Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Feature: Director Carly Chamberlain on a Shaw/LaBute Double-Bill

(photo credit: Denise Grant)
Mad Science
The contrast in writing style and tone opens up an opportunity to go as far as possible in contrasting the direction and acting style
by Carly Chamberlain (Artistic Producer of Neoteny Theatre and director for Overruled by GB Shaw & Romance by Neil LaBute)

My favourite part of telling people I am working on a double bill of plays by Shaw and LaBute is clocking the reaction on their faces. My very unscientific analysis is that the reactions typically start with confusion and move toward skeptical curiosity. And I have to admit I get a certain amount of pleasure from being viewed as some sort of theatrical mad scientist, combining seemingly disparate ingredients into a volatile compound. But the truth is, the combination is far from mad.

What does being in love mean? What does commitment mean?

When I first came across Shaw’s Overruled, a silly, witty farce about couples who fall in love with each other’s spouses, I knew immediately I wanted to stage it. It turned my expectations of a “period piece” on their head. When I describe what I believe Shaw was getting at, I often end up referencing Dan Savage. Savage’s concept of “monogamish” (that a couple can be committed to one another, while living outside of what we traditionally define as monogamy), is exactly in line with Shaw’s views. What I love about Overruled is that rather than writing a sober, droning piece, berating the audience for their passé views, Shaw did the opposite. He created  larger-than-life characters who take themselves too seriously or are swept up in the drama and romance of a “guilty passion”, and made them ridiculously face the challenges of their morality conflicting with their desires.

On the flip side, Neil LaBute’s Romance is a raw, dark look at a reunion of exes. When one decides to confront the other about a betrayal, it opens a Pandora's box of rewriting the history of their relationship. 

The contrast in writing style and tone opens up an opportunity to go as far as possible in contrasting the direction and acting style too. Rehearsing Overruled, we’re focusing on playing the farce style as big as possible, fostering a sense of play, and making bold and precise choices. With Romance the approach is more organic. LaBute wrote it without assigning gender roles, which we’ve embraced by creating four different versions of casting. Taking it a step further, we're working with no set blocking and zero expectation that every performance will be the same. Full disclosure: this is a totally scary way to work. I'm a bit of a control freak, but I'm trusting that by collaborating with the actors to make sure they go into each performance clear about their relationship and intentions and are present for each other, then it'll all work out and be pretty exciting too.

The hope is that by playing to the extremes of the opposites we come as close as possible to the lightness and darkness of the subject matter and the big questions the plays are asking. It’s an ambitious undertaking, I know. But as I continue to propel haphazardly further into “adulthood”, I grapple with those big life questions: What does being in love mean? What does commitment mean? Or as the great Tom Robbins asked in Still Life with Woodpecker (the same novel we stole our company name from), “How do you make love stay?”  And like all big, meaning-of-life-type questions, there are no set answers. It’s the asking that’s important. Likewise neither Overruled, nor Romance offer the answers. But if we’re doing our job right, they do spark some reaction and reflection. And some laughter too.

Neoteny Theatre's presentation of Overruled by GB Shaw and Romance by Neil LaBute runs 
March 28 - April 6

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