Q&A with Robert Allan Ackerman by Dan Berkowitz

Well, I’m still in New York, but unlike last week, now I have wifi. Yay!

However, now I have bronchitis too. Boo!

Which leads to the philosophical question: which would you prefer to live without, wifi or bronchitis? Hard to say sometimes…

Anyway, if I were to list all of Robert Allan Ackerman’s directing credits, it would take the rest of this week. Here are just a few:

On the New York stage: the Tony-nominated Broadway production of Bent starring Richard Gere and David Dukes; Slab Boys starring Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Val Kilmer; Salome starring Al Pacino; Legs Diamond starring Peter Allen; and Extremities starring Susan Sarandon, for which he received the Outer Critics Circle Award.

In London’s West End: Extremities starring Helen Mirren; Torch Song Trilogy starring Sir Antony Sher; A Madhouse in Goa starring Vanessa Redgrave; Burn This starring John Malkovich and Juliet Stevenson; and Our Town starring Alan Alda and Robert Sean Leonard.

For television: Life with July Garland: Me and My Shadows starring Judy Davis and Victor Garber (Television Critics Association and Broadcast Journalists Awards, as well as Emmy, DGA and Golden Globe nominations); The Reagans starring James Brolin and Judy Davis; the Emmy Award-winning David’s Mother starring Kirstie Alley, Stockard Channing, and Sam Waterston; Forget Me Never starring Mia Farrow; and Double Platinum starring Diana Ross and Brandy.

He’s now back in Los Angeles, where Blood – a play he not only directed but also wrote – opened on March 5 at The Complex. We asked him a few questions…

The Ensemble in "Blood" Photo: Ed Krieger

The Ensemble in “Blood” Photo: Ed Krieger

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Blood is about?

Robert Allan Ackerman: The play is about a major scandal that happened in the early ‘80s involving the United States and Japan. At that time the blood supply in America was banned because of HIV contamination, leaving the American drug companies with a huge surplus of contaminated blood which they sold to Japan, causing an AIDS epidemic in that country.

DB: The play is “inspired by true events”? What events, and what did you change in order to make the play work?

RAA: The fact that America sold tainted blood to Japan is true. The story of how the scandal was uncovered is a combination of fact and fiction. In the play, an American reporter living in Japan becomes suspicious when her Japanese friend mysteriously dies. She and another friend, a Korean Japanese lawyer, begin a search to discover the truth of what caused this untimely death. The reporter and the lawyer and the friend who dies are all fictitious. The ensuing trial and the story of the revelation of the truth to the Japanese public is actual fact.

DB: I’ve never heard of a “political thriller with music,” which is how Blood is described. Is this a new genre you created for the play?

RAA: The play is called a political thriller with music, which is what it is. Perhaps a political tale would be a more apt description. I don’t think it’s the birth of a new genre. It just seemed to be the proper way of theatricalizing such an almost epic story. I was hoping to create a theatrical piece that made a statement about corruption and lies and activism vs. passivism. I’m not a political analyst nor am I an historian or a seasoned playwright. I’m a director. I conjure theatricality. So in approaching this story, which is based on fact, my impulse was to create a theatrical opus which gets the point across in an entertaining and, I think, apt way. So rather than totally villainizing the guilty parties, the politicians and princes of power, I chose to present them as buffoons, vaudeville comics who sing. The danger of having such men as leaders is hopefully apparent. Watching the current presidential debates, I think I made the right choice.

The Ministers of Japan in "Blood" Photo: Ed Krieger

The Ministers of Japan in “Blood” Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: You wrote the play and you’re also the director. What are the advantages and/or challenges of doing this kind of double duty?

RAA: Being the writer and director of this piece has been advantageous in that I’ve been able to stage it pretty much as I envisioned it when I wrote it. On the other hand, I think that I tend to worry more and find it almost impossible to appreciate the experience. My critical self is on over drive and I find it very difficult to simply give myself over to the work.

DB: You’ve directed on Broadway and at theatres around the world, and worked with some of the biggest stars in the theatre and films. Do you have a favorite (or least-favorite) incident you can tell us about?

RAA: I think my favorite experience was making the film The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. It was based on a novel by my favorite writer, Tennessee Williams. The screenplay was by my dear friend, Martin Sherman. It starred two of my closest friends and favorite actresses, Helen Mirren and Anne Bancroft. And we were in my favorite city, Rome. Every evening after we wrapped we’d all go out to gorgeous dinners with Mel Brooks, Rodrigo Santoro, and Olivier Martinez. Those beautiful springtime Roman dinners with those beautiful, funny, and talented people were truly unforgettable. And I loved the work we were doing. Can’t ask for better than that.

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

RAA: I can’t think of a thing about me that no one knows. I have such a big mouth, I rarely hold anything back. Until now, I would have said writing plays. Everything I wrote was kept hidden in a drawer. But with this play I’ve outed myself. I hope I won’t be sorry.

If Blood is anything like the rest of Mr. Ackerman’s oeuvre, I think it’s safe to say no one will be sorry!

Blood
Written and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman

Through April 3

The Complex
6476 Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90038

Tickets: 323-960-7745 or www.plays411.com/blood.


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