Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beckett in Benghazi

Beckett in Benghazi
By Ben Diserens
Directed by James Presson
Produced by Less Than Rent Theatre in association with Horse Trade Theater Group

Nomination: Brendan McDonough is nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role

Photos by Hunter Canning

About this Production
Beckett in Benghazi is a satire about the relationship that the arts and theatre community have to current events. In the play, a downtown theatre troupe tries to re-engineer their production of Endgame to mirror the ongoing events in Benghazi with only one week till opening.

Playwright Ben Diserens and actor Brendan McDonough discuss their work on this production that uses humor and satire to address important and emotional political issues.


What attracted you to this project?

Ben: I tend to shy away from controversial subject matter when it comes to my writing. It's as though I want everyone to like me (wonder why I also got into acting). But I am a firm believer in doing things in life that terrify you so it was there that I began writing Beckett in Benghazi. I began writing the play about six months after the attack on the embassy and I thought that the political aftermath would probably die down by the time the play actually premiered. But as I continued to write the piece, the inquiries and allegations from the right wing only intensified and because of this, I could not let myself off the hook when it came to having a point of view on the issue. It was a great exercise in standing behind your writing as opposed to making silly jokes and hoping no one will have any follow up questions.

Brendan: James Presson (director, artistic director of LTR) approached me and asked what I was doing with my summer and I, as usual said "nothing," so he said "wanna do Ben's new play?" And I said "Ben knows how to write? Should be interesting. I'm in." Ben and James had also assembled an incredible cast and creative team that made it impossible to resist. Not that I tried to resist. I said yes before I knew the title.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Brendan: Clowns. And also showing up to rehearsal every day and having no idea what to expect from anyone involved, James, Ben and especially my cast mates. Maybe this was also my least favorite part. I also enjoyed Hanging out with a troupe of clowns every day. Becoming a clown. Clowning around with my clown friends. We did a lot of clowning around, all parties involved.

Ben: Every actor brought such creativity and commitment to their roles. Watching the characters evolve into something I hadn't imagined before was really special. Brendan was especially enjoyable to watch because every rehearsal, every run of a scene he would try something completely new. And no subtle changes here or there, but he had the courage to go 100% in a completely new direction. Everyone in the cast supported each other whenever someone wanted to go in that other direction.

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

Brendan: Learning a Bollywood dance number. If you've seen a Bollywood dance number this is self-explanatory. Also forgetting shorts and having to rehearse said dance number in jeans in a space with shotty A/C in July.

Ben: Since it was my first play to be fully produced, there were many challenges. First and foremost was literally slapping my hand over my mouth whenever I began giving someone a line reading. But other than that I would say the biggest challenge for me personally was finding the balance between politics and comedy.

What was the craziest part of this experience for you?

Ben: It was a strange experience trying to put together a show within a show, especially one that was meant to be performed in poor taste. So at points during tech we'd be rehearsing with fake blood, toy guns and brown face make up while thinking to ourselves "If this gets taken out of context..."

Brendan: James got us all to find and release our inner clowns and once that happened most everything got a little odd and quirky.

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

Ben: If they leave laughing, that's one thing. But if they leave wondering why it made them laugh, that would be even better.

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