Monday, August 4, 2014

Old Familiar Faces

Old Familiar Faces
Written and Directed by Nat Cassidy
Produced by Tin Drum Productions

Nominations: Nat Cassidy is nominated for Outstanding Original Full-Length Script; Tandy Cronyn is nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Lead Role; James Patrick Nelson is nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role; and Tandy Cronyn, Marianne Miller, James Patrick Nelson and Sam Tsoutsouvas are nominated for Outstanding Ensemble

        Photos by Isaiah Tanenbaum
About the Production

In 1786, author Mary Lamb commits a horrifying act of bloodshed and her brother Charles learns to forgive. In 2013, a talented man refuses to change and his brilliant lover learns to evolve. Old Familiar Faces is a heartbreaking, time-jumping drama about four lives, bound by obsession, rocked by madness, and saved by blank verse. Based on true events.

Director and playwright Nat Cassidy and the cast of Old Familiar Faces discuss the challenges and inspiration of  working on this complex and engrossing production.


What attracted you to working on this project?

Nat: I have long been fascinated by the heartbreaking, extraordinary story of Charles and Mary Lamb, as well as the difficult romance between Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. I wanted to explore how their mutual attraction to the works of Shakespeare acted as both a solace and outlet for the various madness from which all four people occasionally suffered. As a lifelong bardolator myself, too, it allowed me to explore some of my own demons in a very unique way.

Tandy: I have participated regularly for a few years now in a playwrights group called Writers@ThePlayers. Nat Cassidy is a member and I've done readings or listened to readings of several of his plays. Also seen some of his other Off-Off-Broadway productions. I'm a huge fan: I think Nat Cassidy is an important new playwright with a great future ahead of him. I jumped at the chance to do Old Familiar Faces in last year's NY Fringe Festival.

Marianne: Nat Cassidy is one of the most unique playwrights of our generation, and this script is no exception. The relationships in the play were immediately recognizable to me, and I welcomed the opportunity for some highly stylized moments as well. With such a stellar cast and that kind of material, it's an actor's dream!

James: It's a truly beautiful, dynamic, unpredictable, and edifying story about people constantly thrown off center, hurling their hearts right out of their chests, and trying like mad to keep it together and hold on to whatever is most beautiful to them, in love, or art, or family. The language and characters and conflict are all so delicious and enriching, I knew it would be an enormous pleasure to play.

What was your favorite part of working on this production? And why?

Nat: The actors. Four of the most wonderful, talented actors I've ever had the opportunity to direct. The script is a difficult one, with lots of heavy emotions juxtaposed with bawdy humor and wordplay, all in this kind of circular, fluid structure - not to mention the logistical difficulties inherent in any festival production - but Sam, Tandy, Marianne, and Jamie all handled everything beautifully and with an eagerness that does half of my job for me. It was a truly beautiful, supportive, vulnerable, understanding rehearsal room - exactly what this kind of play needed.

Tandy: Very challenging role - Mary Lamb is a historical literary figure. She lived in interesting times, was probably bipolar and her relationship to her brother, Charles Lamb, is fascinating.

Marianne: I loved researching Vivian Leigh's life (Lee was loosely based on Leigh) and drawing inspiration from what I discovered. I also loved being in the room and watching Sam and Tandy work: I had so many things to learn from their example in the room.

James: It was so rewarding working with that incomparable ensemble. Marianne Miller was so easy to fall in love with, she was unbelievably generous and playful, with grace and beauty and a wide open heart, and we just held hands and took a deep breath and went on this adventure together. Sam Tsoutsouvas and Tandy Cronyn were an inspiration. Listening to them from backstage was often all the preparation I needed, they kept me present and they moved me so deeply. I still think about some of the speeches they gave, all these months later. And Nat Cassidy is a genius, a renaissance man, an artist through and through. He does so many wonderful things, I wonder if he ever sleeps. To be in the company of these people was a great joy.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production? And why?

Nat: I often said during the writing and production process that, while I normally write scripts that have at least one foot in the horror genre, this play in particular was the scariest thing I'd ever written. And there's nary a monster in sight. I decided to challenge myself by tackling a lot of very difficult subjects for me - past relationship failures, deep anxieties, professional frustrations, my own mother's mental deterioration - and so the day-to-day writing of the script was actually not a very pleasant experience. Every now and then in the rehearsal room, too, when we'd start to dig into the scenes, all those emotions would come bubbling back to the surface, which made it quite a unique experience among the productions I've written and directed. But it's also how I knew we were on the right path and that the work was worth doing.

Tandy: Playing a leading role in the NY Fringe Festival is very difficult: not enough rehearsal time, the performance schedule is very spread out and sharing the venue with so many other productions means that one has to come up with an entirely different process. I had never done anything like this before and to top it all off, I was playing a mad woman.

Marianne: This production meant pulling out almost every tool an actor has: dynamic physicality; digging around in emotional depths; full use of demanding language (literally - Shakespeare!); dialects; story. All of it. The very second you showed up for rehearsal, you were in. There's no warming up to it.

What was the oddest moment in this process for you?

Nat: Because of fire laws and limited space, you can't really leave any of your props at the theatre in between shows. We had a super important prop (an antique bucket that was filled with blood and intestines, because this is still a Nat Cassidy play) that wound up getting left on a train the night before our closing performance. We had to run to a hardware store, pick up the oldest looking bucket we could find, and whip up a couple of new bloody intestines on the street while we waited to be let into the space. Theatre magic!

What did you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Nat: Shakespeare's easier than you think. His works are hailed as universal for a reason. He's dirtier and funnier than he gets credit for. Mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed about. Love is its own brand of madness. Relationships end, and it may feel like an apocalypse, but there are other worlds to be discovered. Love is very real and very difficult, but worth everything in the end. Sometimes the most terrifying thing we can do is to give in.

No comments:

Post a Comment