ROUNDABOUT BLOG

A Conversation with

 

Margot Bordelon, director of TOO HEAVY FOR YOUR POCKET. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Why did you want to become a theatre director? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you? 

Margot Bordelon: I was born in Everett, Washington, a small city 25 miles north of Seattle. I got my BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, and then (many years later) an MFA in Directing from the Yale School of Drama. I first started directing when I was a junior in college. I was an acting major and auditioned to participate in the Original Works track offered by my program, which meant I took playwriting and directing courses in addition to my core acting classes. I was originally interested in being an actor/playwright, but I discovered directing and loved it. I liked having a hand in every aspect of a production. When you direct, you get to work in multiple mediums at once – acting, dance, music, design. I’ve found this deeply satisfying. My mentor at Cornish was a brilliant director named Sheila Daniels. She first introduced me to Viewpoints and techniques for devising original work. She opened my eyes to the power of expressive rather than literal staging. There are exercises she taught me that I still use in my rehearsal processes. Her impact on my development as an artist is immeasurable.

 

TS: Why did you choose to direct Jiréh Breon Holder's play, Too Heavy for Your Pocket? What do you think this play is about?

 MB: In 2016 Jiréh and I collaborated on his Yale thesis production, Some Bodies Travel, and we had a blast together. When he sent me Too Heavy, I instantly fell in love with it. I find his voice, poetry, politics, and imagination incredibly compelling. He is truly the real deal -- in addition to being a generous collaborator.  For me, Too Heavy is a play about family, community, faith, struggle, and ultimately about personal responsibility. One of the most important questions I think this play asks is: where does our responsibility lie? When injustice thrives all around us, do we invest further in our friends and family? Or do we fight for change on a national scale? Do we have a bigger responsibility to our immediate community, or to society at large? And what does it mean to contribute when you’re without a financial safety net? What is the personal cost of progress?

 

TS: How are you collaborating with your design team -- can you give us a sense of how your production will manifest visually? Do you see the play as written in the style of magic realism? Will there be original music?

MB: One of the first stage directions in the play is “grass everywhere, even indoors.” Our wonderful scenic designer Reid Thompson and I want to explore this idea fully by turning the Underground space into an installation of sorts. Grass throughout the entire space, with the images of trees and nature surrounding the audience. The script says that the audience should feel like guests, and that’s what we’re attempting to do—create a space that is fully inhabited by our characters that we invite the audience into. I think of the play as poetic naturalism. There are aspects of the piece that are fully naturalistic (like Sally cooking a meal), but the transitions and moments of song live in a more poetic realm. Ultimately, we’re hoping to create a poetic space with the set design; costumes that realistically ground us in 1961 and lights and sound that function both realistically as well as poetically. And yes—some original music!

 

TS: Will you give us some insight into your process as a director? What kind of research did you have to do in order to direct this play? How will you use rehearsal time on this particular show? 

MB: I’ve gotten such an education researching this show. Of course, I’ve done extensive reading about the Freedom Riders and about the Civil Rights movement as a whole, and it’s rich, compelling, topical material. I’ve also gotten very specific about Nashville history, Fisk University, the role of the church, and life in the U.S. in the ‘50s and ‘60s. But the subject matter of the play extends well beyond all of this. This is a history piece written for a contemporary audience. Jiréh was as influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement as the Civil Rights Movement. We’ll spend the first few days at the table naming the facts the play offers us both about time period and character. I like to begin from a place where we’re all approaching the play objectively before we begin getting subjective. We’ll share information about the world of the play culled from our individual research. With this piece, it’s essential to ground ourselves historically in the place and time. Then the actors will create character biographies based on the facts of the play, their research, and their imaginations. We’ll spend some time on our feet doing movement based ensemble-building exercises and character work. And then we’ll dive into scene work.

The cast of TOO HEAVY FOR YOUR POCKET. Photo by Jenny Andrson

TS: How do you collaborate with a writer on a new work? Do you expect there to be any rewriting during the rehearsal and preview periods? How involved are you in the rewriting process on a new work? 

