For the author and performer Michelle Levy, “Come Back… marks the return to a stalled artistic research project I had been pursuing about my father, named (by him) ‘The Comeback.’ This current investigation has two narratives. The first is the story of Ron “Lucky” Levy, a once successful motivational salesman who has, sadly fallen down on his luck. The second is my process of sharing the story with the help of a tool named (by me) ‘The Five Stage Approach to Creating an Effective Artistic Experience.’ Through a series of small performance ‘focus groups’ organized over the past five months, I have been collectively revisiting a brief ‘comeback'”
In my role of dramaturg I participated to the focus group performances and advised on the overall dramaturgical structure of this biographical monodrama that drew upon archival research and technology to reactivate a dialogue between daughter and father.
One of the readings I directed at the Flea Theater was Egyptian-American dramatist Andre Fuad-Degas’s The House of Charity, a collaboration with the Queens College MFA program in Playwriting. Seven actors of the resident BATS company helped me bring this work to life in a series of lively exchanges. Here’s how the author describes the play:
In a few hours, wealthy donors will come to the House of Charity soup kitchen to sit down for a meal beside the homeless clientele, to determine whether the mid-western shelter they’re financing is fulfilling its mission of love and kindness to all. Back in the kitchen, six newly recovering addict/alcoholics, grudgingly affectionate toward each other but tempted by self-sabotage, prepare that high-stakes meal. Whether they succeed or not will determine the future of the shelter … and their own lives.
On November 20, 2014 I directed a staged reading in Spanish of Parkour (or a Manual on How to Run in a Straight Line) [Parkour (o un manual para correr en línea recta)] by Chilean playwright Eduardo Pavez Goye. The reading was produced by La Micro Theater in the context of Escena Sur, a festival of contemporary Chilean playwriting.
In the words of the author,
This play is a monologue, it tells the story of an airline company worker who one day sees some boys practicing a sport called parkour. This sport consists of running in a straight line. The protagonist thus begins [to see] an obsessive correlation between the lack of direct actions in people’s behavior and the urgent need to reverse this situation, using only straight lines to achieve whatever we want in life, reaching the roughest extremes, isolating ourselves from the world and devising our own plan to keep going without turning or stopping.
Despite the monologic form, I decided to split the text between two performers, so that one of them could always appear as an interlocutor and aid in structuring the protagonist’s train of thought. I also felt a connection with Kazimir Malevich’s paintings, which became the backdrop to the play’s sections: the images visualized the content and mood of the text but obliquely, without becoming a literal illustration.
The Fall season of 2014 at The Flea was dedicated to the Cutthroat Series, eleven Grand-Guignol plays organized in four pods. Each of them replicated the concept of the douche écossaise, a mix of gory and lustful pieces. I directed Tics, or Doing the Deed (Apres Coup!… ou Tics) by René Berton with a cast of BATS, the resident company.
Not only did the title of the series apply to the stories portrayed, it also meant that each evening the audience voted for the best play, eliminating the others. Tics received the most votes and was extended for a run in January 2015 for the Winners’ Victory Lap.
For pictures and program of Tics, or Doing the Deed, click here.
To publicize the entire event The Flea produced a scary video where my cast experimented with makeup and grandguignol grimaces. You can watch it below.
This project was my first practical involvement as Resident Director with the Flea Theater in New York City and lasted about seven months from December 2013 to June 2014. With 48 playwrights involved, 54 between actors and singers, main director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, a large group of associate and assistant directors, an indefatigable stage manager and 11 assistant stage managers, the show was an exercise in coordination of an incredible number of creative inputs and professional skills.
From my point of view, the most interesting part of this collective endeavor was the opportunity to witness the several phases of contemporary script development under master dramaturg Jill Rafson, Literary Manager of Roundabout Theatre Company. The project started with an offer to several American playwrights for a commission to write a 1- to 10-minute rewrite of an episode from the York cycle of medieval mystery plays. Each episode would need to “stand on its own while serving the larger goal of telling the story of Man’s Salvation.” Not only was it important for the plays to work in terms of their own dramaturgical arc, they also needed to be stitched together in a coherent fashion.
