All in a Day’s Workshop

From a farce of Sophocles to a contemporary Woody Allen satire, with the eclectic group of workshops this term, audience members are sure not to grow tired of the theater scene here on campus. A comic take on the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, Oedi, written by Rich Orloff and directed by Abby Seldin ’05, went up this past Sunday on the steps of the Addison, Peter Rotundo ’05’s Death Knocks by Woody Allen is scheduled to be performed this upcoming Sunday, May 4, and the month will conclude with The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds, directed by Caroline Claflin ’05 from the script by Paul Zindel, to go up May 29 in Steinbach Theater. Phillipian: What is/was your workshop production this term? Peter Rotundo: My current workshop is Death Knocks by Woody Allen. I chose it mainly because Woody Allen wrote it, and it is, of course, a really funny play. Caroline Claflin: [The production is] The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds, by Paul Zindel. Basically, the play is about this girl named Tillie who is a complete genius. However, her family is a little crazy. In the play, she’s doing this Science Fair project about the effect of gamma rays on marigolds. A pivotal part of the play is Tillie’s speech to the Science Fair judges about the past, present, and future of her marigolds which in essence is a metaphor of her and her family life and how she is this genius marigold that must live with the effects of her crazy family on her life. Abby Seldin: The workshop was called Oedi, by Rich Orloff, a farce on the famous Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles. It was just sort of a fun play, bringing modern politics into the other story to turn the tragedy into a comedy. Phillipian: What are the basic story lines of Death Knocks and Oedi? PR: The plot of Death Knocks is basically that Death comes to collect this person (Nat Ackerman, whom we have changed in the script to Natalie Ackerman to accommodate our lead actress, Susannah Gund ’04), but she doesn’t want to go. So Nat decides to gamble with the Devil in a game of gin rummy to buy herself more time on earth. Her fate is decided when Death loses the game and has to spend the day in Denny’s rather than collect the intended victim. AS: Well, as you probably know, Oedi’s parents are told that their son is going to kill his father and marry his mother, so they send him away in hopes of avoiding the oracle, but to no avail. Finally, when Oedi realizes what he has done, he gouges his eyes out… or gets really close to doing so in this version. Oedi, his advisors, and their population poll determine a good spin for the story and touch upon some good old modern political distractions. Phillipian: How would you describe the characters? PR: The way I’m choosing to interpret the characters is by making Nat oblivious to Death’s true identity; she refuses to believe “Death” is truly death, but rather a ridiculous joke. Although Nat is mistaken in her assumption, it is understandable that she does not believe the individual, because Death comes to her in an unlikely form: a klutz. I really like what Matt London ’04 says about the play: that in everything that Woody Allen writes, whether he is cast in the role or not, he writes one character like himself into the script, but in Death Knocks, Woody Allen wrote himself into TWO parts. CC: Well, first there’s Tillie, played by Mary Burris ’05, a nervous newbie to the Theater Department who is doing a wonderful job. She is doing an especially good job considering that the part is the exact opposite of her nature. Tillie’s sister, Ruth, is being played by Emma Dorsey ’06, an amazing freshman who is coming up quickly in the ranks of the theater department. Ruth is Tillie’s sister who snapped under their crazy mother, and was recently released from the mental hospital, never to be the same. Kate Cooper ’03 plays the mother, Beatrice, a borderline alcoholic, bitter has-been, who is so wrapped up in the failure of her own life that she does not do very well with her job as a mother. There are two other smaller characters, Janice, and Nanny. Janice has a peppy cameo as Tillie’s adversary in the Science Fair, with a short monologue in which she talks about her project: boiling cats. Jean Marie Gossard ’05 fit the part all too perfectly not to cast her as it. Alessandra Colaianni ’03 is cast as the non-speaking Nanny, but she is hysterical at the part, and her presence as the walking corpse is the most powerful in the play. Phillipian: What do you think of your casting for those parts? PR: The cast is Susannah Gund ’04 as Nat Ackerman and Signe Miller ’05 as Death. Susannah is a very good, experienced, versatile actor, and was an easy casting choice. The only problem is as a very committed Upper in her spring term, time is always a hot commodity and hard to find. This is Signe’s first show at Phillips Academy, and she’s proving to be a very good actress. I cast her because I was trying to cast the last person you would expect to be Death–you know, she blows bubbles during rehearsals and the like. AS: Oedi was played by Chris Zegel ’05. He played the part with the perfect amount of strife and angst for a father-killing, mother-marrying young Greek king. Creon, Oedi’s advisor, Matt Brennan ’05, and Tiresias, a blind seer, Ben Bloom ’04, both turned in hysterical performances. I couldn’t have asked for better actors. Ilana Segall ’04 played Jacosta, Oedi’s mother/wife, as a hilariously loving Jewish housewife, who knew that Oedi was her son the whole time, but, “What more could a mother ask for?” Finally, the town crier, played by the delightful Kendra Allenby ’05, throws in the final touch of modern politics by bringing in the all-seeing, all-telling town gossips and media into the mix. Phillipian: I know that you have directed before; are you trying anything new for this classroom? PR: To tell the truth, in directing this play, I’m not really trying anything new. I’m just trying to improve my directing technique and thought process — and have a bit of fun while I’m at it. Phillipian: What do you think of directing within the PA Theater Department? PR: Directing is a lot of fun. It is a very important role in any production and as an individual, you get to make many decisions — when to rehearse, who to cast, and all that. Of course, there are times when directing isn’t fun, like making sure that the actors show up for key rehearsals. Phillipian: What expectations did you/do you have for the show? PR: Well the workshop, in truth, is going a little behind schedule because we haven’t been able to meet enough, and I haven’t got the actors off book yet or finished the blocking. But, it’s just a six page play, and we’ve got a week. It should turn out well, and everyone should come see it on Sunday, May 4 at 5 p.m. CC: I think that it will be astounding. I have an amazing cast, a wonderful script, and we’re making great progress. I am proud of the entire cast: they’re working really hard, along with my workaholic stage-manager, Natalie McGarry ’05. Everyone should come to see it on May 29. Phillipian: What did you think of the final performance of “Oedi”? AS: Well, we had to move our performance stage from the steps of Sam Phil to the steps of the Addison on Friday, so everything was basically reworked on Saturday and Sunday, before the play at 5. Especially considering that giant change in plans, I thought that the show went off without a hitch, with the wonderful work and dedication of my producer, stage manager, and actors.