MB: Long before rehearsals begin, I read multiple drafts of the script and go back and forth with a writer offering questions and thoughts. Too Heavy has gone through a variety of drafts since Jiréh and I started working on it over a year ago, and it’s been a joy to watch it grow and change. We worked on it at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta last winter, and that allowed us to see scenes and moments that really landed as well as those that could be further clarified. A new play is an ever-evolving organism, and I’m certain the play will undergo more changes once we’re in the room with actors. They will bring experiences and perspectives to the piece that will most certainly affect it.

 

TS: I’m curious how you understand the relationship of the two couples to each other and how the men and women relate to each other in this play? It seems to me both couples (Bowzie and Evelyn, and Tony and Sally) are symbiotic -- would you agree? 

MB: Absolutely. The foursome in this play is incredibly tightknit. Bowzie and Sally have known each other since they were small children, and Bowzie and Tony have known each other since they were teenagers. They have grown up together—they are family.  They are an interdependent community and (spoiler alert!) when Bowzie leaves, their ecosystem is thrown into a dangerous imbalance.

Eboni Flowers and Brandon Gill in rehearsal for TOO HEAVY FOR YOUR POCKET. Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: What traits did you need in casting the actors for the four roles in Too Heavy for Your Pocket?

MB: With all four characters, we looked for actors who had incredible heart, wonderful senses of humor, and deep wells of emotional availability. It’s a true ensemble show, and so it was essential that we find collaborators that are dedicated to team playing, while also being forces of nature in and of themselves.

 

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist? Do you have any advice for young people who say they want to direct? 

MB: I’m a firm believer in Stella Adler’s philosophy that your growth as an artist is synonymous with your growth as a human being. I love going to see plays, but I also love reading, and watching films and television, going to museums, protesting, seeing live music, and spending time in nature. I’ve recently begun meditating, and that’s been helping me stay inspired while finding balance. My advice to young directors is that, in addition to producing and directing your own work as much as possible, spend time acting and writing. It’s invaluable to have experience being on the other side of the table. Try to learn on a visceral level about your own expectations and what you’re asking of others.


Too Heavy For Your Pocket begins performances at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre/ Black Box Theatre on September 15, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, Roundabout Underground, Too Heavy for Your Pocket


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Rebecca Taichman, director of TIME AND THE CONWAYS

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Rebecca Taichman:   I was born in Madison, Wisconsin to two amazing Canadian-hippie-leftists: my father, at the time a young scientist, and my mother, on her way to becoming a social worker specializing in poverty law. I have one sister, Laura, who did her best to protect me from all the dangers in life then – and still now. We moved to Long Island when I was about five, and I grew up there. I went to McGill University in Montreal for undergrad and then many years later to the Yale School of Drama for an MFA in directing. As far as teachers are concerned, the list is long -- to just name a few: Ming Cho Lee, Elinor Fuchs, so many of my colleagues, Sam Gold, Simon McBurney, Mary Zimmerman, Julie Taymor, and on and on. I've also been very lucky to be part of the Henry Crown Fellowship at the Aspen Institute. As part of the fellowship, 20 leaders from various fields are put through a two-year series of seminars on the ethics of leadership and social responsibility. The Crown Fellowship has been the single greatest learning experience of my life. Some of my greatest teachers were in that group: the 19 other fellows and the leaders Peter Reiling, Skip Battle, Tonya Hinch, and Ben Dunlap.

TS: You directed a revival of Time and the Conways in 2014 for the Old Globe in San Diego. Why did you choose to direct this play?

RT: The play came to me through Barry Edelstein, Artistic Director of the Old Globe. He called me several years ago and said, "There is this extraordinary play by J.B. Priestley called Time and the Conways. I would like to produce it, and I think you are the right director for it.” I read the play that night - and couldn't put it down. I remember reaching out to Barry the next morning and saying, “I’m in. Just tell me when and I'll be there.” I think Priestley a genius and the play a neglected masterpiece -- at least in the U.S. As soon as the Globe production opened, I hoped to do it again. I pitched the idea to Todd Haimes, Artistic Director at Roundabout, and he said yes.

TS: Does the play have personal resonance for you? What do you think the play is about?

