reading?

I loved working with Katja when she directed my play “Beer Theory” for last summer’s Pint-Sized Play Festival. “Beer Theory” is an odd little script that is very close to my heart, and I was so happy to be paired up with Katja, who instinctively understood what the play was about and what I was going for when I wrote it. Then, as I thought about producing Orphée at Theater Pub, I knew I’d want to bring a director on board, because I don’t have confidence in my own directorial abilities. I roped Katja in by saying, basically, “I know you’re directing Eurydice in the spring — want to direct Orphée as well?” I figured she’d have a pretty hard time saying no to that…

Why bring Orphée to Theater Pub?

Thanks to the sensibilities of the folks who founded it, Theater Pub has always been interested in Greek mythology (producing Greek plays like The Theban Chronicles and Helen), and also in experimental European theater (with productions like Vaclav Havel’s The Memorandum and Evgeny Shvarts’ The Dragon). Cocteau’s Orphée is the perfect combination of these two sensibilities. Also, the script is approximately an hour long, it all takes place in one room, and it’s a “tragedy in one act, with an intermission” — so it fits Theater Pub’s time and space constraints pretty well, too.

Any plans for it in the future?

I don’t have any plans for Orphée in the future. However, I think my translation is better than either of the two published English translations that I have read, so it would be great to do something else with it… I’ll keep you informed.

And what’s next for you?

My short play “Horny” is going to be in the May Theater Pub show, The Pub From Another World. It’s about sex. And unicorns.

As a long time patron of Cafe Royale, what’s your favorite thing to order at the bar?

Red wine if I want to be sophisticated and bohemian, hard cider if I want to fool people into thinking that I’m drinking beer.

Don’t miss Marissa Skudlarek’s work this Monday, April 15, at 8 PM at the Cafe Royale. Like all Theater Pub events, it’s a free show and no reservations are necessary, but we encourage you to get there early to ensure a seat. Also, our pop-up restaurant friends, Hyde Away Blues BBQ will be there!

ANNOUNCING OUR NEXT SHOW: ORPHEE!

For April, Theater Pub continues its love affair with Greek mythology and with overlooked European drama by presenting a staged reading of Jean Cocteau’s ORPHEE, originally written in 1925. In this surreal adaptation of the Orpheus and Eurydice tale, Death is a beautiful woman in a pink party dress, Orpheus has a pet horse who taps out cryptic messages, and a simple handyman might be an angel in disguise. Marissa Skudlarek’s new translation of the play captures the spirit of Cocteau’s original French, from its rhapsodic poetry to its profane humor.

Fresh from her successful production of EURYDICE at the Custom Made Theatre Co., Katja Rivera returns to Theater Pub to direct Cocteau’s version of this famous myth. The reading will feature actors Andrew Chung, Colin Hussey, and more.

One performance only! Monday, April 15, at 8 PM at the Café Royale. Tickets are free and no reservations are required, but we encourage you to come early, enjoy food from the pop-up restaurant Hyde Away Blues BBQ, and donate at the door to keep Theater Pub alive!