Jeremy On Joyce

We’re starting June off with an interview with Jeremy Cole, the adaptor/director behind this month’s Theater Pub, a dramatic reading of James Joyce’s The Dead. It happens for one night only on June 17th, only at the Cafe Royale, so don’t miss it! Meanwhile, in Jeremy-land…

Jeremy Cole, waiting for us to get to the important part.

Jeremy Cole, waiting for us to get to the important part.

Who are you, in a hundred words or less?

I was christened Lance Smith – but changed my name in 1986. After all, Smith is so generic and Lance is what you do to a boil. Born in San Diego, raised in the Ozarks, recovering Catholic, honorary Jew, total Atheist, trend-setter (I came out in 1976), and sarcastic Oscar Wilde wannabe. I’ve been acting since forever (though I’m a LOUSY liar – so I tell the truth instead, and let me tell you: honesty is so NOT the best policy…but whatcha gonna do?), mostly a director and a designer, now a playwright on occasion. Your basic all-around good-time guy.

What’s your past with Theater Pub, and how did you get involved with us?

Mostly I attend Theater Pub shows. I especially like the program illustrations. But I got directly involved when I wrote a script for the first Pint Sized Plays called “Hot? Or Not…” – followed by two other shorts – for Pint Sized II, and Occupy Theater Pub.

You’ve got a past with this play, too. Tell us more about that.

I originally directed this piece for the late, lamented Hunger Artists Ensemble – a group I worked with a lot in Denver, Colorado. We had no idea if a reader’s theater piece would fly – especially since we were doing it right around the holidays, and it’s not exactly a thigh-slapping comedy. It not only flew – it soared – they continued to bring it back as their holiday show for the next five seasons, as well.

What made you want to bring it to Theater Pub?

I’ve wanted to re-mount it out here for some time. Since it struck such a chord with the community in Denver, which is #20 on the list of most college degrees per capita, I felt that it would certainly go over well out here, in the city that holds First Place on that same chart. And Theater Pub already has a history of doing script-in-hand shows, so it seemed like a perfect fit. Plus there’s alcohol. It’s a trifecta!

What’s exciting and challenging about dusting it off and working with it again for this reading?

No matter how many times I read/hear this story, I notice things that I hadn’t before, or which I hadn’t noticed in the same way before… Every new actor that works on the show brings different colors to their characters – it’s as if James Joyce wrote a Lanford Wilson script – one where the basics are sketched in, but a great deal of room is left for the actor to fill in the blanks.

Is there anything you’re inclined to change or fix?

Absolutely. The prior script had seven readers. This one has nine. Previously, Mary Jane and Gretta were read by the same actress. It made for some fun acting challenges – particularly in a scene where the two were talking one right after the other, but while that got laughs, it was the conceit that elicited the laughter – the actress’s quick shift of voice and physicality – not the scene that was being played. This version takes away those laughs, but helps Gretta retain the gravitas that she needs to have during the second act.

Lots of people are intimidated by Joyce- what do you think is intimidating about this piece?

I would be horribly intimidated by Ulysses or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but this story is much less dense and much more naturalistic than those more dense and abstract works. The big intimidation with this piece is that it is so well-known and well-loved. Like the current film version of “Gatsby” – everyone is going in with their own idea of what the story should be. I respect that and don’t try to lay something on top of the script that doesn’t belong there. Nothing comes from left field. There may be purists who nit-pick at my cuts, but it wasn’t written as a play, so some cuts were necessary. On opening night in Denver, a woman called me on the carpet for cutting “blancmange” out of the list of condiments served at the dinner. She’d really be upset with this current version, because I cut even more. Lists – even of delicious food items – don’t play very well in performance – they bring the show to a halt.

What about this piece appealed to you and made you want to adapt it?

There’s a funny story there. I love “The Dead”, and admired John Huston’s film version of it, but I never had any desire to adapt it. Hunger Artists had commissioned a local playwright/director to adapt it into a play. They even got a grant for it. About seven weeks before the auditions, he told them he had pneumonia and wouldn’t be up to directing the show, so they asked me if I’d be interested. I said, “Sure!” – assuming that he had already written the script and that I was just stepping in to direct it. They handed me a copy of The Dubliners. Gulp. Panic set in, but I don’t back away from commitments, so I took the plunge and decided quickly that we needed to keep the narration (the final paragraph is so famous/loved, I’d be hung from a tree if I didn’t keep it exactly as is), and once I had made the decision to do it reader’s theater style, the piece began to find its shape pretty quickly.

What else is in the future for you?

I don’t know if you’ve heard of the San Francisco Olympians Festival…? Well, they’re doing this Trojan War shindig in November. I’m writing a piece for it called On the Plains of Ilium in which the plains themselves are recalling lesser known stories from the Trojan War – the tales of Cycnus, Memnon, Protesilaus, Aethra, Palamedes… You know, the usual: murder, rape, betrayal…it’s a hoot. Plus, I’m planning to do/take the 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge again. It’s a program where you commit to writing and submitting a short play every day for the month of August. I did it last year, and though it kicked my ass to Pacifica and back, it was a terrific experience.

Joyce liked to drink- what do you think he’d order from our bar? What do you like to order?

Joyce himself wrote: “What is better than to sit at the end of the day and drink wine with friends, or substitutes for friends?” I’m all about that – especially the substitute friends part. I usually order the Malbec when I’m at Cafe Royale, so I flatter myself that Joyce would join me. But he’d drink more. A lot more. He’d be an expensive date.

Don’t miss The Dead, for one night only, June 17th, at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco. The event is free, begins at 8 PM, and reservations aren’t necessary, but get there early and enjoy some Hyde Away Blues BBQ!