Our Talented Aquatic Cast Member(s)

As we prepare to say farewell to The Clean House this weekend, we think it only fitting to hear from the smallest members of the cast whom we have lovingly named Pink and Floyd. The script necessitates having a “fighting fish” onstage and with the length of the run, it was determined that there should be two fish that would “tag-team” and role share performances. Rigorous auditions were held and the two aquatic thespians chosen have been top-notch all summer. And so, without further ado, a word from Pink and Floyd. 

A Role-Share Like None Other

PINK—As the cast gets ready to close The Clean House, I was asked to talk a little bit about my time here and the process.

Last spring I had no idea what my summer and fall would look like. I assumed that I would be sitting in a shallow bowl of water for a few more weeks until some kid, freshly bored from being out of school, demanded a fish to keep them company. At that point anything goes; maybe I’d live to a ripe old age of 3, maybe things would turn south very quickly. Kids are fickle that way.

FLOYD—When I saw the audition posting saying the Commonweal was looking for ‘Talented Aquatic Acrobats & Strong Swimmers,” I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have a cousin who was in a circus once, and my late great-grandfather was part of a magic act, so I’ve got a little bit of that show-business blood coursing through my veins. I did my best to showcase what I could do, swimming to the left, then back to the right, then diving down while twirling slightly. To be perfectly honest I hadn’t warmed up completely and the twirl was a little more strained than I would’ve liked, but in the end, I booked the gig!

Rehearsals were grueling. I wasn’t used to six hours of rehearsal a day. Quite frankly my attention span is probably more suited to 10 to 12 seconds of rehearsal. Luckily the role is a role-share with another fish so we were able to help pick each other’s energy up when one of us would begin to lag a little. This also helped ensure that I was able to attend a friend’s wedding over the summer on the North Shore.

PINK—Preparing for a performance was like nothing I had ever done before. My typical performance routine before coming to the Commonweal consisted of swimming an inch to my left, running into the side of a bowl, and then repeating the process by swimming to the right. Something cool about the Commonweal was from day one of rehearsals I had the fishbowl that you see on stage. That might not seem like a big deal, but trust me, when you do community productions of Finding Nemo on a shoestring budget, you’re not always afforded such luxuries. With all that room to swim, I was able to make some performance discoveries that I think really enhance the storytelling.

FLOYD—Before the show I like to swim a few laps, just to get limbered up. I spend a good deal of time up on the platform closer to the hot stage lights, so, as with all actors, staying hydrated is a huge key to my success. Even though I don’t have any “lines”, per-se, I still do a full vocal warm up, partly out of superstition. But once the show starts I try to stay as “in-the-moment” as possible; mostly because, as a fish, I don’t have much in the way of short term memory—for me, it’s all about listening and responding!

One very exciting thing about this process was the stunt work involved! A lot of shows will set up a tank in a spot on stage and simply leave it there, but for those who have seen the show, I’m sure you noticed the moment in act two where the actress who plays Ana carries me down the stairs and sets me down on the center table. Usually, that kind of action sequence is done with CGI, but Megan, our director, was insistent that the audience see the move take place. Every night I get to feel like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible!

PINK & FLOYD—As we wind down I just want to thank the Commonweal for allowing us this opportunity to shine. Not many places would’ve cast a completely unknown in such a central role, but they saw something in us and we’ll be forever grateful.

Your chance to see the fine work of Pink, Floyd and the other talented cast members is running short. As of this entry, The Clean House has just three performances remaining and must close on
Monday, Oct. 22.
GET TICKETS —> Performance Calendar
Thanks for reading (albeit tongue-in-cheek) and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy. 

A Bloody Good Story

All of us at the Commonweal were thrilled when Ivey Award-winning director Craig Johnson agreed to join us this year to fill the director’s chair for our world-premiere production of Dracula: Prince of Blood by Scott Dixon. Craig’s sense of humor, timing, focused eye for creating beautiful stage pictures and his bold imagination are all ideal for a story such as Dracula. As we approached the opening of the production in early September, Craig shared his personal thoughts about the story, the characters and Scott’s original take on literature’s most seductive vampire. Here are those thoughts. 

An Iconic Horror Story in a Ripe Retelling

by Craig Johnson

Dracula: Prince of Blood director Craig JohnsonBram Stoker’s novel Dracula appeared in 1897, capping a century when prominent authors from Charles Dickens and Mary Shelley to Oscar Wilde and Henry James were turning out first-rate gothic horror novels, spooky ghost stories, and creepy tales of the supernatural. Critics praised Stoker’s imaginative narrative, but the novel’s iconic status came later as stage and screen versions of Dracula continued to thrill audiences decade after decade.