RT: Time and the Conways is about so much. On one level, it’s the story of an upper middle class British family just as the upper classes were about to tumble and how, over time, they are hurt by their own greed and narcissism. They are characters from another time and place but feel oddly familiar, and their story feels important and resonant to us in the United States today.

On another level, the play is about our perception of time. With this play, and in many of his plays, J. B. Priestley is challenging our perception of time as a linear arrow, shooting ever forward. Time and the Conways suggests an alternate view of time, one in which the past, present, and future are available all at once. It's a hard thing to wrap one's mind around, but Priestley was writing at a time when time and space were being redefined by new breakthroughs in science and technology – much like our own sense of the world is being transformed by the internet and social media. In Time and the Conways, Priestley proposes that the past, present, and even future are coexistent with each other. I think that Priestley was proposing a sharpened sense of the wholeness of our lives, offering his audience an invitation to release themselves from the panic of being “on a sinking ship,” moving ever closer to death. This was a social awakening as much as an aesthetic one. Theatre, Priestley understood, was the perfect medium in which to communicate this idea – being a place in which, as he once wrote, “Everything still exists: that life of the voice, that gesture, that look, they are still there. [Theatre is able to] recapture the past that has not really vanished at all.” Priestly manages to marry these streams – the story of a family in Great Britain and his ruminations on what he called the “time problem” in the most theatrical of ways. The form of the play and its content are so brilliantly entwined that they reveal and release each other.

 

Rebecca Taichman in rehearsal for TIME AND THE CONWAYS- Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: Can you give us some insight into your process as a director? How did you prepare to direct this play? What kind of research did you have to do?

RT: When I directed the play at the Old Globe, I did an enormous amount of research and of course was greatly aided by the dramaturg there: Danielle Mages Amato. Right now I am working with a wonderful dramaturg, Drew Lichtenberg, who is again teaching me so much. I am still trying to understand the context of the play as deeply and intimately as I possibly can. Also, and this is true for anything I direct, I read the play over and over and over until I think I know it on the cellular and the cosmic levels. With a play like this, I also like to ask the company to share in the research. In this case, for example, I have asked Gabe Ebert, who plays Alan, to research the theory of time in the play and share what he learned with us in his own way. Each actor is researching a topic that relates intimately to the character they are playing. I find it is a wonderful way to get the whole room engaged in the research together and bring the world of the play to life. I first heard about this idea from Mark Wing-Davey, and I love doing it.

TS: How do you understand the characters of Kay and her elder brother, Alan, at this point in your process?

RT: Kay and Alan are privileged with sight in the play, and capable in some ways of moving from past to present and back again. Alan is partially the voice of Priestley. In the middle of this story of corrosive classism, Priestley creates this humble, unambitious, beautiful character who offers an alternative view, a way of looking at life that unspools the greed and narcissism that infects this family. Alan is the tender-hearted, surprising hero of the play. He envisions a world driven by love, rather than panic and fear.

Ultimately, the play warns against a life of greed, and Alan sees it all most clearly. Kay has glimpses of understanding and struggles to see the larger picture Alan seems to perceive so easily. Many of the play’s ideas relate to what is happening in this country now. We are grappling with greed overtaking the country, with a 1% who can’t seem to see past themselves and an enraged working class that feels it has been rendered invisible. All sense of larger community is broken, and we are divided.  Priestley writes about this in Time and the Conways and sees the same basic dynamic unfolding in Great Britain during the years between the first and second World Wars. Despite containing what sounds like the classic ingredients for a tragedy, I feel the play is full of hope. That hope is personified in the characters of Alan and Kay. The fact that they can sense another path for the future invites us to believe that we can, too.

TS: What did you look for in casting the actors? What traits do you need?

RT: Actors who have a tremendous facility with language and can make the language feel visceral and real -- not distant -- so that the action is deeply lived and alive. We also need actors capable of great emotional complexity and range. In the play, they age 20 years. They have to be able to access two sides of one character with grace and dexterity. Not easy, needless to say.

Anna Baryshnikov, Anna Camp, Matthew James Thomas and Elizabeth McGovern in rehearsal for TIME AND THE CONWAYS- photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: How are you collaborating with your design team? 

