Tag Archives: Season Five

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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The Dramatic History of the Comedy “I Hate Hamlet”

i hate hamlet sliderBWalk down any crooked street in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and you will stumble upon a variety of historical placards mounted to random townhouses celebrating their past creative inhabitants: “Edgar Allen Poe wrote ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ here” (85 W 3rd Street) or “Thomas Paine died here’” (59 Grove Street). This particular neighborhood brims with artistic ghosts, and that is exactly what inspired Paul Rudnick to write his comedic play, “I Hate Hamlet.”

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John Barrymore’s residence, NYC

Rudnick’s muse is legendary actor John Barrymore, who occupied the penthouse of 132 West 4th Street in 1917. The playwright leased the space 70 years later, admittedly becoming more and more fascinated by Barrymore’s history with the apartment. As he wrote in The New Yorker in 2007, “The more I absorbed, and the more months I spent under Barrymore’s bastard Jacobean roof, the more I felt moved to write something set at the address. Someone or something had led me to these quarters and would not be denied.” Enter the characters of television actor Andrew Rally and the ghost of John Barrymore.

While it is significantly Shakespearean to introduce a ghost-haunting to a story – especially one revolving around playing the role of Hamlet – the spirit of John Barrymore is not one to utter a vague command and then disappear, trusting that his charge will be carried out. No. John Barrymore will always plot to steal the spotlight, even from the afterlife. And while he does not task Andrew Rally with avenging his death, per se, he does prompt the character to carry on his legacy by playing Hamlet. Or rather, by playing Hamlet well.

John Barrymore, the play's inspiration Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

John Barrymore,
the play’s inspiration
Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

“Andrew, who is Hamlet? A star,” says John Barrymore in the play. “The role is a challenge, but far more—an opportunity. To shine. To rule. To seduce. To wit— what makes a star?”

The banter between modern day actor and acting legend ghost is endless, and one can imagine Paul Rudnick carrying out similar conversations while wandering through Barrymore’s New York apartment. For Intrepid’s part, Fran Gercke will be giving voice to Andrew Rally, while Ruff Yeager will step into the role of John Barrymore. The two will be joined by the powerhouse talents of Dagmar Fields, Brooke McCormick Paul, Gerilyn Brault and Tom Stephenson.

While Ruff Yeager adds a very specific dramatic flair to the role of Barrymore, the part of the legendary actor has historically been difficult to cast. As Rudnick explained it when discussing his own Broadway opening of the show, “The audience needed to believe that whoever played Barrymore, from the instant he stepped onstage, was an Olympian Hamlet, a devastating seducer, and everyone’s favorite scoundrel.” Unfortunately for Rudnick’s production, this meant employing a notoriously ill-behaved British actor named Nicol Williamson. Despite Williamson’s dramatic similarities to the theatrical icon he would be playing, the actor’s catastrophic temperament eventually upstaged his own acting credentials. The play closed after a one-month run in a cloud of scandal.

The New Yorker captures the rocky Broadway debut of "I Hate Hamlet"

The New Yorker captures the rocky Broadway debut of “I Hate Hamlet”

“I had never spent time around a world-class, drain-the-keg loon before,” writes Rudnick, after detailing an account of Williamson physically striking the actor playing Andrew with a sword during a sequence of onstage dueling. That actor not only immediately left the stage, but also the entire production. It was the last in a series of already unbelievable events, that included, among other things, midnight phone calls demanding script revisions and entirely missed performances.

While Intrepid anticipates that its summer season opener will no doubt be riddled with noteworthy behind-the-scenes stories, it is safe to say that the drama on the stage will be enough entertainment for any audience. – Tiffany Tang

“I Hate Hamlet” previews June 27 and runs through July 19.
Tickets on sale now.

All My Sons Is All Too Close

Brian Mackey (L); Tom Stephenson (R)

Brian Mackey (L); Tom Stephenson (R)

For a company whose primary goal is to invigorate the work of Shakespeare, it might seem a curious choice to open the fifth season with a quintessentially American play.

All My Sons still resonates,” says director Christy Yael-Cox, who chose this play partly because of her love of Arthur Miller and partly because the themes of wartime struggle, family loyalty and ethical dilemmas are still important issues in our modern day society.

“This play is just as relevant now as it was in 1947,” says Brian Mackey, who is portraying Chris Keller, the only son from his family to have returned from the war when the play begins. “The issues that it raises of family and sacrifice and idealism, it’s the same thing that we are dealing with right now.”

