Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

Happy Days by Samuel Beckett

For my first production as director at the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, I staged Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, which ran September 11–17 in the Black Box Theatre in the 2023-2024 season at the NCT and later moved to the Vegas Theatre Company theatre in downtown Las Vegas. This was a tour de force for the lead playing Winnie, my colleague Kymberly Luke Mellen, as we explored in rehearsal and performance the post-apocalyptic world portrayed by the playwright in a setting that hinted at 1950s Las Vegas. Notable were the stunning combination of Dana Moran Williams’s imaginative set and lighting design by Jordyn Cozart, and the intermission video put together by Brooks Mellen.

You can download the NCT Evening Program, and the “Know Before You Go” guide, as well as the VTC Happy Days Program.

Here’s what I said in my Director’s Note:

Inhabiting the two sides of the same low mound of earth, Winnie and Willie are an odd couple in a strange place: in Beckett’s minimalist Happy Days a “blazing light” never goes down and – without nights – the alternation of waking and sleep is strictly timed by a bell that “rings piercingly” to demand compliance. Winnie brushes her teeth but never really eats anything. Even more strangely, part of her body is embedded deep into the ground. Although her husband enjoys a little additional freedom of movement, neither of them seems able to leave the place after all.

Another oddity of their situation is the behavior of objects: when Winnie shatters her mirror on a rock and throws it away behind the mound, she knows it will be back intact in her bag the next time she wakes up. The same resilience apparently applies to her face and teeth, which temporarily calms her anxiety. And yet, significant adjustments do take place over time: just like the frog of the famous apologue, who doesn’t realize when the lukewarm water grows too hot to survive, Winnie is oblivious to the subtle changes leading to a degradation of her condition over time.

In this production, the passage of time between the acts is visualized during intermission through a collection of commercials from the 1950s onwards that offer purchasing suggestions as well as model family relationships, including how a perfect housewife should behave. And Winnie’s bag with her “resuscitating” objects becomes a metaphor for something gone wrong with consumerism tied to the American Dream: the belief that anything can be easily discarded and substituted, in blissful disregard of the environment and the people inhabiting it. Winnie’s infinitely productive bag thus operates here like a contemporary Amazon-like shop: the intact mirror is just the newly-delivered item, while the one previously broken contributes to an ever-swelling pile of trash. Ultimately, I see these layers of trash as the reason why the earth appears to swallow Winnie’s body, dehumanizing it to look like one of the objects around her.

At the time of Beckett’s writing, between 1960 and 1961, the inhospitable environment that engulfs the couple – with its implacable light and heat, scorched grass, and uncertainty about the future – could be viewed as a reflection of Cold War tensions over the dangers of nuclear war. This aspect reminded me of Las Vegas’s own past: starting in 1951 and over the next twelve years, the southern Nevada desert – just sixty-five miles from downtown – was the theatre of 120 nuclear bomb tests in the only permanent nuclear proving facility on U.S. soil. Yet, even today, the perils of environmental abuse are all around us, leading to desertification and climate conditions similar to those of Winnie and Willie. At the same time as we identify with and support Winnie and her dreams imbued with unrelenting optimism, we become aware of the dangers of a lack of ecological responsibility.

Photo: Shahab Zargari (c) 2023
Thebes Land by Sergio Blanco

Thebes Land by Sergio Blanco

Continuing my collaboration with LaMicro Theater, on November 19, 2017 I directed a staged reading as part of Escena Sur – Latin American Plays. Thebes Land (Tebas Land) by contemporary Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco explores the themes of patricide and homoerotic attraction within a metatheatrical frame.

Whereas Puppies Are Adorable by Tom Reed

Whereas Puppies Are Adorable by Tom Reed

The PIT, NYC

Within the Raucous Caucus political theatre festival organized by Box Wine Theatre at The PIT, I directed Tom Reed’s Whereas Puppies Are Adorable, a scathing critique of the current over-conflicted Congressional atmosphere. Everything is debatable, even the most innocuous bill proposed by a rookie house representative simply arguing that “puppies are adorable.” On stage an ensemble of energetic “political animals” embodied by Charlotte Grady, Mahmoud Hakima, Anthony Paglia, Maya Schnaider, and Dennis Zavolock. With them, I worked on a gradual transition from civil discussion to grotesque physical confrontation when the beastly natures of politicians emerge. Everything, of course, is immediately broadcast through social media as the representatives soon find out.

 


Fru Mary by Berioska Ipinza

Fru Mary by Berioska Ipinza

440 Studios, Black Box Studio, NYC

In my second collaboration with Chilean NYC-based company LaMicro Theater, I directed Berioska Ipinza’s Fru Mary, an exploration of how two siblings use their imagination to cope with being abandoned by their mother. Digging into the potentiality of this play, two talented performers, Daniela Thome and Roberto Sanabria have made rehearsals a true process of discovery. We presented this piece during LaMicro’s Summer Session.

 

Drunken Ghosts by Juan Radrigán

Drunken Ghosts by Juan Radrigán

On November 19, 2016 I directed a staged reading of a play by Chilean playwright, novelist, and poet Juan Radrigán, for LaMicro’s Escena Sur festival. In Spanish with English supertitles, Fantasmas borrachos is a drunken dream that portrays the confusion felt by the common man confronted with Chilean politics. The Bridge Theatre at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th St, 12th floor (between Broadway and 8th Ave).

Changing Neighborhoods

Changing Neighborhoods

Center for Performance Research, NYC

In April/May 2015 I collaborated as dramaturg and director with three performer-choreographers – Lori Hamilton, J Reese, Sarah Starkweather – and musician Ken Kruper on a dance piece that aimed to capture the spirit of a neighborhood as it changes over time. New people are first attracted and then pushed out in a constant recursive flux that materializes at different times during the exhibition through movement and music.

This dance piece was created during the “Your [_____] Neighborhood collaborate:create residency produced by ForwardFlux.

Your [_____] Neighborhood

Your [_____] Neighborhood

Center for Performance Research, NYC

Between April and May 2015 I was invited to my second artist residency with Forwardflux for three weeks of intense collaborative exploration of how neighborhoods are transformed, gentrified, or even colonized. Through meetings once a week with the whole group of participants and more intimate rehearsals with two smaller groups, for the first time I worked as dramaturg of a dance piece, Changing Neighborhoods. For the exhibition program, click here.

 

The House of Charity by Andre Fuad-Degas

The House of Charity by Andre Fuad-Degas

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.

Parkour by Eduardo Pavez Goye

Parkour by Eduardo Pavez Goye

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.

For the reading’s program, click here. For more info on Escena Sur and La Micro, click here. For the text of the play, see the author’s website.

The Cutthroat Series: Grandguignol Duels at The Flea

The Cutthroat Series: Grandguignol Duels at The Flea

The Flea Theater, New York City.

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.