Tag Archives: Dale Morris

Behind the Curtain: A Conversation About “A Life in the Theatre”

Jason Heil will direct Monday night’s staged reading of “A Life in the Theatre” by David Mamet.

When “A Life in the Theatre” by David Mamet debuted on Broadway in 1977, it opened hot on the heels of the playwright’s first White Way explosion, “American Buffalo.” Needless to say, the heartfelt strains of this new offering were somewhat off-putting for those expecting what the New York Times had called Mamet’s “bad boy bluster.”

Yet, Jason Heil, director of Monday’s night’s staged reading of this Mamet two-hander at the Encinitas Library, feels that this play fits nicely into Mamet’s canon, despite its more vulnerable moments.

“It may not fit into the Mamet mold,” he says, “but his writing style is very much there in this piece.”

That iconic writing style – also seen in “Oleanna,” Intrepid’s Season Four opener earlier this year – is what draws this Shakespeare-focused theatre company to certain contemporary playwrights. Mamet, who so clearly stamped his name on the voice of modern American theatre over three decades ago, lends his signature style and phrasing, this time in a very poignant fashion.

Chronicling the life of two actors – one a veteran and one a promising rookie – “A Life in the Theatre” is a series of vignettes that take place off stage, backstage, and even onstage, giving the audience a sincere portrait of friendship, professional camaraderie, and even a little competitive spirit.

Dale Morris will play veteran actor Robert in Monday night’s reading.

“They are always trying to pin down where they stand with each other,” explains Jason, who directed last season’s main stage production of “Turn of the Screw” for Intrepid. “As the play evolves, and the younger actor gains more status and more confidence, we see how his growth affects their relationship.”

Bantering off of each other on Monday will be Sean Yael-Cox, Intrepid’s Co-Founder and Artistic Director, as the young upstart John, and San Diego notable Dale Morris as Robert, the heavy with a wealth of experience. In a unique segment of San Diego theatre history, Sean and Dale appeared together in a production of “The Elephant Man” when Sean first moved to town in 1998 and have been looking for a project to work on together ever since.

“When we were planning this yearlong series, this play was one of the few comedies we had on the list,” says Sean, referring to Intrepid’s monthly Staged Reading Series at the Encinitas Library that has played to sold out audiences and standing ovations, and has featured contemporary and classical, as well as Shakespearean pieces. This month will mark the ninth installment in what has become known as a concentrated showcase for notable San Diego talent.

“We are lucky to have hosted the highest caliber directors and actors from the start,” says Sean. “”The reading series has been a major undertaking. We’ve set the bar high and we are eager to maintain that level of performance quality for our audiences.”

To that end, every once in a while – however reluctantly – the schedule must be changed to accommodate this uncompromising outlook. For instance, “Julius Caesar” was originally slated for the September reading, but with a cast of more than a dozen actors and a director visiting from Los Angeles, a November timeline ultimately proved to be a solution for scheduling conflicts.

“For us, it was important to get the right group of people, especially for Shakespeare. We didn’t want to compromise on that,” says Sean. “We try to remember that theatre is growing and changing and that it’s a living thing, which means it can be a little unpredictable at times.”

Fortunately, that also means that the Mamet treat originally scheduled for the end of the year will be enjoyed a bit early, and that September’s audience gets to witness the dynamic connection between these two actors who have themselves been longtime friends.

“Both of these actors bring a lot of depth and groundedness to what they do,” says Jason, commenting on the impressive body of combined work. “I’m looking forward to digging in and mulching around with them a bit.”

One of the most interesting dynamics of the play, says Jason, is the fluidity of their relationship. “I like watching the two colleagues attempt to stay professional, to forge a friendship, to figure out the friendship that forges just by working with someone.” Again, it is Mamet’s words that endow that fluidity with a sense of realism.

Sean Yael-Cox will portray young John
(pictured above in last season’s Hamlet, photo Daren Scott).

“He creates this flow with the words that goes back and forth between the actors,” explains Jason. “He messes up clean dialogue and the result mirrors the way we speak. In reality, our thoughts take us somewhere and we overlap and interrupt and we don’t censor ourselves.”

