Friday, November 18, 2005

_Absurd_ director speaks

Bobo couldn't resist one last tidbit before departing ...

Chad Henry, who's directing Absurd Person Singular at ARt, is used to weathering temperamental actors. The New York production of his show, _Angry Housewives_, "was like getting thrown to the sharks," he says. "They don't follow the group-hug approach to acting. In that show, one of the housewives punched out another one. And one of the leads accused the others of trying to poison her -- seriously. Two of them had nervous breakdowns and had to leave the show."

No reports of anything like that from the current rehearsals at ARt, held every day ASAP at the UU church near SFCC.

APS takes place in three kitchens on three successive Christmas Eves. In Act One, we’re in the home of Sidney and Jane Hopcroft (Reed McColm and Kathie Doyle-Lipe). She escapes his criticisms by being a compulsive cleaner. Poor depresssed Eva Jackson (Page Byers) spends most of Act Two trying to kill herself -- it's a comedic scream -- while hubbie Geoffrey (John Oswald) fends off their (unseen) monster dog and all the clutter they've created. By Act Three, the Brewster-Wrights, Ronald and Marion (Michael Weaver and Therese Diekhans) are the formerly upper-crust couple who have fallen low. (He escapes into trivia; she, into a bottle.) And the social-climber Hopcrofts seem more or less triumphant by the end -- at least as much as anyone triumphs in Alan Ayckbourn's world of Schadenfreude comedy.

Is this a play that’s funny because each of the six characters is cocooned in his or her own world -- so we laugh because we recognize our own myopia? Or is APS funny because it’s about sad, dysfunctional people -- making our laughter the nervous laughter of people who see the theater reflecting our own quiet lives of desperation?

"Oh, I’d say it’s a hilarious play, just for entertainment," says Henry. "Oddly enough, it looks at the dark underbelly of the holidays. It’s a fun show at the holidays” -- when so many of us are miserable -- “to see other people having an even worse time. In some ways, it’s a relief to see people struggling through their lives at the holidays. The combination of laughter and things that are more difficult make for a wonderful experience."

But Henry also thinks "people are taken by surprise by some of the darkness in the play. It's structured in such a way that we see each of the three couples as different signs of the biorhythms: The Hopcrofts are on an upward climb all the way, but by the end, they're at the top, staring down. Geoffrey and Eva, while headed low in Act Two, provide some hope at the end."

Henry says the most difficult part of the farce to direct is "probably Act Two -- it's got the most going on. You always have at least two if not more primary activities going on. And when the whole ensemble is out there, I'm just directing traffic."

Oswald describes Henry as "very much an actor's director," and that may well derive from Henry's years of experience onstage at Denver Theater Center. Intriguingly, when asked about his prime acting memories, he doesn't go back to his starring roles at Denver, but to a couple of shows in which he played small parts -- but in which the cast got along famously.

He's still ruminating about the actor's craft. When he was an actor at Denver, says Henry, “Someone came up to me after show once and asked, ‘How do you think up all those facial expressions?’ And of course I don’t think them up. I said, ‘I guess my face just does that.’ I think people who aren’t around actors that much must think we all sit around in front of a mirror, making faces at ourselves. And it’s not like that at all.”

What did he think of Spokane audiences and their reception of his production of last season’s _Dirty Blonde_? “I was impressed,” Henry says. “It’s fairly edgy for almost any community. They just went with it and embraced it.”

Harboring similar hopes for APS, ARt hopes you'll show up PDQ at SFCC.


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