Drina Durazo’s directing credits include: Moon Over Buffalo, Hotel Paradiso, Don’t Dress for Dinner (The Group Rep); Every Christmas Story Ever Told And Then Some, All The Great Books Abridged (Mammoth Lakes Rep); Breaking Bard at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (Porters of Hellsgate), which earned four Ezra Buzzington Spirit of the Fringe Award Nominations, including Best Direction; and the extended Breaking Bard, which earned eight Valley Theatre Award nominations, including Best Direction, and a win for Best Play.
Written by Steve Peterson
In the past several years you have been involved with making independent films. How did your directing for theatre come about?
I have been involved with theatre since my early high school days, but while attending college, I had an opportunity to break into entertainment in a different medium. I went into television, and along the way, I made numerous connections and started dabbling in film as well. In 2010, my journey eventually brought me back to theatre when I collaborated with a friend who was working on a production at The Group Rep. I found myself also working on that show, in the role of Assistant Stage Manager, and on that show I met Larry Eisenberg. When I told him I was most interested in directing, he took me under his wing and I began to assistant direct for him on numerous productions. I was eventually given my directorial debut in 2012 and was incredibly grateful and ecstatic, not only for the opportunity to spread my wings, but also for the support I was given by Larry, and the company as a whole.
What was the first play you directed and what was your take-away from that experience?
The first play I directed was Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, and although I did not choose this play for myself, I was delighted to take a stab at it. My major take-aways were the importance of choosing your play and doing your homework on it. The show was fun, and I was incredibly proud of it, but that show would not have been my first choice. The opportunity helped me prove myself as a director, and I went on to direct a few other shows for GRT before landing on The Armadillo Necktie, but I wasn’t strong on how I wanted the voice of the Buffalo to be heard, and my vision was unclear. I think this was partly due to my inexperience and lack of detailed homework, and also due to the fact that I did not choose this play for myself, therefore I had no immediate attachment to it other than to direct a show. The Armadillo Necktie is actually the first show I have directed for GRT that has been of my own personal choosing. I went in with a lot of passion for the project, which made my pre-production experience that much easier, and the overall process has been so rewarding. I came in fully prepared, with a clear vision, and understand the importance in the process of choosing your play, because your homework begins there.
You previously directed another Gus Krieger play, the well-received Breaking Bard, which won awards and accolades at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival, and was also reprised after the festival ended. What do you think drew patrons to the play; what was the audience responding to?
Gus Krieger’s Breaking Bard began as a 6-minute scene presented at a fundraiser for his company, The Porters of Hellsgate, and evolved into a 60-minute show for the Hollywood Fringe Festival directed by myself. The show, being a mash-up of William Shakespeare’s most famous dialogue and a parody of the hit television series “Breaking Bad,” drew in die-hard fans of each, in addition to our regular patrons and supporters. The script was written in a way where you could be fan of the show but not know Shakespeare and you’d enjoy it, or you could be a fan of Shakespeare but not know the show and still get the through-line of the story, and enjoy it. The show received four Ezra Buzzington Spirit of the Fringe nominations, including one for Best Direction, with one awarded for Best Writing. The remount was extended to 80 minutes and ran successfully for 5 weeks, and went on to receive eight Valley Theatre Award Nominations, including Best Direction, with two awarded (Best Play and Best Stage Manager).
Tell me a bit about the history of The Armadillo Necktie and what went into the development of the play? How did you directing The Armadillo Necktie come about?
In 2012, the Group Rep’s Artistic Director, Larry Eisenberg, recognized the script as something I would be interested in and connected me with Gus so we could mount it as a staged reading. I was floored by the material because of how highly sophisticated, dark, and timely the subject matter was. I felt the style and structure was ahead of its time and I was really interested in exploring dark comedy, absurdism, and tragedy at the time, all of which were elements of the script. Our journey involved many discussions, a lot of emailing back-and-forth, and many struggles with casting. We tried for 7 months to get a staged-reading together, but due to schedule conflicts and other things, we had to shelve the project for a bit. Three years passed before we decided to try again; Gus and I both happened to be in-between projects, and so we were finally able to pull it all together. In February 2015, we mounted a staged-reading, worked through some notes during the process, and a final draft was written in December 2015. We pitched it to the Artistic Council and Artistic Directors and were grateful to finally be given the green light to present it to the world (North Hollywood/Los Angeles) on the GRT stage.
Some of the play’s subject matter is quite serious. How have you gone about keeping the play a “jet black comedy,” as opposed to a black comedy or dramedy which sounds - at least on paper - lighter.
The black comedy is meant to provoke serious thought on some very real topics; in this case, it sets forth a dialogue on the way America deals with war, the way we view and deal with threats, and the affects that the actions of higher power has on its civilians, both on American, and foreign soil. While most playwrights use the genre to make light of one dark subject matter, Gus cleverly uses it to explore numerous dark themes and subject matters. In addition to war, the play also explores the topics of murder, guns, depression, insanity, nightmares, disease, racism, terrorism, political corruption, and torture. It’s these many elements, I feel, make this black comedy a jet-black comedy.
What do you want the audience to take note of or perhaps think about long after they’ve left the theatre?
Over the last few days, I found myself deeply saddened by the disturbing events in Orlando. It was hard to distract myself from the harsh reality of it all because, in the theatre, I was dealing with a group of characters who take matters into their own hands, care only about their personal agendas, view anything outside the bounds of their personal mindset as a threat, and immediately turn to violence to get a point across. The play was originally written in 2011, and had been workshopped since then, but the story and themes have all remained the same. The issues we address on stage are based on much of what has occurred around us over the last 15+ years, and it breaks my heart to see that in that time, not much has changed. We, as Americans, are still constantly exploited by fear -- fear of terrorism, fear of the unknown, fear fed by hatred -- instead of addressing the issues of gun control, mental health, bullying, hatred, and so on. The list is unfortunately a large one. In light of Orlando’s tragedy, I began to get worried that some might be sensitive to the political metaphors and dark themes we tackle in The Armadillo Necktie, but then I was reminded that we must not censor ourselves. We should, instead, continue to get our voices heard and our message out. It might not change the events that occurred in Orlando, that are occurring here or around the world, but it starts a dialogue and that in itself is a good step in the right direction.
What’s up next for you, either directing or something else creative you might be up to?
For The Group Rep, I am producing their next production, Calendar Girls,
directed by Larry Eisenberg, which is set to open August 26th. My other upcoming project will be in the role of Production Designer on Gus Krieger’s groundbreaking feature film, “My Name Is Myeisha.” The film takes us through the dreamscape that is Myeisha Jackson’s mind, as she is faced with the all-too-familiar events which take her life; it’s an exploration of compassion, and the timely issues of police brutality and Black Lives Matter. We are in the early stages of pre-production and are set for principal photography in October. I am excited to be collaborate with Gus again on such a meaningful and profound project.
Drina’s latest directing project Gus Krieger’s The Armadillo Necktie runs June 17 through July 31, Friday & Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood. For tickets and information please visit www.thegrouprep.com or call 818-763-5990.