The plays went through a series of drafts, revisions, readings, workshops, rehearsals, and combined run-throughs that at times seemed more than chaotic, but the whole eventually paid off, and produced a contemporary take on the Medieval collection, including digital media/hashtags, gender-bending, and unexpected outcomes for traditionally revered religious figures.
The Fall season of 2014 at The Flea was dedicated to the Cutthroat series, eleven Grand-Guignol plays organized in four pods. Each of them replicated the concept of the douche écossaise, a mix of gory and lustful pieces. Not only did the title of the series apply to the stories portrayed, it also meant that each evening the audience voted for the best play, eliminating the others, in a cutthroat duel among shows and directors.
I directed Tics, or Doing the Deed (Apres Coup!… ou Tics) by René Berton with a cast of BATS, the resident company. In this outright farce, animal instincts resurface and human impediments disrupt the tranquil and boring routines of the bourgeoisie in the country. Everything ends with a loud and chaotic pandemonium. Tics received the most votes and was extended for a run in January 2015 for the Winners’ Victory Lap.
For more info and a full color program click here (Gore) and here (Victory Lap).
Ellen Joffred, The Flea’s Audience Development Associate, published an interview with me about the show on The Flea’s Tumblr blog. If you’re not on Tumblr, you can download a pdf here.
Playwright and theatre critic James Armstrong wrote a couple of reviews, describing the staging as a “splendid production” and “the most successful of the three pieces (“The Best of the Grand Guignol” and “Grand Guignol“)
For this production, which was part of the Queer Theatre HOT! Festival at Dixon Place in NYC, I attended rehearsals as a second set of eyes and sounding board for director Gian Marco LoForte of the Pioneers Go East Collective and performer Michael Cross Burke.
Here is how the show was described: “In Michael Jackson Was Innocent and I Didn’t Kill Jonbenet Ramsey… But I Was There the Night She Died, award-winning queer performance artist Michael Cross Burke, known for his ‘unflinching honesty’ uses found & original text to tell the story of corruption, wealth and tabloids told from the eyes of a 12-year old boy. Juxtaposed with Burke’s obsessive research on the Jonbenet Ramsey case and his escape from porn and prostitution, this oddly humorous and eccentric journey digs its teeth deep into the U.S. Court System and celebrity culture by fully exposing the intricacies of greed and deceit (and the front of his own body.) See the page at Dixon Place or the original event on Facebook event.
On April 26, 2014 I directed The Palace, a staged reading of a play by Graham Parkes, an incredibly accomplished young playwright graduating from NYU Tisch School of the Arts who went on to become a filmmaker and screenwriter in LA. Four BATS from the Flea Theater‘s resident company made this event memorable and gave life to the words on the page, a story about an old cinema, brotherhood, and films pruned of all the boring scenes.
I worked with the actors to create a stage action that hinged on their relative positions and utilized the scripts as a visual correlative of the cinema’s decay, as pages were discarded and were scattered on the floor.
The 110th anniversary of The Cherry Orchard prompted me to stage this phenomenal play with my company, on the exact dates of the anniversary of its premiere at the Moscow Art Theatre. For this show I wore several hats: director, producer, set designer, event manager, translator, and a few others. You can find the Playbill for the show, including my director’s notes, here.
Here’s the promotional video for the show, which captures the mix of serious and funny that Chekhov writes in every line and we sought to match at every step.
On October 15, 2013 the Pirandello Society of America sponsored a reading I adapted and directed of Pirandello’s The Giants of the Mountain, with nine actors and two visual artists, who took turns at drawing the characters so precisely described by the author’s stage directions. The play is a “myth” between fable and reality that Pirandello continued to imagine, write, and rework from 1929 to 1934, but eventually left unfinished despite encouraging contracts with American impresarios. Yet, in its present form, the play vibrates with the powerful contradictions of sublime Art torn between the inner necessity to reach out to spectators who may not understand it and the temptation to abandon the world altogether. It was, in the playwright’s opinion, the culmination of his artistic endeavors.