The story of the Transylvanian count may have its origins in the legends surrounding Vlad III Dracula, a Romanian folk hero who, in the 1400s, staved off the invading Ottoman Turks, killing perhaps as many as 100,000 enemies and earning the nickname “Vlad the Impaler.” While Stoker includes some historical references, his tale of the aging vampire needing to escape to England in search of fresh blood is entirely original. In fact, the intense yet courtly charisma of the title character was probably inspired by Bram Stoker’s boss—the great Victorian actor Sir Henry Irving, who employed Stoker as his personal assistant for many years.

That theatrical connection may be what makes Dracula so dramatically compelling on stage, why the story is always ripe for retelling, as we have with this premiere adaptation by Commonweal’s own Scott Dixon. The gripping plot is all here as is the vivid gallery of characters—the doomed Lucy, the wise (and slightly eccentric) Professor van Helsing, the tortured asylum inmate Renfield, and of course the powerful and seductive Count Dracula himself. Scott’s script has highlighted the psychological and thematic points of the story, so you can look for the tussle between science and faith, the restrictive role of women in society, the costs of repressing our sexuality, the guarded fear of the outsider. On the other hand, you can just lean back and thrill to a bloody good story!

And from the playwright:

When I first thought about adapting Dracula, I thought—there are hundreds of Dracula scripts out there, who needs one more? But the idea just wouldn’t let me go. I soon discovered that the enduring power of Bram Stoker’s story is that it’s like a jewel with so many facets, so many different ways of looking at it, and so yes, there is room for one more play about Dracula if you infuse it with some distinctive twists.

And it’s a task Scott is well-suited for. Besides being an accomplished playwright, he is also an author of horror and dark fantasy stories. News about all of his current and upcoming projects can be found online at Darkly Dixon or The Desk of Scott Dixon
Dracula: Prince of Blood plays Thursday & Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through November 11.
GET TICKETS —> Performance Calendar
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy. 

All Things Sarah Ruhl

Following a brief hiatus, The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl returns to the Commonweal stage through October 22. You may not know much about Sarah Ruhl, you may have never even heard the name Sarah Ruhl before…Drama Unfolds to the rescue! In this edition, I have included several links to interviews with Sarah, stories about her and, especially, her thoughts and inspirations on the gorgeous play of hers on our stage for the next four weekends. Read all of them now or save some and keep coming back for further reading. And now, all things Sarah Ruhl.

“Putting Things up Against Freud”

—Your dialogue often reads like poetry, filled with poetic lines breaks and metaphors. How did you develop your unique writing style?
I started out as a poet, became a playwright, and kept going. I think playwriting contains all other genres, including poetry, the essay (or argument), story, song… And it’s one thing that draws me to the form again and again — the way it folds all the other genres in. Click here to read the full interview from Proscenium Theatre Journal.

—Sarah Ruhl on Subtext. Click here to watch the full video.

—Sarah Ruhl: “I think our generation has to look at Sigmund Freud and Freud’s impact, and many of us say, Oh, maybe Freud didn’t have it right. Something that he was right about he got from literature: the Oedipal complex, from the Greeks. So maybe we ought to go back to the Greeks instead of back to Freud on the Greeks.” Click here to read the full BOMB Magazine interview.

—Sarah Ruhl and her plays remind us to be ten once more and play, to wonder if stones have thoughts as in Eurydice, if cell phones are portals to the afterlife as in Dead Man’s Cell Phone, and if jokes in other languages were funny enough to kill you as in The Clean House. To be childish, to be childlike — to be ten! Click here to read the full Breaking Character Magazine article.

—I grew up seeing pictures of my mother all over the house flying, in green tights. She played Peter Pan as a girl in Davenport, Iowa. I was also mesmerized by a photo taken by the local paper of my mother as a teenager standing next to Mary Martin (pictured here). My early love of the theatre was formed in the crucible of my mother’s flight, as it existed in memory. A year after writing For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday for my mother, I sat down with her in Evanston, Ill., where she lives, to ask her a little bit about her long life in Chicago theatre. Click here to continue reading an interview by Sarah Ruhl of her mother Kathleen.

The Clean House is now playing on Monday & Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in rep with Dracula: Prince of Blood. This is a limited run of twelve performances.
GET TICKETS —> Performance Calendar.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at the theatre—Jeremy.