One theatre company very near and dear to my heart is Oberon Theatre Ensemble, now celebrating its 13th season bringing invigorating theatre to New York City. Their M.O. is usually a Rep that involves both a play by The Bard and an original piece or revival. The last few years they have been doing their Reps at Theatre Row.
This year is very exciting for the company; they are again on 42nd Street, and they bring us Othello, directed by Prospect Theatre’s Cara Reichel (yes, THAT Cara Reichel), and Order, by Christopher Stetson Boal (of 23 Knives fame), directed by Austin Pendleton (yes, THAT Austin Pendleton – is there any other?). The pairing of these two plays is perfect; both involve men that strive to do good, but end up committing the most atrocious of crimes – both with their dearest “friends” whispering in their ear to bring about their own end. Only in Order . . . one must be careful not to mix friends with demons . . .
The plays have been doing great – Order just got an extended run due to audience demand – and are such a joy. Over the next week I’ll be interviewing some of the people who are bringing these amazing works to us, providing not just a play on stage; but an event.
Up first: Christopher Stetson Boal, playwright and author of Order. Chris is the critically acclaimed author of Crazy for the Dog, and 23 Knives as well as many other plays; he has also won an audience award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Chris, I had an opportunity to see 23 Knives, directed by Eric Parness, last year and thought it was one of the best plays I’d seen the whole year. Now we have another fascinating character study and tale of men who are not whom they seem – but completely and utterly different. Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
Christopher Stetson Boal: It’s hard to say – ideas for my plays almost always come from some weird found source. In the case of “knives” it was a forward in the book “Corpse” – a fascinating tale of forensic science. There was a section that mentioned Antistius and I just never shook it. This play came out of a therapy exercise where I started writing in a different language. That intrigued me so I just went with it.
Piggy-backing off the last question, what were the most important turning points for your while you wrote Order – and when did you realize that this was going to be a play that truly, truly pushed the bar?
Well, I didn’t set out to do that, honestly. But I did kind of tap into the id of these characters, and the worse they behaved the more obsessed with the play I became. I mean, I really think people act this way. We really do eat each other all the time, don’t we?
What do you think is the most important link between the two plays in Oberon’s Rep, Othello and Order, and how do they relate to the state of the human condition?
It’s nice to be linked thematically with Shakespeare, but I think it’s because he basically covered all the themes you could think of! But I suppose both plays deal with the theme of inner demons and wages of listening to them too closely.
How did you get involved with the Oberon gang?
Well I think Oberon is made up of some of the most talented actors around. We did a few readings of the play but I think I got Brad Fryman to finally agree to produce it after we’d both been drinking for a few days.
Did you know Austin Pendleton beforehand as well?
Yes, I’d shown the play to Austin last year, but he was unavailable at the time. Luckily for us his schedule freed up and he agreed to direct it. He’s really quite the master.
I was fortunate enough to see an earlier reading of this play, and it is very different now. What has the collaborative process been like between you and Austin? Do you see eye to eye on many things? What were his reactions to some of the “darker” and more “melodramatic” aspects of the play?
This would be an utterly different play without his involvement and I believe it’s a much better one than it started out as. He saw things in the text I was quite unaware of, but latched onto pretty eagerly as we began to discover what we had. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat. Hear that, Austin?
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? One of my favorite lines is still the “Steve Buscemi” line – and despite the suffering the protagonist (played so well by Ryan Tramont) must endure, I always laugh.
It’s both, depending on what night you see it. But then again, comedy is pain, right?
What has your career been like over the last two years? There’s been a lot going on, hasn’t there – both in theatre and film?
Mostly theater. This production came on the heels of “23 Knives“, and I have a play opening in August as part of the SummerShorts festival. I wrote a short screenplay for Ridley Scott Associates for a video game as well, that was fun!
Who are your greatest inspirations as a playwright?
Other playwrights; Austin Pendleton, Arthur Giron, David Hirson, Eddie Baker, Romulous Linney, to name a few.
If you had to pick a character from a play, book, or film to be for a day, who would it be?
Oh, hell, James Bond. Or Indiana Jones. No, definitely Bond.
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Well, I can vouch for the touch of genius – and madness – that is rampant throughout Order, and it’s great to get the voice of the playwright heard. We’ll continue this several-part interview as we delve into Othello as well. 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.