You might remember a few seasons back when the Roundabout mounted Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes and caused a bit of controversy by charging $48 a ticket for the 45-minute play. This season it’s Caryl Churchill fans who get to be distressed: Tickets for New York Theater Workshop’s November production of Churchill’s Far Away, a 50-minute play, will cost $55. —Caroline Du Sud
The Rat Pack Hits Frisco
“Business has beaten art to globalization,” says Erik Ehn, founder of the notoriously intractable alternative theater cooperative known as RAT. At the eighth annual RAT conference—sponsored by the University of San Francisco, October 3 though 6—Ehn and the 50 or so other participants seemed determined to even the score. Representatives of theaters from a dozen nations were present, seemingly in partial fulfillment of performance artist Richard Kammler‘s dream project that would put an artist from each of the United Nations’s 191 constituent countries in seats next to their delegates.
At times the RAT conference itself seemed close to being such an assemblage. A panel called “The Land Mass Mission” brought together representatives of theaters from each of the six populated continents to discuss their work. “We tried to invite someone from Antarctica,” Ehn joked, “but she was seeking a silent, white place to do her work in.” Instead, conferees contented themselves with presenters from Nepal, Peru, Nigeria, Australia, Yugoslavia, and the Lakota Nation. Other presentations at the conference spotlighted groups from Uganda, Argentina, and Northern Ireland. While the purported theme of this year’s RAT meet was “Change the Space: Looking at Where and How Art Happens in Response to the Needs of Justice,” the conference seemed more a culmination and elaboration of two conferences held in 2000: “Theatre and War” (Iowa City) and “Theatre and Peace” (Novi Sad, Yugoslavia). What each of the presenting nations had in common this year—and what they chose to talk about—was the role of the theater artist forced to operate within a regime of state terror.
Two Bay Area Argentine artists, Claudia Bernardi and Roberto Gutierrez Varea, spoke about the theater’s response in their country to their recent economic collapse and the prior three decades of life in a police state. The Peruvian company Yayuchkani presented a moving piece about the ghost of a mother eternally searching for her “disappeared” son. Ugandan Charles Mulekwa and Nigerian Segun Ojewuyi each spoke of the assassination of key artists in their countries by the state apparatus. Irish actress Carmel McCafferty did a monologue about Bloody Sunday.
Somewhat lost in the mix was the connection of all this to the work of American theater artists working in an atmosphere of relative safety and privilege. But, as some at the festival pointed out, even that is changing. “We have our own ‘disappeared’ here now,” asserts Varea, citing the recent internment of Americans of Arab origin without due process, and rhetoric by the authorities he finds “chillingly reminiscent” of that used in Argentina. —Trav S.D.
The Pint of No Return
Irish playwright Conor McPherson is best known for his long-running 1999 hit The Weir, as well as for his popular independent film I Went Down. New Yorkers can now enjoy two new productions of his work: his early monologue Rum and Vodka, which opened October 7 at the Ohio Theatre, and the American premiere of Dublin Carol, which will be directed by McPherson himself at the Atlantic Theater in January.
Voice: You began writing in your early twenties, yet from the start you were writing characters much older than you in years and experience. How did that come about?
McPherson: I always related to old people. I’ve always felt older than I am. It’s easy for me to imagine what it must be like. People left on their own, who’ve already had a go at life, but it’s over now. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather when I was young. That gave me a chance to see what it must be like to spend all your time alone—having breakfast, dinner on your own. There’s a sense of regret. Like it’s a moral question, like maybe I should be on my own. Have I been selfish? Maybe if things had been different—maybe I’m alone because I wasn’t nice enough. It’s scary. I had a lot of success when I was younger, and when you’re young you don’t think about things very much. Now that I’m a bit older, 31, there’s a more reasonable attitude of feeling slightly nervous about everything I do.
Is there a connection between monologue and “the drink”? Booze is another theme that recurs in nearly all of your plays, and one to which you have a strong personal connection. (McPherson nearly died last year from a massive alcohol-related organ shutdown.)
In Ireland everything revolves around drinking. Say you’re going out to a night of theater. In Ireland, most people will meet up before the performance to have a few drinks beforehand, maybe have one during intermission, and a few drinks afterward. It’s that way at social gatherings, weddings, funerals. Everything seems structured around it. And drinking to the point where it alters your state. It’s the fuel behind everything that happens. It’s quite strange. But I found that drink as a device made it easy to write characters. If they’ve been drinking, you can have them do and say things they ordinarily wouldn’t. You don’t have to spend two hours getting them to frankness: “You know, you’re a fucking asshole!” I’m interested in the toll that drinking takes and how sad it makes people and they don’t even know. It’s endemic in the culture. It’s not normal not to drink. If you don’t drink, it’s sort of weird and unusual in Ireland. Interestingly, since I stopped drinking I don’t have the urge to write about drunk people. Now I find them quite boring! —T.S.D.