Tag Archives: Ruff Yeager
To say that Ruff Yeager is a Tennessee Williams “enthusiast” might be an understatement. As someone who has spent most of his life studying the work of this particular playwright, “authoritative scholar” might be a more appropriate descriptor for the director of Monday evening’s staged reading of Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.
“Milk Train is a very rarely seen play from a very important American playwright,” says Ruff of Tennessee Williams, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. “From 1945-1963, Williams had a play on Broadway almost every season – sometimes two. No other American playwright has ever been so produced.”
While Milk Train may be one of his more underperformed plays, the brilliance of Tennessee Williams’ stunning dialogue and hard-hitting thematic resonance is consistent with the plays that more quickly come to mind, such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire.
“At this point in his career [in 1963], Williams had begun to experiment with form in small ways, which was a bit ahead of his time,” says Ruff. “The American theater was still in the conservative, nuclear family, atomic age. It wouldn’t be until the late 60s when the theatre would catch up to the social revolutions that were occurring in the country and the artistic revolutions that had already occurred in Europe.”
Based on a short story that Williams wrote earlier, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore introduces Flora Goforth, a former Ziegfeld Follies girl who has retired to a private Italian island for the remainder of her days, which are waning in number. She is kept company by the Witch of Capri, a gossipy busybody, and her assistant, Blackie. The story takes a turn when Christopher Flanders, also known as the “Angel of Death,” arrives to befriend Flora. Chris is known for his relationships with older women…and for his tendency to be mentioned in their wills after they have died.
Dagmar Fields, recently seen on the Intrepid stage in I Hate Hamlet, will be portraying the juicy, layered role of Flora Goforth and Spencer Smith will take on the role of the mischievous Christopher Flanders. In “true Tennessee Williams motif,” according to Ruff, Ralph Johnson will be portraying the Witch of Capri, a role originally written for a woman, but which has been played throughout history by such famous names as Noël Coward.
Rounding out the cast are Faeren Adams as Blackie and Fred Harlow and Celeste Innocenti as the Ensemble Members.
“He casts two actors as what he calls ‘stage assistants,’” Ruff says, “They come out in a kabuki fashion and announce scenes, scene changes, comment ironically on the action. They guide us through the action unseen by the other characters. We weren’t seeing that kind of thing done here in the States. Williams knew the theatre landscape was changing.”
Aside from being ahead of its time in form, Milk Train also offers audiences a unique glimpse into Williams’ development as a writer. Whereas his previous catalogue dealt with themes of life, love and death in a very metaphorical manner, Milk Train addresses the same ideas with astonishing honesty and realism, especially as the play was written in the aftermath of the death of Frank Merlo, Williams’ longtime partner.
“This play lets us see his characters grow,” says Ruff. “Flora is much more honest and self-knowing than Blanche from Streetcar. She knows what life is about. She’s not self-deluded. As Williams grew older, his female characters really shifted.”
The language of this play reflects that honesty. Not only does it contain Williams’ beautiful poetic qualities, but it is also quite humorous in its realism.
“Williams is looking very hard into the eyes of death and dealing with it very honestly. It’s gallows humor, but there is also the idea of the ‘liberating laugh’ of absurdism – the laughter that allows us to be free for a moment. I think this play provides that moment.” — T.T.
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams, a staged reading. Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, August 25. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. $15. Rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase a reading series subscription.
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.
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.”
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.
“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
If you ask the cast of Charles Busch’s The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which will open Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series at the Encinitas Library this evening, how rehearsals have been going, you will find that they’ve all had a similar experience.
“I’m just trying to get through the scenes without laughing,” says Linda Libby, who will be playing Marjorie Taub, the title character of the play. “It’s very unprofessional.”
Linda joins a stellar cast this evening in this story about an Upper West Side socialite who craves the richness of a life filled with culture and substance, yet finds herself paralyzed by her own neurosis. Trina Kaplan portrays Marjorie’s mother, Frieda, and Gabriel Mario Cornejo, will break from his stage direction duties to step in as Mohammed, the doorman. Jill Drexler will play Lee Green, a childhood friend who arrives on Marjorie’s doorstep. Ruff Yeager rounds out the cast as Dr. Ira Taub, Marjorie’s allergist husband.
While most of these actors are veterans of Intrepid’s Reading Series, this marks Jill and Gabriel’s debut.
“We’ve all been wanting to work together for a long time,” says Jill with a smile.
Ruff Yeager, who also sits on Intrepid’s Staged Reading Committee and will direct tonight’s reading, says that picking this play to open this year’s series was not a difficult choice.
“It’s a funny play with a lot of surprises,” he says. “I think audiences will be comforted by the familiarity of the family dynamics. The fun of this script is watching this family, who thinks they are very balanced, become completely unbalanced.”