RT: Working with such extraordinary designers is a thrill. It’s a very collaborative process that is iterative. I ask lots of questions – that lead to more questions. Designers this good bring exceptional ideas to the table, and I respond.

TS: Are you using original music?

RT: There’s a piece of music by Dustin O’Halloran that we are using. It exists on one of his records, which I listen to obsessively – especially when I am dreaming about the play. Somehow it takes me to the center of the play every time I hear it. Matt Hubbs, our sound designer, found it and brought it to me. What a gift.

TS: Do you have any advice for young people who want to be theatre directors?

RT: Being a director for the stage is a very hard life. I believe that if you can do anything else and be happy: do it. For a lot of people there really is no choice. I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It’s the lens through which I see the world. So, if directing is something you absolutely must do, then my advice is: fight for it with everything you’ve got and don’t give up, even when it seems impossible. It’s a complex journey with all kinds of twists and turns. Go, go, go, and don’t allow yourself to be driven by fear, but rather by faith or hope.

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

RT: As a director, I think you are a vessel through which a story flows. You’re translating that story onto the stage. I view my job as ever searching for the most evocative, theatrical, moving, and honest way to tell the story of the play. The story for me is the inspiration and guides every choice. As long as the story truly compels and moves me, that’s all the inspiration I really need. I have been very lucky to tell stories that I believe are important and deeply moving, like the one in Time and the Conways.


Time and the Conways begins performances at the American Airlines Theatre on September 14. For tickets and information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, Time and the Conways


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Richard ArmitageOn October 15, 2016, Richard Armitage spoke about Love, Love, Love with education dramaturg Ted Sod as part of Roundabout Theatre Company’s lecture series.

An edited transcript follows:

(There are spoilers below)

Ted Sod: Thank you for joining us, Richard. Are you having a good time playing the role of Kenneth? It looks like you are.

Richard Armitage: Yes, it’s something very different from what I’m used to doing. I’m known for being quite a somber, moody person, but I have loved every single day walking into the rehearsal room with this cast and Michael Mayer. I have to say this show is a tonic and I think it has something to do with the speed and energy and Mike’s writing.

TS: This play forces us baby boomers, I’m one of them, to contemplate whether or not we screwed things up for subsequent generations, and we’ll discuss that a bit later. You are playing a boomer in this play, but you are actually a Generation X-er, correct?

RA: Nirvana. That’s how I remember it. We did this fascinating thing on the first day of rehearsal with every member of the cast and crew. We put ourselves in groups based on our birth year and one of the defining things apart from technology and politics was music, the kind of music that was around at the time we came of age. One of the first bands that came into my head was Nirvana. I’m Generation X, but I do think that I sit somewhere in the middle.

Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

Amy Ryan and Richard Armitage (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

TS: I read on the Internet that you got your British Equity card by joining a circus — is that true?

RA: Yes, it is. It was a time long gone, just before Thatcher ended the 'closed shop', where you had to be a member of the union before you could even go to an audition. I remember going to an audition and there were two rooms: one with Equity members and one without and I thought I was never getting through to the next door. I went to a vocational school and they somehow set up this contract in Budapest where I was working in the circus for six months doing some unmentionable things with hula hoops.

TS: Fascinating. I read that you played the cello and studied the flute as well.

RA: I started with the cello and it was too big to take on the school bus and I used to get squashed trying to find a seat, so I decided to choose the smallest instrument I could possibly find and I picked up the flute because I could put it in my bag.

TS: I understand that you convinced your parents to allow you to go to a school to study theatre, but it was mostly musical theatre.

RA: It was a combination of three things: it was primarily dancing and singing classes and then a bit of drama class as well. My mother took on a job specifically so that I could go to this school because it was a fee-paying school and every single penny of her wages went toward my education. It has become a driving force throughout my whole journey as an actor just thinking that my mom went to work to purely pay for my education.

Richard Armitage and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage and Zoe Kazan
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: The last thing I’ll bring up from reading about you online, is that you fell out of love with musical theatre and decided you wanted meatier roles, so you went to LAMDA.

