Three Times, Charm Optional: A Conversation with Life(x)3 Director Shana Wride
Shana Wride is thoughtful as she considers her upcoming stint at Intrepid Shakespeare as director of Yasmina Reza’s Life(x)3. An established actor and director, this is the first time she has directed any of Reza’s plays, but she has always found the writing both challenging and haunting.
“Something about her work makes you think about it once it’s done,” says Shana. “It’s not until you walk away that you begin to ask the questions.”
Life(x)3 will be no exception. Stocked with a brilliant cast – Jessica John, Melissa Fernandes, Mark Pinter and Andrew Oswald – the play revolves around two couples and an unexpected dinner party. What makes this particular telling unique is that the story is told three times – each from a different character’s point of view.
“The conceit that we see an evening from three different angles with three different outcomes is intriguing,” says Shana.” I love that she uses this approach to examine how subtle shifts in our perception and response can drastically alter the outcome of our lives. I find that both exciting and absolutely terrifying.”
Yasmina Reza, a two-time Tony Award winning French playwright, unpacks these types of themes throughout her work – the dissolution of relationships, the misunderstandings that reveal deep-rooted psychological tendencies, the truth behind socially-acceptable behavior. Her work has been seen all over the world, translated for the English stage most often by playwright Christopher Hampton. Recently, her play God of Carnage was also adapted for film.
“What motivates me most is writing about people who are well brought up and yet, underneath that veneer, they break down,” Reza told The Observer early last year. “Their nerves break down. It’s when you hold yourself well until you just can’t any more, until your instinct takes over. It’s physiological.”
“It is all about the text but it’s also – which is really exciting to me – about what’s underneath,” says Shana, referring to the play’s revelations. “The tension becomes a character in the play.”
The staged reading format of Monday’s performance lends itself to exposing this tension. With simplified staging, the actors – and the audience – are free to focus more on the subtleties of the text. As is traditional with the staged reading format, there is minimal rehearsal time, putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the actors when it comes to both preparing their parts and also staying in the moment during the reading.
“You’re forced to do everything very quickly and to make those choices quickly,” says Shana of the format. “We are really lucky to have the cast we have. These are four really amazing San Diego actors.”
Thankfully so, as Reza’s work seems like quite a balancing act, requiring not only the creation of this tension, but also an acknowledgment of the play’s humor. Yes, humor. Shana is reassuring that even though the tone can be stark, there are plenty of uplifting moments in the storytelling.
“[Reza] doesn’t worry too much about cheering you up, but at the same time it’s funny – brutally funny,” says Shana. “Her humor comes from how ridiculous life can really be.”
Yasmina Reza’s own analysis of her work absolves her of any responsibility for her characters’ behavior – humorous or not.
“We ask writers to have a vision of the world, to take positions,” she says. “I don’t like to do that because I want to be able to write characters who have different takes on life and for them to be convincing.”
Shana might disagree, describing Reza’s work as “challenging” and Reza as the type of writer who wants an audience look at their own behaviors.
“In Life(x)3, she’s asking: Are we at the mercy of our surroundings or are we contributing to them?” observes Shana. “It’s something we don’t want to look at sometimes because we might be more responsible than we want to admit.”
Ultimately, both playwright and director might agree that this self-analysis accomplishes the goal of the play.
“You leave the experience asking questions about how you live your own life,” says Shana. “I think that’s very powerful.”
– Tiffany Tang
Life(x)3 by Yasmina Reza, a staged reading. Monday, May 20. Encinitas Library. 6:30 pm complimentary wine and appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to firstname.lastname@example.org and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.