Theater Around the Bay: Christian Simonsen & Alejandro Torres of “No Fault”

The Pint-Sized Plays have their 4th performance tonight! We continue our series of interviews with the festival’s writers and directors by speaking to writer Christian Simonsen and director Alejandro Torres of “No Fault”! (Alejandro also served as the Deputy Producer of Pint-Sized this year.)

“No Fault” introduces us to Jack and Kate, a divorcing couple with an 8-year-old daughter, who’ve scheduled a quick meeting in a corner bar to sign their divorce papers, make it official, and try to put the past to rest. Colin Hussey and Lisa Darter play the couple.

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Christian Simonsen, a writer returning to Pint-Sized.

What made you get involved with Pint-Sized this year or, if you’re returning to the festival, why did you come back?

Christian: I have been a fan of the Pint-Sized Play Festival since the beginning, and I was honored to have an earlier short play of mine, the comedy “Multitasking,” produced by this festival in 2013. I love immersive, site-specific theater like this, where the actors rub shoulders with the audience. That’s not just an expression… if you come to this show, a drunk llama may literally rub your shoulders!

Alejandro: I love this theater company and all the fresh work they bring to San Francisco (and on a monthly basis too). I’ve directed and performed with them before and have also met some great and talented folks that keep me coming back.

What’s the hardest thing about writing a short play?

Christian: The challenge to writing a short play is to remember that it’s not a full-length play crammed into a few pages. That may sound obvious, but it’s tempting during the writing process to forget that. It generally can only be about one thing. Every word of dialogue, every prop, every stage direction must earn its keep. A full-length play can survive three or four weak scenes. A short play has trouble recovering from three or four weak lines of dialogue. As a general rule, a short script can’t really handle numerous subplots crisscrossing each other, but it should also avoid being a “mood piece” that just sits there.

What’s the best thing about writing a short play? 

Christian: Its purity. Audience members rarely walk away from a short play with mixed feelings; it either worked or it didn’t. As a writer, I’m most productive when I’m given boundaries and limitations, and the short play format fits the bill perfectly. For example, in “No Fault,” a separated couple are going through the awkward, tense ordeal of signing their divorce papers in a pub that they used to frequent during happier times. The stage directions have both actors sitting at a table for most of the script. But when the woman delivers the most intimate line of dialogue to her now ex-husband, she is standing away from the table while the man remains seated. The ironic contrast of their emotional closeness and their physical distance would be lost (or at least watered down) in a longer play where the actors would be moving around for two hours, willy-nilly.

What’s been the most exciting part of this process?

Alejandro: Simply getting it all together as producer and table work as a director.

What’s been most troublesome?

Alejandro: Scheduling!

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

Christian: For scriptwriting in general (short and long, stage and screen), they would include Richard Matheson, Elaine May, Ernest Lehman, Preston Sturges, John Guare, Tina Fey, Aeschylus, Euripides, Shakespeare, Ben Hecht, Tom Stoppard, Horton Foote, Monty Python.

If you could cast a celebrity in your Pint-Sized Play, who would it be and why?

Christian: That’s tough, because I try and make it a point not to picture celebrities, whether world-famous or local, when I create characters. My goal is always to write a character that is solid and fully-formed on the page, while still leaving enough wiggle room where an actor can put their own spin on him or her. That being said, for this script I could picture actors Mark Ruffalo, Elden Henson, John Hawkes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Amy Poehler, Sandra Oh.

Alejandro: Hmm… Maggie Cheung and Joaquin Phoenix. I they would make for an interesting dynamic.

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Director Alejandro Torres shows off his dramatic side.

Who’s your secret Bay Area actor crush? That is… what actor would you love a chance to work with?

Alejandro: This is cheating as I have worked with these two before but have never directed them: Genevieve Perdue and Alan Coyne.

What are you currently working on/what’s next for you?

Christian: I was one of the staff writers on Killing My Lobster’s August sketch comedy show Game of Nerds, which was a lot of fun to work on. My next project is a collaboration with the multi-talented Sean Owens. We are developing a comedy web series called Under the Covers, which will be both hysterical and educational (or at least one of the two).

Alejandro: The SF Fringe Festival this September will be my next project. I will be remounting an original piece called Projected Voyages about dreams, nightmares, and passing thoughts.