RA: That’s true. A lot of the time when I was working in musical theatre, I was being told, “Smile and look like you’re enjoying yourself!” I got to a point where I thought well, if I was enjoying myself, I’d be smiling my face off and clearly I wasn’t, so I just wanted something more. I did a year in the West End production of Cats understudying and I saved money and paid for myself to go to LAMDA. I spent three years rejecting the whole physical musical theatre thing, but actually it has become very useful to my work onstage in non-musical plays.

TS: The discipline and stamina that you have to use to do musical theatre must become valuable when you’re doing all kinds of theatre.

RA: It is, for sure. I worked with a movement teacher, the late Christian Darley who studied at Lecoq, in Paris. She worked very much from a mime based place. And that work really makes sense to me the kind of physical language onstage between actors and the way characters physically move through their spine according to the "temperature" in the room I think the work I did with her really lends itself to playing in this type of comedy.

TS: I want to talk a little bit about Mike Bartlett who wrote Love, Love, Love. He’s been doing television work as well as stage work since 2005. When did you first become aware of Mike’s work?

RA: He still feels like a new writer to me, but I became aware of his work through Cock, which I think started at the Royal Court.

TS: Yes, it played there in 2009 and it played here at the Doris Duke Theatre in 2012.

RA: I was also aware of his play King Charles III, which unfortunately I didn’t get to see because I was playing in The Crucible around the same time. I flew to London to see his last play, Wild. I was already onboard with this production and it galvanized something in me. I realized we’re actually from very similar backgrounds: we’re a similar age, we grew up in a similar place, our music tastes are very similar, which is why this play resonated with me. It wasn’t until about the third week of rehearsal when somebody told me Mike was a drummer that suddenly everything fell into place. His work is so much about a rhythm and speed. There’s something in the music of his writing that I also saw onstage in Wild, which is, incidentally, a play about Edward Snowden. He tends to write verbal tennis matches among his characters, which is just phenomenal to play. So, I came to this production with an enthusiasm for his writing.

TS: Mike has this ability to write epic stories, as he did with Earthquakes in London, which is a play about climate change among other things — and then a play like this one, which has an epic theme, but is more or less a domestic drama.

RA: Yes, from the inside out, it definitely feels like a domestic drama. I had no concept of how funny the play was until we put it in front of an audience. I didn’t know if it would resonate with an American audience because a lot of the references are very British, a lot of the temperament in the play is very British. Clearly, we’re not that different.

TS: Let’s talk about your process as an actor, if that’s okay with you. I once said to Alan Cumming, “What’s your process?” And he said, “I’m not a cheese.”

RA: I’m a ham.

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan and Alex Hurt (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan and Alex Hurt (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: Good to know. I’ve read that you like to make a journal for your characters. Did you make one for Kenneth?

RA: I didn’t. Every piece that comes to you, you somehow figure out a different approach. If you try to apply the same rules for everything, it doesn’t always work and you find yourself trying to force a square peg into a round hole. I did background work on this. I looked at the periods that Mike was writing about. I wasn’t alive in the ‘60s. I was just being born around the early ’70s, so that process was really fascinating and it came in the form of a picture diary. I just gathered a photo album of as many images as I could, which I shared with Michael Mayer, our director. I figured there were things that Americans wouldn’t have necessarily seen, like the poll tax riots. When we got into the rehearsal room, the work was immediate. There was not a lot of talking about background, it was very much about the text and the texture of the text and trying to get it up on its feet as quickly as possible. It was a very fast process, something I normally resist. I like to spend a lot of time doing background work, but we were on our feet on day three. I think it was great to be on our feet that quickly. It was really liberating.

TS: I’ve watched the play twice and I’m not sure what kind of work your character is retired from. Are you?

RA: I decided that he ended up in publishing, probably for something like Time Out. No offense to Time Out, but it’s sort of the box that he probably didn’t want to get into. The thing about act two is that the characters are locked into this suburban box in Reading. I don’t know if anybody knows Reading here. It’s got very nice houses with nice gardens. It has a train station. Sorry, Reading. It’s a slightly disillusioned place compared to the expectations Kenneth and Sandra have. It’s a little bit like wanting to be an actor and ending up teaching acting in a comprehensive school. It’s a noble pursuit, but it’s not the dream.

