Next up in our Oberon Theatre Ensemble Rep interview series is Brad Fryman, the Artistic Director of this esteemed theatre company, who produces the shows, and who essentially decides what will be running season after season. Not only is Brad producing two shows simultaneously at Theatre Row, he is also co-starring in Order, as the anything-but-sane psychotherapist, Dr. Fine. Having co-starred in numerous theatrical productions year after year with an impressive body of work, Fryman continues to strive toward providing the public with thought-provoking theatre, and if this season is any indication, then provoking the senses and minds of audiences are definitely a given.
I had a chance to catch up with Brad in between shows to find out his thoughts on this Summer Rep season and working on Order with Austin Pendleton and Christopher Boal. Here’s what he had to say:
Oberon Theatre Ensemble has been around for more than 13 seasons, with a long list of wonderful productions that have earned awards, recognition, and respect from the theatre community. What do you look for in picking your shows – and your talent?
First of all, I like working on something that I would enjoy seeing. That sounds like a no brainer. But it is seriously where I try to begin. A compelling story or, maybe something I haven’t seen before, is what initially grabs me. This season we have exactly that with a terrifically compelling story in Othello and an equally compelling story in Order that is told in a completely different way. That is what started the ball rolling as we looked at our options.
Then there have to be people that strongly want to tell these different stories. This is important because at this level those people have to give up so much, everything one might say, in order to finally bring these productions to life.
All the while, the talent we have available is always in our minds as to who might we have that might be perfect for a certain role. It is all part of the selection process.
What inspired you to include these specific plays in your Summer Rep for 2010? Are there any interesting stories behind your reasoning?
We’ve done a lot of Shakespeare and Othello was at the top of the remaining list. It is just an easier story for me to understand and I think one of Shakespeare’s tightest tragedies. I thought we could tell it in a simple, fresh and compelling way.
As Cara and I were discussing the season it was a play she was very interested in being involved with. It also just so happened that, all the while, Chris Boal and I had been discussing his play Order that shares a number of similar themes.
I feel that both plays deal with our personal “demons.” Iago’s envy, Othello’s jealousy and Tom Blander (ORDER) who had issues with his personal “demon” with its insatiable appetite for power are all aspects of these different “demons” told in these incredible stories.
Chris and I had been talking about working together for a long time and we were just waiting for the right project to come along at the right time. It just so happens that Order fit into the wheel well of the company as well its being a very original, compelling piece of theatre.
What do you think is the most important link between the two plays in Rep, and how do they relate to the state of the human condition?
As I talked about in the previous answer the plays are dealing with our “demons” in obviously completely different ways.
What drew you to the role of the therapist in Christopher Stetson Boal’s Order? Do you find it incredibly challenging to act in a play while you are producing it?
Dr Fine in Order is essentially your therapeutic nightmare. I have a background in psychology and knew immediately who this person was. I would never say this type of therapist is prevalent in the industry, but a number of folks have shared stories from their own experiences with me. It’s all very interesting. And I also think the play about a man trying to make a difference in small meaningful ways could maybe be a metaphor for all the folks trying to work and tell stories in the theatre. But, that’s a different article.
When a production is running smoothly and everyone is at the top of their game, it’s pretty easy to wear a couple different hats. When there are complications it can sometimes get difficult.
Do you see Order as more of a dark comedy or more of a tragedy about a man who is run over by everything in his life, and why?
I absolutely think it’s both. It’s a seriously funny tragic story of a man trying to do everything he can to make the world a better place and getting beaten down every step of the way until finally his “demon” takes over with an insatiable appetite for power.
What was it like being directed by Austin Pendleton?
Austin has been great. Every step of the way, he has surprised me with his incredible connection to the theatre. Whether it’s a brilliant note that gives an actor an entirely new and exciting path to take his character, or an idea for a specific moment on stage, or his ability to enable the actors to have the faith to fully embrace their characters. His adjustments with actors are often so insightful it’s frightening. His understanding of the play was immediate and intense. From day one, he was so fully committed to the text it was astounding and his freedom to play with theatrical conventions was refreshing.
These are pretty intense words, but I feel it has been a real gift and an honor to work with Austin. His energy and passion for American theater is something to be treasured.
What are one of your favorite aspects of Cara Reichel’s interpretation of Othello?
Cara’s direction and design within this space is brilliant. Her use of music always supports the action of the play moving it forward in complex and refreshing ways.
I think Cara is an exceptional storyteller and I am amazed with what she was able to do with Othello. I follow her work with Pete Mills and the Prospect Theater Company where they produce some of the most compelling new musicals in the country. Not to over do it but it has been fantastic working with Cara!
Having incorporated The Bard’s plays in your Reps, season after season, what would you say is your favorite Shakespeare play (if we had to twist your arm for one)?
Having just done this incredible tragedy, I am, sort of, in the mood for something quite a bit lighter. Maybe even A Midsummer Night’s Dream!
What’s up next for Oberon? I hear Duncan Pflaster’s play about Chekov in space is around the corner …
We did a reading of Duncan’s The Starship Astrov last year in our Oberon Originals Reading Series and truly enjoyed hearing this play. It is a hilarious ride. The audience had such a great time. Yes sure it is essentially, Chekov in Space, but really so much more, too. If anyone is a fan of Chekov or Star Trek, they are in for an incredible treat. If they are a fan of both, well, they won’t want to miss a single performance. Did I mention that tickets to ALL these shows are on sale NOW at ticketcentral.com???
Duncan’s script is incredibly sharp and finding actors who can handle both of those facets has been an interesting challenge. It’s going to be a great production directed by Eric Parness in the Beckett at Theatre Row in July.
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Whether its the madness of jealousy in Othello or the drive of our demons in Order, I was happy to have an opportunity to chat with Brad about the shows that Oberon Theatre Ensemble is offering this Summer. We’ll continue this several-part interview as we delve more into both shows. In the meantime, go check out these plays! They’re playing at Theatre Row from now until June 26th (July 3rd for Order). For information and times click here.