Jason also points out that many modern playwrights now echo Mamet’s realistic style, which at the time of his debut, was a stark departure from the rigidity of his predecessors’ clean lines.

“When you look at the ‘classics,’ even with a modern play, these are texts that are still going to be standing years later,” points out Jason. “A ‘classic’ is a well-built script, where there’s a lot of answers buried within, and not laid out on a platter. It’s the playwright who knows how to write a play through the words and underneath the words at the same time.”

Recently a Broadway revival starring Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight, “A Life in the Theatre” has been described as Mamet’s “valentine” to his business. Does that mean that non-theatrical types will still find the play as captivating as those who have taken a turn onstage themselves?

Jason is reassuring. “There are moments in the piece when it is really two people opening up about each other or their feelings for theatre and what theatre means,” he says. “But it’s more that we are saying come and take a peak behind the curtain, and we will show you what’s going on back here.”

–  Tiffany Tang

A Life in the Theatre by David Mamet, a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, September 23. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15. Julius Caesar will play in November.

“The Price” Comes With Change

Wendy Waddell as Rosencrantz
in Intrepid Shakespeare’s Hamlet
(Photo: Daren Scott)

Wendy Waddell admits that she was rather unfamiliar with The Price by Arthur Miller when she was invited by Intrepid to direct the next reading in their year-long Staged Reading Series at Encinitas Library. Thankfully, she was not that intimidated by the assignment

“I think I said something like, ‘This is Arthur Miller!  You’re giving me Arthur Miller to start with?!’” Wendy laughs as she recounts the request for her directorial debut with Intrepid, which will happen this Monday evening.

Intrepid’s confidence in Wendy’s skills is not misplaced.  No matter how short and sweet staged reading rehearsals may be, Wendy is excited about bringing life to Miller’s work, especially since the play itself is somewhat obscure compared with his other offerings.

“It’s typical ‘Miller’ in that it’s a character study,” says Wendy. “In this case, it’s about two brothers who haven’t spoken in years. They come together because their childhood home is being torn down.” In light of that impending event, the brothers must deal with numerous items in the attic that are left over from earlier parts of their lives, and whether or not they will sell them, and for what price. Wendy notes that, in many ways, The Price parallels where we are now economically, with residual hardships from recent events.

“But of course, it’s Miller, so it’s not really about the price of the items,” elaborates Wendy. “It’s about the price of family, of honesty, of pride. What is the cost of not maintaining a relationship?”

This particular playwright turns up more than once in Intrepid’s Staged Reading Series queue, and it is interesting to note that while it is a more contemporary perspective than the traditional Shakespearean fare, Miller’s stories focus as much on language to tell the stories as the Bard.

“Miller is extremely rhythmic,” says Wendy. “There is a lyrical quality to his words and he’s not afraid of using language to make you dig for what is really going on in the scene. He makes you, as the audience, do a little work.”

But the actors aren’t off the hook. “It’s a wonderful challenge for the actors to start peeling away the layers of the onion,” she continues. “You, as the actor, get to create beautiful stuff through his words.”

The actors in question here are a talented group, including Jacob Bruce, Jack Missett, Dale Morris, and Julie Sachs. Wendy admits that casting was a challenge because the play calls for mature actors – all over 50, with one character described as 89.

“I’ve come up with a really good cast, so I’m really excited about that,” she says. “They are sickly talented and will bring their ‘A’ game.”

If there is any thought of a staged reading as being an easy way into directing for this company, Wendy is not entertaining it.

“This is not a well-known play like The Crucible, so there may be less expectations,” she says. “That might give me a little more leeway to interpret the script and clarify my vision for the rhythm, look, and feel of the play.”  She also notes that while she admittedly feels “terrified and excited,” the chance to collaborate with Intrepid and with the actors makes everything worth it.

“I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of directors who challenge me,” says Wendy, who was seen last month as Rosencrantz in Intrepid’s Hamlet. “The more I work with them, the more I want to do that for other actors.” She pauses and then adds, “Besides, terror is exciting to me. That’s what makes me grow.” — T.T.

The Price, a staged reading, will be performed at The Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024 on Monday evening, March 25, 6:30 pm complimentary wine reception, 7:00 pm staged reading. Please RSVP to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com or click here to purchase tickets in advance.