TS: When you speak about Reading, I wonder if the comparison here would be somewhere in Connecticut or New Jersey.

RA: Scranton.

TS: Scranton, Pennsylvania. Well, I’m from Wilkes-Barre so I know Scranton.

RA: There’s nothing wrong with Reading. It’s just people live there because it’s a little bit cheaper. You can commute into London if you want to, you usually work in publishing or a bank and then you go home and it’s 2.4 children. There was a British sitcom called 2.4 Children, which really was the inspiration for act two.

TS: Talk to us about Kenneth and all these freedoms that we boomers were privy to. How did you find your way into that?

RA: Kenneth and Sandra both feel like they’ve been part of a revolution, which really was a movement there was suddenly a push forward in female emancipation, the sexual revolution, the pill. Really it was an ability to listen to the music you wanted, to dress the way you wanted, to actually not just leap from childhood into adulthood. Then, of course, they grew up. They were probably stoned out of their heads for most of that period of time and then they hit 30 and found themselves in this suburban, mundane box. We didn’t really fill in the gaps between the first act and the second. I like the fact that we walk into act two and Kenneth and Sandra barely look at each other. He doesn’t know she’s not in the room when he’s talking to her. They really don’t make eye contact until they’re pulling their marriage apart. It’s really a fascinating experiment to let yourself be in that situation you’re suddenly only 'in the moment' at the moment, your family is being torn apart.

Richard Armitage (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: As a boomer, I’ve lived through some phenomenal changes: the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement and the gay rights movement — everything that’s changed since 1967 — for better or for worse. For me all these changes felt like they were caused by the repression of the ‘50s.

RA: There was a woman called Mary Whitehouse in the UK and everything about the arts, writing and television was censored by her. She was described as a 'social activist' but she really suppressed a lot of voices. I think the Sex Pistols come out of pushing against that suppression. There was a shift between the ‘50s and into the ‘60s that felt like things were moving forward. It’s amazing to stand onstage at this time and say things like, “The laws are constantly being overthrown, the boundaries of what’s possible, the walls are coming down.” Those words resonate with me because I feel like we’re on the edge of the walls going back up, which is just terrifying.

TS: I’m also feeling that this play deals with capitalism and what happens when capitalism doesn’t work for you.

RA: There was a study that The Guardian, quite recently about adults living in their parents’ basements. I believe Secretary Clinton has mentioned it in her Presidential campaign as well. Women are delaying having their children and it’s causing a certain level of psychological dysfunction. They’re putting their lives on hold. Men are being infantilized by having to go back to live with their parents right through their 30s. It’s becoming a pressure cooker of violence because they’re not able to live fully rounded adult lives. And it’s not just one or two people, it’s quite a large chunk of a generation that is not economically well off. The other thing that I never considered before is the simple size of the baby boom generation. It’s probably about twice the size of Generation X. Their voting power is something that’s discussed in the play. Their ability to put politicians in place who will provide them the best benefits is something real. I don’t think Mike Bartlett necessarily answers any questions about how capitalism works for some and not others, but he gives the audience an argument and hopefully they’ll go home and have a good chat about it.

TS: I think it was Chekhov who first said, “As a playwright my goal is to ask questions, not to answer them.” Kenneth is so blunt when says to his daughter Rose, “No, I won’t buy you a house.”

RA: I struggle with that every night because I look at my daughter who I genuinely love and think she’s right, but we worked hard for 40 years, we waited all this time and now we have this pension. If we relinquish that, we have no security and then what do we do? I haven’t quite decided just how wealthy we are. There were questions that came up in rehearsal about this Birmingham house that they have. The buy-to-let scheme where property prices were thrown up in value because people were buying a second property to rent out. We talked about the fact that they could release that house for Rosie to live in, but it’s not quite what she’s asking. As a father, Kenneth is still in that position of thinking and saying, “Well, you have to carve your own path as we did. My parents didn’t give me a handout so that I could go further.” What he doesn’t consider is that the political system was manipulated so that there was free healthcare, there was comprehensive school education, grants that no longer exist. Kenneth and Sandra have benefitted from those things, but I think, at this point in his life, Kenneth isn’t considering those things, he’s just being quite pragmatic. He thinks that he’s doing what’s right for Rose by telling her to “Fight harder, go further.” And, again, this is Mike Bartlett at his best. He hasn’t made Rose destitute. She’s making a living at her profession; it’s just not enough. That’s what these situations are like. Younger people may have a job, but it’s out of balance. They literally can’t afford to live in a city like London. I think it’s like that in this city as well.

