When last you heard from me in Q&A mode, it was because I was in New York with bronchitis. I’m in Los Angeles these days, and well over the bronchitis, but I had knee surgery earlier this week. So instead of worrying about disrupting theatrical performances with my coughing, the reason I’m not reviewing shows right now is that I’m housebound, can’t drive, and am hobbling from one room to the other trying to look as pitiable as possible. And succeeding!
However, even though I can’t get out, the wonders of the internet allow me to interview people and ask them questions and let you see their answers, and that’s what I did this week with Bart DeLorenzo.
Mr. DeLorenzo is the founding artistic director of the Evidence Room Theater, and is on the faculty at CalArts. He’s directed shows at many area theatres, including the Geffen Playhouse, Rogue Machine, Skylight Theatre, South Coast Rep, and A Noise Within, and has received LA Drama Critics Circle awards (including the Milton Katselas Award for career achievement), LA Weekly awards, Backstage Garlands and the Alan Schneider Director Award. He directed Day Drinkers and A Number for Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, as well as The False Servant, Passion Play, Annapurna, Ivanov, Margo Veil, and The Receptionist, which were co-productions between the Odyssey and the Evidence Room. His production of David Greenspan’s Go Back to Where You Are opens at the Odyssey on July 16.
Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Go Back to Where You Are is about?
Bart DeLorenzo: It’s about 75 minutes, yuck yuck. (I promise the humor in the play is more sophisticated than that.) It’s a comedy and it takes place in summer, on the beach among a very theatrical family – half biological, half the other kind – and it’s about love – “There should always be love in a play” – and second chances. And how the past affects the present and how at every moment we all have the ability to change our lives and maybe we should. I think it’s a very optimistic play.
DB: How did you get involved in the production, and how long have you been working on it?
BDL John Fleck and I wanted to work on something together and we had had a lot of fun putting together another play of David Greenspan’s ten years ago at the Evidence Room. David writes such playful, innovative comedies – usually with a virtuoso role for himself (which he goes on to play in NY) – so his plays to me are a natural fit for the charms and skills of Mr. Fleck. We read the play together a few months ago and then started rehearsals the beginning of June.
DB: I reviewed I See You Made an Effort, a solo show written and performed by Annabelle Gurwitch, which you directed about a year ago – and she’s in this show as well. Tell us a little about what it’s like to work with actors you know and have directed before – the good, the bad, and the ugly. (And anyone else in this cast you’ve directed before?)
BDL I’m so glad you saw Annabelle’s show. It’s going to be going all around the country next year and I’m so proud of her.
So I chose most of the actors in this show BECAUSE I’ve worked with them before. Or admired them and gotten to know them over time. It’s kind of like the story of this play in that you become a kind of family by working together, so I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t snap at them the way I might at my sister. (And I probably shouldn’t snap at her either, come to think of it.)
Honestly, I work so much better with actors on second and third and whatever collaborations. The formal barriers of politeness fall away and you can usually speak more directly and you have so much more experience to draw on. I was giving Shannon (who plays the show’s diva) a note yesterday about a moment that instantly reminded me of a moment in another play that I had directed with her twenty years ago. Yes, twenty. So all this time and history have passed between us and when I now say something, I think she knows exactly what I mean.
DB: How does directing a one-person show differ from directing a play with scenes and characters and dialogue and confrontation and all that other stuff?
BDL Besides Annabelle’s, I haven’t actually worked on that many one-person shows, but I’d say the similarity is that they usually have these same things – scenes and characters and dialogue – as plays, just that one person is doing them all. So the storytelling experience is largely the same. But for me, the big difference is that the heart of the solo show is the performer’s rapport with the audience and helping the actor relax and find a way to be some comfortable version of him/ herself in that relationship becomes the main task. It’s more “actor-whisperer” than the usual role.
DB: What are your favorites among the shows you’ve directed? Any you wish you’d turned down…?
BDL My favorite is usually the next play I’ll be directing (e.g. M Butterfly in Pasadena in October), so it’s hard to say. I’ve directed a lot of plays – classics and brand new ones, great plays and plays that were still finding their voices, ones I’ve chosen (and sometimes waited years to direct) and plays that theaters have asked me to direct at the last minute – so I have many favorites. And it’s hard to say, because in terms of experiences, every show I’ve done with the Geffen and South Coast and with my company Evidence Room has been an extraordinary experience, and I’ve loved the few times I’ve had the chance to direct Shakespeare and Chekhov.
But if I had to choose one, there was a play I directed a few years ago at the Odyssey with the members of my company – Len Jenkin’s Margo Veil. The play was just my taste and celebrated my love of pulp fiction and film noir and interlocking narratives in a crackling, stylized American vernacular. It was also the first great reunion of my exiled company members at the Odyssey Theater, which has since become a warm and frequently-returned-to home for us. I think it baffled some and charmed others, but it’s the kind of show I would always most like to see.
And I don’t have shows I wish I’d turned down. Some (that will remain nameless here) have been difficult and I couldn’t wait for them to open so I could step away and never come back, but usually in retrospect, I’ve learned a lot from even the most difficult processes. And actually the opposite is more commonly the case: there are several shows I wish I hadn’t turned down. One of my all-time favorite theater people, Gil Cates, took me to lunch and asked me to co-direct a show with him, but it was for a slot I had already booked elsewhere, so I had to say a painful no. I now wish I could take that back.
DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)
BDL Though you wouldn’t know it from my current ability, Spanish is my first language.
Go Back to Where You Are
Written by David Greenspan
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo
Through September 4
2055 S. Sepulveda Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets: 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com