Sunday, February 2, 2020

Nan McNamara and lee Blessing Interviews

Actors Co-op presents Lee Blessing's A Body of Water opening February 5 for previews with official opening night scheduled for Friday February 7. Multi award winning actress Nan McNamara will serve as director. I sat down with both of them and here's what they have to say about the play and mounting this production.

(to Lee Blessing)

I am always fascinated by your plays. What character is telling the truth? Or is it all a dream...or nightmare? You keep us on the edge of our seats with your wonderful dialogue. How did A Body of Water come about? Did some event inspire you?

LB: I can't answer most of this question, but I will say that the idea for the play occurred to me as I as waking up one morning.  I was relatively newly divorced (from a long marriage) and still feeling the very powerful (for me at least) post-trauma effects of that.  In some ways I suppose this is a play about trauma in all its forms.  It's about those moments in life when nothing that we think we know feels real any longer--nothing that we depended on, nothing that we knew in our hearts to be true.  This happens to different people for different reasons of course, in different ways and at different points in their lives.  But it happens to nearly everyone, I'd argue, whether we'll admit it or not.

You have been called our greatest American playwright because you deal with issues that are relevant. Sports are a typical love of the American culture and have played into many of your plays, like baseball in The Winning Streak and football in For the Loyal. Do sports play into this piece?

LB: Sports really don't have a role in this play, unless you count jogging.  Actually I have the bad habit (for a playwright) of writing about a great many different phases and aspects of contemporary life as well as many different sorts of people encountering quite a range of challenges.  America tends to favor playwrights who stick to a fairly narrow range of issues and styles and sort of do the same thing over and over again, often quite brilliantly.  They develop sort of a "shingle" to hang out, so people will know what to expect before even seeing their next play.  For whatever reason, I tend not to do that.

Tell our readers about the play in detail without creating a spoiler alert.

LB: This is such a difficult piece to talk about.  It's highly conceptual, and one really doesn't want to ruin any surprises or sharp turns that it may contain.  I will say the twpeople we meet at the start of play are in their fifties and in great physical health--just as I happened to be when I wrote it.  I'll also say that while it's hard to talk about the play before seeing it, it's hard not to talk about the play after seeing it.  So feel free to look me up then.

You always lace your plays with a delicious sense of humor. Is there humor here as well? Give us a sample if you will.

LB: There is a LOT of humor in this play.  And, just like my life, it never fails to make me laugh.  

What is the main theme of the play? What do you want audiences to take away after seeing it?

LB: I suppose if the A Body of Water has a theme, it has something to do with the nature of courage and our inability to live without faith.  After all, something has to get us through the inevitable traumas.

Do you care to add anything?

LB: If there's such a thing as music in dialogue, I think this is one of the most musical plays I've written.  Just don't expect to hum along.

(to Nan McNamara) 

From a director's standpoint, what is your favorite aspect of A Body of Water?

NM: To bring to life a world premiere new ending to Mr. Blessing’s play is an absolute thrill, especially having previously performed in two of his plays (Going to St. Ives and A Walk in the Woods).  I think he is one of our greatest American playwrights.  It’s been a privilege and honor to have him involved in our production.  

What challenges do you face in directing it?

NM: The play has existential themes and tackles some of life’s biggest questions.  But it’s also very funny and moving, and circumstances and characters shift on a dime. There are also some interesting design elements we are integrating.  So orchestrating all those layers and making sure the specificity is in every moment is a wonderful challenge.

What in your mind is the strongest element (s) of a Lee Blessing play? How does he drive a plot forward better than other contemporary playwrights?

NM: There is so much breadth to Mr. Blessing’s plays. Looking at his body of work, there is a wide variety of relationships and themes.  His plays stand the test of time. When you think that A Walk in the Woods was written in 1988 and Two Rooms was written in 1990 (as just a couple of examples), it’s remarkable how these plays feel like they were written today.   He champions strong female characters in his stories. And he is able to tap into the heart of his characters so that in them, we see ourselves.  That’s what great plays do. And he has achieved that time and time again. 

What message stands out? In other plays I have noted his severe interest in love and strong relationships. Tell us in detail what you think.

NM: Mr. Blessing has said A Body of Water is about, in part, the tenuousness of our reality. This feels particularly relevant in today’s world where waking up in the morning one is almost afraid to look at the headlines.  But fear and isolation are also themes in the play.  The characters grapple with the fear of intimacy, the rewriting of their pasts and not living in the present.  In a sense, they are living in a kind of hell.  They are searching for their identities, for their purpose. The play has a profound message about who we are - as individuals and in relationship. 

Tell our readers about your cast and how they are adapting in rehearsals for the play.

NM: I feel so fortunate to have three of the best actors, all company members of Actors Co-op. Ivy Beech, Bruce Ladd and Treva Tegtmeier are such a talented trio. We have had a wonderful time working together and discovering this story together. They are true collaborators. And since we have worked together as actors in the past, there is so much trust. I look forward to every single rehearsal, excited to see what we find as they get more and more specific in their work. They each have moments of humor and moments of great pathos and their work is seemingly effortless. They constantly surprise me with their talents.  

Add anything you care to like how the play is a fit for Actors Co-op.

NM: When I first read the play, I felt it would work really well in the round.  I think it is such an interesting way to experience this story, and I have a terrific design team that has pulled out all the stops - the artistry and care they are bringing to this production is really inspiring.  Actors Co-op has produced two other plays by Mr. Blessing that were very popular with our audiences. I think A Body of Water is a play that will challenge our audiences in a wonderful way. It’s a 90 minute roller coaster ride into a world that is unlike anything we’ve produced before.  And that is very exciting.

to purchase tickets for A Body of Water, call 323-462-8460 or visit www.ACTORSCO-OP.ORG

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