Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Jamb

Written by J.Stephen Brantley
Directed by David Drake
Produced by Hard Sparks in association with Horse Trade Theatre Group

Nominations: Outstanding Director: David Drake; Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role: Nico Grelli

Nic Grelli (left), J.Stephen Brantley (right). Photo by Hunter Canning.

About the Company
HARD SPARKS champions daring performances of adventurous new plays. Since 2011, the company has worked with fifty-one actors, nine playwrights, six directors, and eighteen designers on eleven productions in thirteen venues. Hard Sparks has been nominated for eleven New York Innovative Theatre Awards including Outstanding Premiere Production for EIGHTYTHREE DOWN, Outstanding Short Script for CHICKEN-FRIED CICCONE, and Outstanding Revival for R & J & Z. In trying times, Hard Sparks tells tales of transformation and redemption, mining our darkness for light.

About the Production
Set in 2008, gay punks Tuffer and Roderick are turning forty. Both can’t face it, leaving them to cope in different ways. Tuffer continues on his journey of smoking, snorting, and screwing Manhattan men while Roderick goes completely straight edge. When Roderick comes to his wits end in dealing with Tuffer's shenanigans, Tuffer agrees to get sober at Roderick's folk-singing mothers house. Both hit bottom on the high desert, on the edge, in the jamb.

David Drake and Nico Grelli talk about their experiences working on this project.


What attracted you to this project?
J. Stephen: THE JAMB was a long time coming. As both playwright and producer, I'd seen this play through seven years of readings, workshops, and near-misses with full productions. It was a chance to work with David Drake that inspired me to resurrect it, and the opportunity to tell a story that was deeply meaningful to me personally - about addiction, anger, identity, and love - that made it worth doing.

David: I love working with playwright and actor J.Stephen Brantley. After developing and directing his NYIT-nominated solo "Chicken Fried Ciccone" for the Frigid Festival a couple years ago, he handed me the script for THE JAMB and we started work shopping it over the course of two years. Over that time, I feel deeply in love with delivering this fresh, sexy, funny, and very unexpected punk-rock romantic friendship story to an audience. The Jamb pushed me into unknown emotional and theatrical territory as a director.

Nico: J. Stephen's incredible writing, talent, and spirit. And the ferocity and complexity of the character.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

J.Stephen: The director-playwright dynamic on both THE JAMB and THE CABARET AT THE END OF THE WORLD was so dynamic. There was tremendous energy, urgency even, around the telling of these stories. Directors David Drake and Joan Jubett brought such unique and engaging visions to each of these productions, and their passion for the plays they were staging was contagious. Everyone aboard made brave and fearless choices. I can say, certainly, as both an actor and a playwright, working with Joan and David has made me a better and bolder theatre artist.

David : Harnessing the trust of these four amazing actors — Nico Grelli, Todd Flaherty, J.Stephen Brantley, and Carole Monferdini — and letting them soar.

Nico: The role itself was just fun to play, and I loved the characters. My co-stars made it all the more so being so incredibly generous, brave, and open. And my director David Drake gave us so much space, structure, and support to safely create this world and these people.

Carole Monferdini (foreground, left), Todd Flaherty (foreground, right), J.Stephen Brantley (background).
Photo by Hunter Canning.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
J.Stephen: Speaking as a producer? Money. And Space. And space. And money. But as an artist I have to say that the challenge with both The Jamb and Cabaret At The End Of The World was in knowing how short the lives of these shows were going to be, and choosing to be okay with that. It's the nature of indie theatre. Accepting that after 12 to 16 performances these plays might be put permanently to bed is hard, but it also requires that you give everything you have to telling these stories while you have the chance.

David: Finding the range and paces of the play's two-act heartbeats. Making certain that, although Act One was as frantic and speedy as a three-day meth run, that Act Two in the New Mexico desert didn't flat line. Emotionally, I had to guide ways to keep the subtext and super-objectives very active, very present throughout, while also building to a violent love fight-to-the-finish between the two leading men — one that clinched their hearts together.

Nico: The role itself was incredibly demanding physically, emotionally, and technically in itself. And having to work on the show while also working like four different side jobs was tough only because I'd have loved to have only had the show to work on. But so it goes in indie theatre and living in NYC. However, again, my costars, director, stage manager, fight directors, and designers made the show such a joy to be at every day that it made it well worth the challenge.

What did you want the audience to walk away with after watching THE JAMB?
J.Stephen: Hard Sparks produces new plays about personal transformation. We champion characters coming into their power and using it for good. I hope our audience members choose to emulate the weird and wonderful subjects of our plays and make a positive impact on the world in whatever unique way they can.

What was the quirkiest part of the production?

J.Stephen: Each of Hard Sparks' 2017 nominees — Hettie Barnhill, Melody Bates, David Drake, Nico Grelli, Rebecca Hart, and John Salutz — are true muckers. They are each and all visionary artists, certainly, but they are also collaborators, true teach players, who find and bring joy to the shared process of creating performance.

David: In looking towards production, J. Stephen and I had looked at numerous spaces over a two-year period. None were right for the piece until Horse Trade approached us [Hard Sparks] and asked if we had anything they could produce with us in The Kraine. That's when I knew the time was right to mount this play: The Kraine was the perfect beat-up, worn-but-surviving, testosterone-spewed space for THE JAMB.

Nico: Most specifically, the alacrity, grace, and professionalism J.Stephen employed in wearing writer, actor, and producer hats. The Kraine theater space posed all kinds of interesting challenges and quirks that actually lent quite well to the aesthetic of the show.

What was it like working with this group of artists?

Nico: The love we had for each other, the laughs, and the story we were telling.

J.Stephen Brantley (left), Carole Monferdini (right). Photo by Hunter Canning.

What will you take away from your experience working on?

David: The trust, collaborative environment, and professional standards of Hard Sparks. One of the best indie companies I have ever worked with. We've done three productions together now, and I hope we never stop.

Nico: I learned what magic can be created from a place of love, passion, and support. And how a safe environment can allow artists to explore the reaches of their potential and what is possible in storytelling.

Anything else?

David: The genius of fight director Dave Anzuelo. I loved working with him, gliding in and out of our staging together to make our numerous sex and fight scenes snap, crackle, and pop. He taught me more about "less is more" than I already thought was possible — and I love that rule, by the way. Indeed, Dave showed me how to achieve a deeper level of simplicity in the meaning of a stage touch.

Please follow Hard Sparks on:
Instagram: @hardsparks

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