“We get to watch characters go places that most people would never go, even though they might entertain the idea,” says Linda. “Then we get to watch them work out how life continues after that. There’s a passionate neurosis about each of these characters.”
Passion is the name of the game in this “tale,” and even though the issues at hand may seem trifling to an outside audience, the ferocity with which these characters pursue their needs inspires both awe as well as humor.
This can be both great fun and a great challenge for an actor, however.
“The lines are familiar, ones you would hear in your own home,” says Trina. “But one thing you don’t want to do is play the comedy.”
“Charles Busch is a master,” says Ruff. “You have to play the reality of the situation and the high stakes that are written in. The comedy takes care of itself.”
With a note of warning, the cast also clarifies that the humor can lean towards mature audiences. Trina is frank about how many “F-bombs” she uses during the course of the play.
“That’s Yiddish, right?” Gabriel jokes.
“Also,” chimes in Ruff, “clothing will be removed. We can’t tell you what clothing, though.”
With all of these laughs, it’s hard to imagine this cast having more fun performing this reading than they are having in rehearsals. But if there’s one thing aside from the humor that we can expect from this play, they say, it’s the surprises.
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch, a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, January 27. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to email@example.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.
Fran Gercke, Brian Mackey, Shana Wride, and Ruff Yeager sit at a table. No, they are not planning world domination via the theatre, although given the breadth and depth of their collective experience, that task would not be too far out of their reach.
Instead, they are thoughtfully pondering a lengthy list of plays, both classical and contemporary, written by a wide range of playwrights. They have been tasked with one simple challenge.
When Intrepid first opened its doors in 2009, along with the mainstage productions came the idea of staged readings – opportunities to hear plays in an intimate setting, presented by accomplished actors, lead by passionate directors, and accented with flavorful wine and tasty hors d’oeuvres.
The success of these sporadic readings was so much that, this time last year, the City of Encinitas offered Intrepid a standing spot in the ocean-view community reading room at the Encinitas Library in which to present an yearlong season of staged readings.
“Intrepid is helping us realize this longstanding preference of the residents to experience live theatre,” said City of Encinitas Arts Administrator Jim Gilliam of the city’s first and only professional theatre company.
Now, one year later, as 2013 and the inaugural season of the Staged Reading Series winds to a close, Intrepid and the City can see a plethora of accomplishments in the creative wake of this communal endeavor.
Among the playwrights featured this year were the likes of Moisés Kaufman, Jane Anderson, John Patrick Shanley, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, and, of course, William Shakespeare. The monthly readings on the whole hired more than 80 talented local actors, as well as eight directors culled from the most influential players across San Diego’s ever-expanding theatre scene.
For many, participation in a staged reading marked a debut with the company. Other faces were more recognizable to the subscribers who regularly attended the readings as well as the mainstage productions. Audiences embraced the readings, returned month after month, and were rarely hesitant to offer standing ovations at the conclusion of any given evening.
With this success of the series, the City was eager to renew the staged reading series contract with Intrepid for 2014. However, Artistic Directors Sean and Christy Yael-Cox knew that if Intrepid was to commit to another year, they had to harness and build upon the sense of community involvement the readings had inspired.
That’s when the idea of a Staged Reading Committee came into being. Instead of Sean and Christy deciding the playlist for a year, the reading series would be handled by a team of respected actors and directors who, from the benefit of their varied perspectives, would create, direct, and cast the 2014 season of staged readings for Intrepid.
Cut to the lengthy list of plays. While these four San Diego theatre notables may be scratching their heads about the 2014 compilation, one thing is certain. They are all excited to be at the table.
“I love the idea of committee-based theatre,” says Shana Wride, who directed the reading of Yasmina Reza’s “Life(x)3” this year. “To be part of a group of like-minded talented people and be allowed such a wonderful creative outlet is a real treat.”
In addition to choosing plays that are favorites, the team has endeavored to pick selections that are new to them and, hopefully, to audiences. This is one of the advantages of working as an ensemble and acquainting fellow committee-members with unfamiliar plays.
Fran Gercke, most recently seen as John in Intrepid’s mainstage production of “Oleanna,” says this is one of the best parts of the process.
“I am excited about the ability to read new work and hopefully introduce the audience to a whole host of characters and a whole world they’ve not known before, about which they’ve no ideas, no preconceptions,” says Fran, who directed the reading of Sam Shepard’s “Geography of a Horse-Dreamer” this past year. “It’s always fun when there’s a thriller aspect, a who-done-it quality to every story so that you’re always wondering where is this going and how is this going to end. New stories provide that.”
While a staged reading is rehearsed, it is comparatively easier to present than a mainstage show. Therefore, the opportunity to perform big budget plays in this simplified environment – leaving much to the imagination – is also appealing.