TS: Definitely. Young people in New York City are sharing apartments because they cannot afford to live alone. I have a sense Kenneth and Sandra are going to go on that world tour together at the end of the play, do you?

RA: I think he’s just saying that to melt her a little bit. I don’t know he necessarily really means it. I don’t think he knows what’s going to happen next. He hasn’t got it all figured out. They’re living in the moment still.

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Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Audience Member #1: Hi. So, our country and yours have both gone downward. Where do you see it going? Are we going to restore some of the things that allowed the earlier generations to thrive? Does the play make you think about that?

RA: I do think about it every night. I am glued to the news cycle both here and in my own country. I feel like there’s no one to blame. I wouldn’t blame an older generation for the vote in the UK for Brexit. I feel like that’s a gross generalization. But I do think a Pandora’s Box has been opened. We can’t go backwards and that’s frightening. Britain is going to leave the European Union that’s for sure but what that price will be, I don’t know. What are the options really? Where are the inspiring politicians with voices that make us feel like they’re going to help make change and find a balance? I come from a country where we vote for the party, not a single individual, and I cannot believe we have a conservative government that I’m actually nodding my head at. Politics in the UK are in meltdown after Brexit. There really was not a plan in place and I just wish that they considered fully the implications of what that exit means. I know I am digressing, but I just despair at current politics and the lack of planning that’s happening everywhere.

TS: I think many of us are going through election fatigue right now and just wish it was over.

Audience Member #1: It’s terror. It’s not fatigue, it’s terror.

RA: I feel like if you keep people frightened enough and if you split them, then you’ll give yourself leverage as a politician and find people to support you. I just spent five months in Germany where this is not the case. There is a sense of peace and ease and actually feeling positive about things, which is probably also a generalization. At the moment, there isn’t an awful lot of positivity floating around here in the United States or back home either and that needs to be changed.

TS: I feel like what you’re talking about is divide and conquer, which has been a winning formula for a lot of people. I also find it interesting what you say about Germany. Merkel’s feet are being held to the fire right now because of the immigrant situation.

RA: Yes, and she’s standing by it.

Audience Member #2: I really liked your character as a person in terms of your values in act one and act two, but then in act three, I thought you were blind to your son’s problems.

RA: I feel my character is definitely in denial about his son. It’s interesting when Jamie comes in at the end of act three. It’s just at the moment that Rosie says, “You’re supposed to take care of your children!” I feel like saying to her, “I’m taking care of my boy, he lives here at home with me, we garden, we go the pub, he’s happy, I see him happy.” But he is a difficult child who is having to live at home because he can’t really function otherwise. Mike has written Jamie based on a friend of his who, after smoking a certain amount of marijuana, was just less sharp. It left him slightly disconnected from normal social interaction. I don’t think Kenneth is unaware of it, I think he’s just riding on top of it. It’s almost like he can’t look too closely because otherwise it would be difficult for him to accept.

TS: Isn’t it Jamie that says they’re like mates?

RA: Yes, I took him to see Wicked. It’s a simple life and it’s obviously not ideal. I feel like Kenneth is propping Jamie up and it possibly has something to do with Rosie’s attempted suicide. They clearly haven’t really dealt with that. I don’t think Sandra or Kenneth ever faced their demons and what they’ve done to their children. They’ve just done what British people do, which is to look away when someone starts to get emotional and then say, “Would you like some tea?”

Ben Rosenfield, Amy Ryan, Richard Armitage, Zoe Kazan and Alex Hurt (Photo by Walter McBride)

Ben Rosenfield, Amy Ryan, Richard Armitage, Zoe Kazan and Alex Hurt
(Photo by Walter McBride)

Audience Member #3: I was wondering what is was that drew you to this character?

