Okay, I’m back on the reviewing beat – if you’re reading this, you’ve probably read my first couple of post-knee-surgery reviews already – but how could I turn down doing a Q&A with director Michael Michetti?
Among Michael’s numerous awards for directing are two Ovations and five Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards. He’s Co-Artistic Director of The Theatre @ Boston Court, where his directing credits include The Golden Dragon, My Barking Dog, and his own adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray, among many others. He’s worked his directorial wizardry at a number of other area theatres, including A Noise within, Circle X, and Pasadena Playhouse. His production of Tom Jacobson’s Captain of the Bible Quiz Team runs through October 3 at Lutheran churches around town.
Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Captain of the Bible Quiz Team is about?
Michael Michetti: Captain of the Bible Quiz Team is about a Lutheran pastor named Landry, recently out of seminary, who returns to the rural Minnesota church when their father, the regular pastor, becomes ill. The play is performed site-specific in various churches, with the audience standing in for the congregation for this church. So when Landry returns to find the church in crisis it is we, the divided congregation, who they attempt to reunite.
DB: When you referred to Landry, you used the term “they.” I hear you have four different actors playing the role, on different nights. Whose idea was that, and how does it work? (And how did you rehearse four different people without losing your mind?!?)
MM: Tom wrote the play with the idea that Landry could be played by either a man or a woman, and by someone of any race. So, along with our producers John Perrin Flynn, Anna Nichols, and Stephanie Kerley Schwartz at Rogue Machine, we decided to cast four actors alternating in the role.
The four actors who share the role each have very distinct personalities and approaches to the character, and I’m always surprised at how many things resonate differently depending on the gender, race, age and other characteristics of the actor. For instance, one of the central relationships in the play is between the father and Landry, and the parent/child relationship is different with girls and boys. Also, one of the problems that plagues this church is that they are too exclusionary, and their congregation still consists almost entirely of people Scandinavian and German ancestry. So it also resonates very differently when Landry, who was adopted by Norwegian parents, is played by a person of color.
We did some early rehearsal with most or all actors in the room together, but they of course each needed individual rehearsal time. So very early on we began working with each of them individually, though occasionally other actors came to watch their cast-mates rehearse, which gave them other perspectives.
DB: You’ve directed several of Tom Jacobson’s plays: tell us a little about the good, the bad, and the ugly of working with a playwright whose work you know well. And, as a writer yourself as well as a director, how much input do you have on the script?
MM: It’s always a pleasure working with Tom. He is a very smart, skillful writer, a good friend, and after our long collaboration we certainly have a shorthand in communication, as well as a tremendous amount of trust. With Captain of the Bible Quiz Team we workshopped the play quite a bit before committing to production, and not only did we discover opportunities for rewrites, which Tom has done throughout that process, but we also had a chance to work out the audience interaction in the play.
DB: You’ve directed a wide range of plays, and for a bunch of different theatres. Any particular favorites? Any you wish you hadn’t said yes to?
MM: I have had wonderful experiences working on all of the Tom Jacobson plays I have directed – Tainted Blood and Ouroboros at the Road, House of the Rising Son at EST/LA, and The Twentieth-Century Way at The Theatre @ Boston Court, and again off-Broadway with Rattlestick Theatre. I also particularly loved directing Aaron Posner’s brilliant Stupid F**king Bird at Boston Court and, because the next project is always the most exciting one, I’m looking forward to Aaron’s adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, retitled District Merchants, at South Coast Rep, which begins rehearsals in a week-and-a-half.
DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)
MM: Well, a few people know this, but I’m missing my first opening night ever with Captain…! I had a trip to Reykjavik planned before we committed to this play, and since technically the director’s job is done by opening anyway, I’m trusting my actors to be brilliant, and my producers and stage manager to offer all the needed support. But it feels very strange to not be there!
But Iceland in August – how could anyone resist? Happy vacation, and get back soon –
Captain of the Bible Quiz Team
Written by Tom Jacobson
Directed by Michael Michetti
Through October 3
Rogue Machine Theatre
At Lutheran churches across Los Angeles
For locations and ticket info, visit http://captainofthebiblequizteam.com/