“It is amazing to me how just listening to a play can, and has, elicited such strong, positive responses from audience members,” says Brian Mackey, who directs the yearly reading of “A Christmas Carol,” the reading series season finale.
Fran agrees. “I get caught up in staged readings because they invite me, almost magically and with little effort, to imagine much of what is happening,” he says. “That’s not so common anymore.”
From collaboration to imagination, the staged reading series is ultimately an opportunity to do the thing that everyone loves to do.
Ruff Yeager, who portrayed John Barrymore in this year’s reading of Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet,” says it simply. “I am looking forward to working with incredible actors on a play I really love.”
Add in a little wine and cheese, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a successful 2014 Staged Reading Series.
– Tiffany Tang
Intrepid’s 2014 Staged Reading Series
presented at the Encinitas Library
The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife by Charles Busch
Abundance by Beth Henley
In a Forest, Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute
Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose
A Number by Caryl Churchill
Private Lives by Noel Coward
Defiance by John Patrick Shanley
The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore by Tennessee Williams
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Becket
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
Seminar by Theresa Rebeck
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“At their best, dreamers, and at their worst…dreamers.”
Jason Rennie describes his take on “theatre people” when asked about directing the upcoming staged reading of I Hate Hamlet for Intrepid on Monday evening. According to the playwright, Paul Rudnick, the play is “overrun with theatrical types,” and makes a humorous effort to capture the New York stage scene in all of its gusto and glory.
First performed in 1991, I Hate Hamlet is based on Rudnick’s actual experience renting a New York City apartment that once belonged to legendary actor John Barrymore. After imagining the stories within the walls of the fourth floor Washington Square brownstone, Rudnick decided to bring them to life in a play. Hilarity ensued.
“Some of the experiences in the play are kind of nod to people in his life at the time he was there,” Jason explains, mentioning characters such as Felicia the real estate agent (played by Brooke McCormick) and the Lillian, the theatrical agent (played by Rhona Gold) who is based on a woman who historically romanced Barrymore’s son-in-law within the walls of the apartment in question.
In the story, the main character is an actor who has been offered an opportunity to play Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park. Needless to say, this part requires a little more chops than his regular television gigs, and the appropriate level of panic ensues.
Enter the ghost of John Barrymore.
Ruff Yeager will be portraying Barrymore in Monday’s reading and promises to be less of a handful than the actor who originated the role on Broadway, British thespian Nicol Williamson. In a detailed account for The New Yorker in 2007, Rudnick spelled out the worst-case-scenarios which came to life during the opening of what would be his first play on Broadway, including Williamson’s drunkenness, lewdness, and missed performances. The last straw had occurred when he purposefully struck a fellow actor with a sword during a stage combat scene. That actor promptly left the stage and never returned to the show.
Even though the show’s original opening was somewhat plagued, Jason maintains that it is one of his favorite plays of all time, and that he has been begging Intrepid artistic directors Sean and Christy to consider it for a while. With Hamlet opening February 2 on Intrepid’s mainstage, this first staged reading of the year at the Encinitas Library seemed to be the perfect opportunity to showcase the links between contemporary humor and Shakespeare.
Not up on your Shakespeare? Never fear. You’ll still laugh.
“It’s not so much an insider’s play,” says Jason, “but there are a few inside jokes. It’s a nice tongue and cheek homage to theatre. It allows us to poke fun of ourselves and laugh.”
You might even recognize a line or two, says Jason. “It doesn’t preach on Shakespeare, but the Shakespearean lines that are present do have a wonderful resonance. It reminds us that these speeches in these plays do still have value and meaning.”
Is there any truth to the thought of Hamlet as one of the most daunting plays in the canon? “There is such a heavy connotation with that play,” says Jason. “It carries a great deal of baggage. But at its core, it is still a quintessential revenge tragedy that centers around one young man and the conflict within himself.”
Ultimately, the pursuit of the stage translates now just as much as it did when Hamlet was first performed hundreds of years ago, which is what continues to make theatre and storytelling relevant and universal.
“With theatre, you have to look beyond the reality,” says Jason. “It’s odd because we are preying upon people’s imaginations as much as possible when creating productions.”
He pauses, and then adds, “Yet it is so absolutely necessary for us as human beings to be a part of that.” – T.T.
I Hate Hamlet (a staged reading). Monday, January 28, 6:30 pm wine reception, 7:00 pm performance. Directed by Jason D. Rennie and featuring Ruff Yeager, Jo Anne Glover, Steven Lone, Rhona Gold, and Brooke McCormick. Encinitas Library, Community Room 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas 92024. $15. You must RSVP in advance in order to attend. You may purchase your ticket in advance here or rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash or check at the door. Subscribe to a “Flex-Pass” Subscription Package and save $5. Packages come in 3-Play, 6-Play, 9-Play, or 12-Play passes. If you have any questions, please call the Intrepid Office at (760) 295-7541.