What Bay Area theater events or shows are you excited about this summer/fall?

Christian: I want to see Barry Eitel’s The Ice Cream Sandwich Incident. I’ve always admired Barry as an actor, and I’m anxious to see what he does as a playwright. It also stars two of my favorite local actors, Becky Hirschfeld and Paul Rodrigues. And producer Stuart Bousel’s San Francisco Olympians Festival in October is always an exciting event that features new plays by Bay Area writers.

Alejandro: Killing My Lobster’s August show Game of Nerds. [ed: this closed last weekend! Apologies for not posting this interview sooner!]

What’s your favorite beer?

Christian: Stella Artois, but I will happily endorse another brewery if they give me their product or money or both.

Alejandro: IPAs that pair well with whiskey.

“No Fault” and the other Pint-Sized Plays have 2 performances remaining: August 23 and 29 at 8 PM at PianoFight! 

 

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Working Title: Gods of the Trailer Park

Everyone’s pretty busy these days, so bear with us as the posting schedule figures itself out. For the moment, we’re getting caught up on Working Title, so here’s Will Leschber visiting Trailer Parks and Faultiness and pondering a U-Turn.

Who’s got the time? Even when I didn’t have a full time job or a newborn or a wife, for that matter, I still somehow never had enough time. Never enough time!! It’s not like we are immortal with an endless stream of years before us to get everything done. Well, now is no different. I hear-tell that as we get older time only slips by more quickly. But, I don’t need to tell this to you! You are already late for your meeting and have started reading three other articles, tagged yourself in two other photos and liked another one as you scan this blog. Don’t worry I got what you need. I know you need your film/theater fix.

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Since getting out on the town is nigh impossible for new parents, I hit up my friend Paul Rodrigues to ask him about a perfect film pairing for his new play. Faultline Theater is about to open Trailer Park Gods this weekend. Trailer Park Gods is by Berkeley playwright, Nayia Kuvetakis, and is describe as, “Mythos meets motor homes in this reimagining of Persephone and Hades.” Ancient Greek myth and trailer parks? There’s got to be a filmic link out there!

So I asked Paul, “Hey Paul!! …with Trailer Park Gods about to open, what film would you suggest to audiences to watch which feels like or reminds you of or would enhance the viewing of your play?”

Here is Mr Rodrigues’ thoughtful answer:

“My initial reaction to the question, is that I would pair Trailer Park Gods with U-Turn. They are both ensemble pieces with bold characters that bring a strong sense of place to the story. But more then that, their characters are trapped in these back water towns, and it gets claustrophobic as you are drawn in. Both pieces have a real rawness in their plots and characters, which can be difficult to face, but it makes for fantastic story telling. Lastly it’s been a real honor to work with such a fantastically talented cast, director, and production crew, and the same is true for U-turn, the cast is ridiculous: Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez (pre J.Lo), Nick Nolte, Billy Bob Thornton, Clare Danes, Joaquin Phoenix, Jon Voight, Laurie Metcalf, and directed Oliver Stone. Each one is doing fantastic work and making bold choices. I like to think that that is what we’re doing (and where we’re heading) as we enter our last week of rehearsal for Trailer Park Gods.”

If you missed U-Turn, this 1997 darkly comic, desolate gem by Oliver Stone it is available for rent on iTunes. The first half is hilarious and they last half makes you never want to breakdown anywhere near Apache Junction, AZ… where the Superstition Free ends and the armpit of the dessert begins.

No U Turn

There’s a reason you don’t wanna break down in some dry highway, Arizona town. Or any desert wasteland stretch of highway for that matter. Many more than one reason, I’m sure. I myself have a stranded road story as all good road warriors have. Somewhere east of the Sonoran Desert, right around Indio, California, headed through the conduit of my new life, I blew a timing belt and a few hours breakdown u-turned into stranded for three and a half days. Something happens when all outside forces prevent you from moving forward. An absurd quiet falls. Laying in my motel room, I wondered how many others are trapped here. Who is passing through and who has been passing through this town for years? And not made it back out.

Maybe these are the thoughts that stretch across time into the minds of the immortals as they blow around their trailer park town. Who knows… But if you want to know, I recommend checking out Faultline’s Trailer Park Gods and Oliver Stone’s U-turn.

Working Title: Oscar Haters: Let It Go… or… What Oscar Could Learn from Good Theatre

Will Leschber covers the Oscars.