RA: I rarely get to play comedy. People don’t come to me with offers to do comedy. I love the challenge of playing different ages. Also, I’ve always been into Harold Pinter and Alan Ayckbourn and it felt to me like Mike’s fashioned a cocktail of writing styles in this play and I was really excited about trying that out.

TS: I’m so glad you brought that up because when I watched the first act, I thought this feels a bit like Pinter. The relationship between Kenneth and his brother Henry is so bizarre. It has a Pinter-esque quality in that I sense that Kenneth is afraid of Henry.

RA: Act one has been through a change. We pushed it a long way since the rehearsal room. It was extremely exuberant at first and we’ve slowly pulled it back because it needs to sit in that place of danger. Kenneth has to be provocative and press Henry’s buttons because essentially it is the baby boomer generation pressing the buttons of Henry’s generation. Mike’s writing uses elements of Pinter and Osborne, which I love, and then in act two there are elements of Ayckbourn. In the rehearsal room, act two felt very steady and as soon as we came into the space, Michael Mayer wanted us to elevate the style. He said, “I want you to imagine that every time you make an entrance, there’s applause like a television sitcom.”

Audience Member #4: Hi. My parents are baby boomers and they are stable, dependable people, but I know they weren’t always that way. I feel that your character and Sandra’s character never really developed emotionally. I’m wondering if Mike Bartlett is making a statement that people can’t change?

RA: In my personal view, I think our personality is probably solidified somewhere in our youth. You either develop ways to navigate through life with a certain level of fluidity or you are somebody with concrete boots on who really can’t change and move around. I just let Kenneth be taken with the current in a way. Until act three, when he’s really forced to make a decision and potentially make a change and he chooses not to.

TS: Richard, there was a remarkable documentary made in England by Michael Apted called Seven Up

RA: Yes, I studied it for this and it’s so fascinating.

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan, Ben Rosenfield and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Richard Armitage, Amy Ryan, Ben Rosenfield and Zoe Kazan (Photo by Joan Marcus)

TS: Because it tracks people from the age of seven on at seven year intervals. It quotes a Jesuit motto: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

RA I feel like it tracks that moment when a child leaves the home and finds themselves in society, interacting with other people and you can see their personality developing. I’m sure it’s different with everyone, the point where your personality is fixed and maybe that’s the thing about Rosie. Because of her suspended situation, she feels she can’t solidify her life. It’s an admission to say, “I’m 37 and I don’t have anything.” She’s talking about material possessions, but she goes on to say, “I don’t have a child, a car, a house, I can’t start my life and I’m 37.” Whereas the baby boomers were probably well embedded into their lives by their early 20s and beginning families.

Audience Member #5: One of the things that was very good about the play was the author’s ability to empathize with each of the characters. But in my view, he identifies most with Rosie. What do you think?

RA: Having not explored what it’s like to be Rosie, I don’t know. I’ve always struggled with act three, even from reading it. I feel like my character was at his most alive in 1967 and there’s something fading about him in act three, which I fought a little bit. He says, “I just can’t concentrate anymore. There’s no need to. I love it. Freedom at last.” I think that is the place that Kenneth sits. I remember saying to Amy Ryan, “Which character do you think is Mike’s voice?” I just couldn’t figure it out. Everyone gets a point of view that is relevant and sharp, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a playwright who was able to do that. But, certainly in terms of what we’re seeing and feeling in the world now, Rosie’s voice is the most relevant particularly in act three.

TS: The younger audience members were cheering Rosie on during the third act of the play. They were with her 100%. But I think Mike really wants us to feel for all the characters and understand them all.

RA: I think he wants to press our buttons and get us to think. It’s been fascinating to try to figure out if we have a boomer audience or a Generation X audience every night. Sometimes Amy will come up to me after a scene and say, “Oh, they don’t like me tonight.” And sometimes you think the audience is going to start throwing things at us both. It’s been fascinating to understand who we’re performing to on any given night or matinee. It will be really interesting to be performing in front of a student audience.


Love, Love, Love is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, A Conversation with, Love Love Love


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