The crux of the play is this. Everyone is trying to create and maintain lives of stability and happiness and success. How each character goes about achieving these things is where Miller focuses the microscope. The lines between right and wrong, good and bad, and family and foe become blurred very quickly.

Savvy Scopelleti (L); Jacque Wilke (R)

Savvy Scopelleti (L); Jacque Wilke (R)

“It’s a plate spinner,” says Tom Stephenson, who is portraying Joe Keller, whose actions in both the past and the present largely determine the direction of the story. “It’s a time when the American Dream is coming to fruition and it’s a very attractive thing and family is really important. Joe Keller sacrifices virtually everything for his family – but he sacrifices others, not necessarily himself.”

Aside from the ethical issues raised by the story, there is also the question of how to continue the pursuit of these idyllic dreams once the truth is unveiled. Iis it possible to forgive? To forget? Is it denial that moves us towards our next moments in life, or is it hope?

Savvy Scopelleti plays Kate Keller, the mother whose character embodies this question.

“Kate totally believes that her lost son is going to come home,” she says.  “That causes a lot of undercurrents of tension in the family.”

Tom Stephenson (L); Savvy Scopelleti (R)

Tom Stephenson (L); Savvy Scopelleti (R)

To watch these characters navigate these bumpy roads while maintaining the veneer of suburban charm is to witness a very intricate dance. How much truth is too much? How authentic is the American Dream?  How much of our character does it cost to maintain it and is it even worth it to do so?

“This play is a gigantic mirror that was sent here from 1947,” says Brian Rickel, who plays Frank Lubey, an optimistic, bowtie-sporting neighbor in this suburban town. “There’s a lot in this play that is incredibly relevant today and I think Arthur Miller is really important in the way that he wrote because of that.”

“Arthur Miller wrote for a time beyond himself,” says Tom. “And that’s why this play is the incredible thing that it is.”

All My Sons plays through April 19 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here

All My Sons Page

“All My Sons”: Designing Realism

All My Sons websiteAt an early production meeting for “All My Sons,” Intrepid’s Season Five opener, lighting designer Curtis Mueller studied a picture of the set design.

“Can we put a curtain in that window?” he asked, pointing to the second story of the onstage house façade. “It will help with the mood we’re trying to create.”

If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a designer on a production of an Arthur Miller play, the answer lies somewhere between realistic authenticity and sneaky, subliminal messaging.

“We’re in the subconscious of the audience,” says Curtis, referring to all of the production design elements that go into making a play come to life onstage. “But hopefully, they won’t know it.

The audience, says Curtis, is not supposed to notice something in particular, like his lighting design. Hopefully, he says, it just blends in with all of the other elements to help tell the story.

Costumer Kristin McReddie sketches out 1940s fashion

Costumer Kristin McReddie sketches out 1940s fashion

For the last two months, while actors have been rehearsing lines and blocking, the designers have been busy creating the world the characters will inhabit for the run of the show. Costumer Kristin McReddie has been scouring vintage clothing stores, Etsy.com and costume rental shops all over town. Prop designer Bonnie Durben has been researching the look and design of 1940s household items. Curtis has been paying a lot of attention to the play of the light throughout the course of one day.

“The play is going to be a slice of life post WWII,” says Kristin. “Hopefully, the audience will take away [from the show] what it looked like and felt like to be alive in that era.”

Set in 1947, “All My Sons” explores the dynamic of the Keller family and their neighbors as they navigate a post-war life and all of the hope and loss entailed in that particular time period. It is one of Miller’s most emotionally gripping plays.

But in order for that emotionally-charged story to unfold, it is necessary to ground the setting in a very realistic place. This means careful attention to detail on the part of the designers who are creating this onstage world.

Properties Designer Bonnie Durben focuses on accurate details

Properties Designer Bonnie Durben focuses on accurate details

“This time period is right at a cusp,” explains Bonnie. “There are still people that are old enough that remember the time period, so you have to be very careful about the type of props that you get – that the glass pitcher looks like the glass pitcher their mother had.”

Bonnie’s script is full of notes on these details, the specificity of each item that the characters handle throughout the story. For instance, when a newspaper appears, it is Bonnie’s job to make sure it is exactly the right one.

“The funny papers were different then,” she explains. “They were all in color and they were all brighter and boxed differently. It’s the little things that, really, you don’t notice, but the people in the audience are going to look at it and say, ‘That’s not right. That’s not how I remember it.’”