The year so far has proved to be quite full. I hear the echo of many friends reflecting that the last two months were supposed to be the slower, quieter time of the year. A respite from the hectic end of the year. Instead this pair of dwindling winter months have shown to be more full of work, more full of creative endeavors, more full of social obligation, just more full. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it can overwhelm. Personally, I’ve experienced a stupidly abundant work schedule, a piercing desire to spend quality time with my fiancée, an unsatisfied need to connect with friends who also have no free time, and a responsibility to help plan a wedding (my wedding) which is approaching near summer’s dawn. Any one of these is enough to over run someone’s time. That’s the contemporary curse, I guess. Never time enough. What is needed is a little personal rejuvenation. We all have our own ways to replenish. What that looks like for me this time of year is the Academy Awards. It’s my annual oasis of enjoyment.

Oscars 2014

As I watched the 86th Oscar Ceremony, I thought that is may be the closest thing that general mass audiences get to attending a live theatrical event. The award show may resemble something closer to a variety show than a fully produced play, but all of the components that make good theatre are still crucial to the event. Good writing, emotional connection, production value, pacing, entertainment value, performance: these all contribute to a quality live performance (live theatre or live Oscar telecast, alike). Much of this falls to the hands of the host. This year Ellen DeGeneres was safe and vanilla and mostly unmemorable (besides the wonderful Twitter crashing celebrity selfie, of course).

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I may be in the minority but I preferred last years Seth MacFarlane who brought energy and crass and triple threat talent. He may have been more controversial than Hollywood would like but man do I remember how impressed I was with his entertaining singing and dancing. Talk about quality theatrical performance! But that’s beside the point. DeGeneres may have been off her game but she was fine enough and more importantly there was so much more to enjoy. With the highest television ratings in 10 years (43 million viewers) was the telecast deserving of the hate it received afterwards?

It seems an annual activity to berate the Oscars and I think it lazy reporting and lazy viewership. Calling the show boring, long and self-involved is shooting at an easy target. The Academy Awards are always long. Get used to it. This jab has been used for decades. It’s cliche. Plus the broadcasts are in actuality getting shorter (at least since 2002).

If you find the show boring, maybe it’s because you lazily haven’t seen the majority of the films and have no stake in the categories. If you find the show self involved, maybe you weren’t aware that it’s an AWARD SHOW. That is the nature of award shows.

There are so many positive aspects to the Oscars and I derive so much personal joy from the discussions around and the show itself. I just hate to see all the hate. Amongst the highlights in this years Oscar ceremony, here’s a short list of things worth noting and remembering.

#5- No one’s acceptance speech was played off. I love love love that all the winners were given more time to speak. No one seemed to go long. At the pinnacle of someone’s career, is it really too much to ask to give them an extra 15 seconds to thank those who helped them arrive at a personal career high? Thank you who’s ever choice this was.

#4- The quality of the speeches overall was exceptional. When you find the bulk of your Oscar party getting dusty eyed at the speech of Best Animated Short film you know this is a good year for speeches. So many this year were emotionally engaging even if most of the viewing audiences were unfamiliar with the films.

#3- The mass appeal and the critical appeal were equally satisfied when best director and best picture split to Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Usually Oscar awards one over the other. It was wonderful to see both recognized.

#2- Oscar got it right this year. Some have said the winners were to predictable and yet I was more satisfied by this years winners than many other collective Oscar years. Obviously this is subjective, and yes, I have minor personal gripes: the Inside Llweyn Davis shutout, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, I could go on). But, not only were the winners satisfying but the overall range of nominated film was exceptional. Even though it wasn’t going to win, I’m overjoyed my favorite film of the year, Her, was included in the Best Picture catergory. It was a good year for film.

…and the best moment to remember…

#1- Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong’o- Just Watch- http://entertainment.time.com/2014/03/02/oscars-2014-lupita-nyongo-speech-best-supporting-actress/

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Citiations:

Lupita Nyongo Speech Best Supporting Actress. 2014. video. entertainment.time.comWeb. 4 Mar 2014.

Oscar 2014. 2014. Photograph. http://www.theguardian.comWeb. 4 Mar 2014.

Oscar Selfie. 2014. Photograph. http://www.thedailybeast.comWeb. 4 Mar 2014.