Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Relent, an Indie Musical

Relent, an Indie Musical
By Jennifer Makholm (book/lyrics) & Ian Wehrle (music)
Directed by Fritz Brekeller
Produced by WorkShop Theater Company

Nomination: Jennifer Grace Makholm and Ian Wehrle for Outstanding Original Music

         Photo by David J. Goldberg

About this Production

A visceral, raw meditation on love. With music. Vera and Pace never stop. She's caustic. He's clueless. She can't stand to be around him until he's gone. This endless cycle is taking its toll on Vera's band The Vagrants. When a free-lance music photographer crashes at Vera's Williamsburg pad while Pace is in the outs, Vera becomes his next subject. But can he handle her up close?

Jennifer Makholm and Ian Wehrle
talk about taking a controversial hot-button topic, making it funny and setting it all to music. 


What attracted you to this project?

Jennifer: I was licking my wounds after an Off-Bway show I had produced had closed. It was an intensely humbling and traumatizing experience, and I was feeling weak, paralyzed, and despondent. In my pajamas, I sat down to write. I wanted to write a character who was loud, ansty, angry-- full of piss and fury, full of passion. So I wrote Vera. Then I gave her a tremendous loss. A baby. And finally I gave her an indie rock band for her to sing her heart out.

I made Relent as raw and jagged and true as I could. I made Vera because I wanted to make a character who people stepped aside for. At a certain point, Vera was boiling over with such heat, we had to give her songs. I've always loved this little play because it had an urgent, impudent truth to it, almost rude, like someone burping at the table.

Ian: The dark and current nature of the piece, the poetry of Jen Makholm's writing and the love that has encouraged it's development.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Jennifer: My fellow collaborator, Ian Wehrle (the composer) and I had such a fruitful and rich process. I've never met someone as amiable and good-natured as he is. I had a very vision, but not necessarily the vocabulary to make my vision come to fruition musically, and Ian's patience and talent and gentle disposition made the process a joy.

That said, I'd say that I was UNIQUELY gifted by a cast like no other. Shonda Leigh Robbins and Rosebud Baker were in the very first reading of the script and were SUCH a blessing. They both, upon reading the script, called me and told me they would follow this show anywhere, and they did. Rosebud even flew in from a trip she was taking for a staged reading we did, and then flew right back out. Both of them were such advocates of "Relent" from the very beginning. When you are a writer, and you send your work out for the first time-- the terror cannot be overstated. Both Shonda and Rosebud were so taken by the piece and that certainly made the 4 year process of getting it produced easier. (I'll say that David J. Goldberg was also involved from early on, but not as Sam, the part he eventually was cast in, and he too was a true gift).

Shonda and Rosebud started the process, but, when we finally got the greenlight to produce the show, the rest of the cast: David J. Goldberg, Kenyon Phillips, Katherine Connally McDonald, and Ben Sumrall made the show come ALIVE.

I'll never get over watching someone pace around a stage, reciting words I wrote in my PJs. It is almost an out of body experience to have someone sing the lyrics you wrote for the first time. There's nothing like it.

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

Jennifer: Getting the damn thing up was, and always is the hardest thing for me. The years of readings and meetings and almosts can be heartbreaking. Even when someone finally agrees to do it, by that point, you hardly believe them. Even so, the production was postponed twice before we finally started rehearsals. The first time it happened, I locked myself in the bathroom and cried. The second time it happened, I thought "this is never going to materialize." (To be clear, I have nothing but love, gratitude, and admiration for The WorkShop Theater, the delays were necessary and understood.) When we actually started rehearsals I was surprised as hell.

What was the craziest part about this production?

Jennifer: Besides the on-stage abortion? No, just your typical indie-musical-abortion-comedy. Nothing crazy about that.

I think there were SO many truly demanding things asked of the actors, and they all did SUCH an outstanding job.

There is an on-stage sex scene that is written particularly explicit, not just the actions, but Vera is a talker, and so she engages in some pretty filthy sex-talk in the scene. I remember when she read it for the first time, and she looked at me and just shook her head. "Jenny, you're gonna make me say that, aren't you?" she said with her little Southern drawl. "All of it?" she asked. "AAAALLL of it." I replied.

Watching the rehearsal for that scene was pretty hilarious. Having Dave have to negotiate where he was putting his hand so it looked convincing as Shonda is telling him to "dislocate my bones with your cock." Priceless.

I'll also say Rosebud was a pretty ingenious improvisor, and during the scene while they all get stoned, she offers Dave's character, Sam, a brownie, and in the script it was supposed to be a homemade brownie, but we were using cheap brownies for rehearsal that were wrapped in plastic. In the play, the two women, Vera and Dot, are best friends, but Dot is feeling a little threatened by their house-guest, Sam, who's recently gotten very close to Vera. So, while they get high, Dot attempts to make Sam as uncomfortable as possible, while, of course acting like the perfect Brooklyn hostess. So, Dot offers Sam food, but she's trying to gross him out at the same time. So, she's offering him the brownies, but calling them "cock" and asking is Sam wants one. Now, because the brownies are wrapped in plastic, Rosebud just gets up and started lightly slapping Sam on the cheek with the brownies as she goads him. It was the most Dave could do not laugh the first time.

I realize that both of these stories are pretty obscene, but the show is. . .well, very unabashed.

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