Monthly Archives: July 2014

An Act of ‘Defiance’: Francis Gercke directs John Patrick Shanley

Defiance Widget“I feel doubt is an important and valuable exercise, a hallmark of wisdom,” says playwright John Patrick Shanley. “Defiance is a necessary step in the life of an individual and in the life of a nation.”

Next week, Intrepid Shakespeare’s 12-month Staged Reading Series will feature Shanley’s 2006 play, Defiance, the second part of a three-play trilogy, beginning with the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning Doubt in 2004, and concluding with 2012’s Storefront Church. While Doubt explores themes of power and faith within the confines of a Catholic Church, Defiance tackles another hierarchical organization – the United Stated military.

fran gercke

Francis Gercke directs Shanley’s ‘Defiance’ July 28

“I like that Shanley’s writing presents life as complicated, complex, multi-faceted, never one thing only,” explains Francis Gercke, who will be directing the reading on July 28. “There are rules and regulations, there are codes and social norms of behavior, there are consequences to violating those codes and norms, and there may be legitimate reasons why it might be necessary to risk challenging those rules and regulations. But there’s always a cost.”

As with Doubt, Defiance places its characters in a situation of moral and ethical crisis, this time framed by racial tensions charged by wartime. Set on a North Carolina United States Marine Corps base in 1971, the play finds Lt. Col. Morgan Littlefield (who will be read by Matt Scott) and his reluctant protégé, Capt. Lee King, a young African-American officer (who will be read by Vimel Sephus), investigating racial crimes on the base in an attempt to diffuse these tensions. But the electricity of the play comes from the interactions between these two men and their very different ideas of military leadership and accountability.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

John Patrick Shanley with ‘Doubt,’ the precursor for ‘Defiance’
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

According to Manhattan Theatre Club production notes, the characters are “on a collision course over race, women, and the high cost of doing the right thing. The play is about power, love, and responsibility — who has it, who wants it, and who deserves it.”

Not surprisingly, it all comes to a head in an act of defiance.

“While the play is set in 1971, it’s not a history lesson or a re-examination of the Viet Nam era,” explains Fran. “It uses that context to debate social, civic, and spiritual challenges of today. I think what remains with me each time I read it is a question about ideals — are they merely ‘idealistic’ (impractical and naive) or are they truly the standards by which we should live our lives no matter the cost?”

These explorations of doubt and defiance take place through Shanley’s intricately woven dialogue – the kind of dialogue that inspires both actor and audience, and has made Shanley extraordinarily notable as a playwright who creates gritty, passionate and fascinatingly complex characters.

“An evening with Shanley’s characters could prove brutal but definitely entertaining,” says Fran. “They are witty, stubborn, well-intentioned and undeniably screwed up in some way. In other words, they’re very human.”

Joining Matt and Vimel on Monday to complete this cast of characters will be Amanda Sitton, Cris O’Bryon and Jake Rosko.

Defiance by John Patrick Shanley, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, July 28. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.

Encinitas Library

Playing Barrymore: An Interview with Ruff Yeager

Ruff Yeager as the Ghost of John Barrymore

Ruff Yeager as the Ghost of John Barrymore

If you ask Ruff Yeager how he manages to portray the larger-than-life Ghost of John Barrymore in Intrepid Shakespeare Company’s current show, “I Hate Hamlet,” without getting distracted by the audience who practically sits onstage, he will tell you that he has a very simple strategy.

“I picture them as ghosts,” says Ruff.

With the inauguration of Intrepid’s new black box space, this summer’s offerings are being produced in an intimate theatre-in-the-round setting, which gives audiences the chance to be up close and personal with the action.

“We can see people in the audience,” says Ruff. “If I really look, I can see their faces.”

In an effort to incorporate this intimacy into the imagined world of the play, Ruff has figured out a way to makes sense of their presence. Because they are sitting on old-fashioned chairs and couches, a beautiful detail that expands the world of John Barrymore’s apartment further into the theater, it is not difficult.

Barrymore 6“I see the audience as all of these other ghosts in our house,” he says, and then adds in true Barrymore form, “I see them as benevolent ghosts who want me to do well.”

Leave it to the character of John Barrymore to crave applause from the afterlife. But that’s exactly what he does in “I Hate Hamlet” – and Ruff’s portrayal of the grandiose Barrymore has audiences and critics raving. It’s not every day an actor’s performance review includes words like “mercurial,” “ebullient” and “charismatic.” But Ruff wouldn’t know, of course, because he doesn’t read them. All he knows is how much fun he’s having.

“I love playing the Ghost of John Barrymore,” he says without hesitation. “Playing a character of this scope and magnitude of spirit…it’s just really joyful.”

Ruff Yeager as John Barrymore and Francis Gercke as Andrew Rally

Ruff Yeager and Francis Gercke as Andrew Rally

That joy is evident during the performances, as Ruff pounces from chaise lounge to mantelpiece to potted plant, pulling out rapiers and bottles of wine as he sees fit. One can’t help but be caught up in his lust for life, even considering his ghostly circumstances.

Even though Ruff had done quite a bit of research coming into rehearsals on this uproarious personality, there was still a lot of discussion with director Christopher Williams about bringing the Ghost of Barrymore to life – and specifically, how big is too big when it comes to this character’s personality. Surprisingly, the new theater space played a large part in that characterization.

Barrymore!“We did a lot of work on volume and articulation,” explains Ruff. “With that, comes larger physicalization, because it takes a lot of energy. In the end, I have to trust Christopher and that what I am directed to do is going to work.”

Mercurial…ebullient…charismatic…that it “works” might be an understatement.

“I Hate Hamlet” must close July 19 and Ruff is already anticipating the loss.

“I’m going to be very sad when this is going to be over because it’s been so much fun,” he admits. “But I’m looking forward to the last two weeks as a real celebration of this character and this play.” – TT

I Hate Hamlet runs through July 19, Thursday 8:00pm / Friday 8pm / Saturday 4pm & 8pm / Sunday 2pm. Purchase tickets here

Photo credits: DAREN SCOTT

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