Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Nero/Pseudo: The Playwright Answers

I hope readers of Balkans via Bohemia have enjoyed meeting the cast and members of the creative team behind WSC Avant Bard's world premiere of Nero/Pseudo.

I am extraordinarily proud of the show you'll see officially starting with tonight's opening -- and I'm sure that my intrepid and talented collaborators Jim Elkington and Jon Langford will be proud as well. Our director, Patrick Pearson, and musical director John-Michael d'Haviland, have done an amazing job with a piece that stretches out the concept of the traditional musical. And our cast? Bradley Foster Smith, Gillian Shelly, Lee Liebeskind, Alani Kravitz, Ryan Alan Jones and Brian McDermott rock!

I wrote a program note for the show so I won't recapitulate that here. (Come see the show and read it!) But I do want to acknowledge a few people who have helped make Nero/Pseudo happen.

Plays don't have to be produced. At many moments, people help the playwright keep the momentum. Actor Gwen Grastorf, writer Jim McNeill and director Jessica Lefkow gave the play constructively critical early readings. And one of D.C.'s finest actors -- Sara Barker -- took the play to WSC Avant Bard and helped convince artistic director Christopher Henley to do a reading at Artisphere in May 2012. Sara is the guardian angel of Nero/Pseudo. Period.

That reading was a tremendous success -- thanks to the Colin Stanley Hovde's expert direction and the talents of not only Bradley Foster Smith but also Kari Ginsburg, John Tweel, Nathaniel Mendez, Mundy Spears, James Finley and Heather Haney reading stage directions.

The momentum only grew thanks to the indefatigable Kathleen Warnock -- who convinced Paul Adams and the Emerging Artists Theatre to give the play a New York City Reading in February 2013.

That's where the amazing Melisa Annis comes in. Melisa took the whole reading on her shoulders and cast a terrific group of actors: Nesha Ward, David Omar Davila, Shad Olsen, Allyson Pace, Christianne Greiert, Ashley Grombol, Deanna Henson and Michael Cortez. That reading led to the addition of new songs and a tighter faster snappier script.

It was that version of the play that WSC Avant Bard artistic director Tom Prewitt selected for this season. I am grateful that he has taken it from development to this production.

Throughout this process, the playwright has been asking the creative team three questions about antiquity and glam rock -- the twin foundations of the play. As we embark tonight, I will answer them as well:

Who is your favorite person/god from antiquity?

The character from antiquity and myth that has haunted me the most since childhood is Persephone. Abducted, tricked, forced to spend three to six months in the underworld each year. How is any of that her fault? And yet she lives the double life. The perpetual leavetakings and returns. It is a story that touches me deeply.

Then there is Bubo the mechanical owl from the first Clash of the Titans. Neither person nor god but always worth mentioning.

What's the strangest fact about the ancient world or glam rock that you've learned from this experience?

Our dramaturg Alan Katz told us all that the Greeks so often spun themselves into a ritual frenzy in which they tore apart and then ate fellow citizens who somehow found themselves in the way that they even had a word for it: Sparagmos.

If you were Emperor for a day, what would be your first decree?

An outright ban on the notion that corporations are people and that money is speech.

Nero/Pseudo opens at The Shop at Fort Fringe on Wednesday, May 7. Find out more about the play at WSC Avant Bard. Tickets are now on sale. 

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