The search for period-appropriate costumes is just as specific, says Kristin, who had to research, not only the look of that decade’s fashion, but also how wartime permeated even the closets of these characters.

“In the 1940s, everything was tailored to be more fitted towards the body,” she explains. “They had to use less fabric because all of that wool and cotton was going to the war effort. So it’s going to be interesting to see how the actors are going to adapt their blocking to the costumes and the clothing.”

Lighting Designer Curtis Mueller finds inspiration in depictions of daylight.

Lighting Designer Curtis Mueller finds inspiration in depictions of different types of daylight.

Arthur Miller extends this specificity into the story’s lighting design as well, having confined the play’s action to a 24-hour time period. This means that Curtis has spent a lot of time contemplating his role as the show’s timekeeper.

“The lighting design is going to drive the entire show forward because it takes place in one day,” explains Curtis.  “When you think about it, time doesn’t stop, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the pacing of the show corresponds to where we are in time.”

Despite all of this intricately detailed work, at the end of the day, success for the designers means that their contribution does not stand out on its own, but rather gracefully augments the storytelling of the play.

“I think what makes a successful show in general is something that people can always relate to,” says Curtis. “I think this show does a great job of doing that along with providing an emotional story. I hope the audience leaves feeling everything that we put out there for them.”

–Tiffany Tang

All My Sons plays March 27-April 20 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here

The Life of ‘All My Sons’

All My Sons BWThe theater is quiet as Savvy Scopelleti says the last line of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. And then, for a few moments, no one moves. Finally, scripts are closed, chairs are adjusted, and deep breaths are taken.

It is the first read-through rehearsal for the cast of Intrepid’s Season Five opener, and even though it is also the first time this group of actors has come together, already there is an undeniable feeling of camaraderie here.

Already, it feels like family.

Christy Yael-Cox concludes the read-through with a few parting thoughts – about Miller, about wartime, about freedom from the past. The actors adjourn, minds and hearts full of Miller’s poignant dialogue.

“This play is so important and still so relevant today,” says Christy, “which is both sad and fascinating.”

imgur.com

imgur.com

Written on the heels of World War Two, All My Sons opened on Broadway in 1947 and put Arthur Miller on the map as a legitimate voice in American theatre. Inspired by a story he heard about a young woman from the Midwest who turned in her father for manufacturing and selling defective aircraft parts to the U.S. Army, All My Sons carefully navigates the aftermath of wartime through a handful of small town neighbors discovering that soldiers are not the only ones who bear battle scars.

“We tend to romanticize the past,” says Christy of this particular post-war era. “This play tells a different story, and Miller’s ability to craft the language to tell this story is just stunning.”

Arthur Miller’s personal experiences are also palpable in the telling of this story. Even though he never served in the war (he was rejected from the Army for a medical condition), Miller wrote amply in his memoir, Timebends, of his own disconnectedness to his society while battles were raging overseas.

Arthur Miller by Arnold Newman, NY, 1947

Arthur Miller by Arnold Newman, NY, 1947

“I was walking through the city in wartime feeling the inevitable unease of the survivor,” he writes. “The city I knew was incoherent, yet its throttled speech seemed to implore some significance for the sacrifices that drenched the papers every day.”

Eventually, this disconnect would manifest itself into the creation of a play. He describes himself during that time as “a stretched string waiting to be plucked, waiting, as it turned out, for All My Sons.”

The reception for the Broadway opening of the play was charged. While it received a New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1947, citing its “frank and uncompromising presentation of a timely and important theme” and Miller’s “genuine instinct for the theater,” it was also banned by the Civil Affairs Division of the American Military Government from being presented overseas. Word was that Miller was accused of trying to attack American capitalism, which was a message that could not be exported in this particular era of anti-Communist intensity.

However, Miller’s extraordinary use of language and the honest portrayal of the world he creates in All My Sons has enabled the play to survive through and past the history into which it was born. Christy sees this universalism as a touchstone for Intrepid Shakespeare Company.

“The characters are relatable and realistic because they are so deeply and humanly flawed,” she says. ”In this way, the writing reminds me of Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s themes and the humanity behind his plays are still so resonant for us. This play is the same.”

“Also, it’s funny,” she adds. “There’s a lot of humor. It’s a very human thing, that even in crisis, we can find things to laugh about. Shakespeare understood that. And so did Miller.”

– Tiffany Tang

All My Sons plays March 27-April 20 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theater on the campus of San Dieguito Academy. 800 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
Tickets can be purchased here

All My Sons Page