Q&A with Matt Chait by Dan Berkowitz

If you’ve been following this column, you know that, after recovering from surgery, I’ve (finally) been up and about and starting to see and review shows again. However, every once in a while, it’s fun to take a break and do a Q&A, and today’s one of those times!

Matt Chait has appeared in over 100 plays on and off Broadway; has directed plays in Los Angeles and New York; has taught acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, at UCLA, and in private classes in Hollywood for fifteen years; will open his one man show Understanding the Quantum at the Hollywood Fringe Festival next summer; and is the recipient of a Charlie Award for contributions to the Hollywood Arts Community. In 1990, he purchased what was then the Richmond Shepard Theatre Studios and expanded that into The Complex. Combining his passions for science (especially biology and physics) and spirituality, Chait blogs about the intersection of the two at http://beyondevolutionistheregodafterdawkins.blogspot.com/. He has written and appears in a play, Disinherit the Wind, which opens soon at The Complex.

Matt Chait

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Disinherit the Wind is about?

Matt Chait: It’s about a way of being a spiritual person and, at the same time, welcoming all the advances in our scientific understanding of the world. It’s also about the anti-religion religion of neo-Darwinian materialism and the persecution of serious scientists who see the world differently. In a way, it is a reversal of Inherit The Wind in which a small town was threatened by the introduction of Darwin’s ideas. In Disinherit The Wind a noted neurobiologist is let go from a prominent university for challenging Darwin.

L-R: Circus-Szalewski, Christina Hart, Matt Chait. Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: What prompted you to write it, and how long did it take you? You did an earlier production in 2015 – how does this production differ, and how is it the same? Is there any overlap in the cast or other production people? Either way, how did things change this time?

MC: I have been writing a blog about the relationship between science and spirituality for ten years. About three years ago I got the idea of combining my passionate interest in this subject with my lifelong involvement with theatre. The first version took two years. During the performance of that version I was surprised at how many people felt an affinity for the protagonist’s ideas, although they had never heard them articulated that way before. The new play is not so much about the protagonist vs. the world, but about how the spiritual dimension in all of us is held down by a materialist establishment that considers any such ideas delusional. Also, I’ve gotten to know some of these characters better, just because I have spent more time with them and because of the way they have been portrayed by some extremely talented actors. This made it easy for me to develop them further, adding more humor and depth.

Out of a cast of ten, five are returning and five are new. I am thrilled about this cast and our director, Gary Lee Reed. Also, the design team, with the exception of the sound designer, is brand new. The set will be much more fanciful and we will be using some amazing projections that show the wonders of the universe on both a molecular level and a galactic level.

Matt Chait (L) and Ken Stirbl. Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: You appear in the production, and you also own the theatre. How does that work when you talk with your director? As the author and a leading character, do you have “the muscle” (as William Goldman wrote in his book The Season), or are you genuinely looking to be “led” by a director who might take you to places and ideas you never thought of?

MC: Yes, a very tricky relationship and I was a little wary going into it. But my relationship with Gary has been terrific. I have the deepest respect for his insights and vast stage experience as he respects my knowledge of the character and this play that I have spent so much time developing. In short, we are both able to talk to about things without getting self-protective and that has been a real joy.

DB: You own The Complex in Hollywood, which not only will house this production, but is home to many, many productions each year. How will the new Equity rules affect your theatre – or are you “immune” since you host most of your productions?

MC: The Complex is a rental house except for those few times that I am so drawn to a project that I abandon all reason and jump in. Some of our theaters are 50 seats or less, which would qualify them to do a show of 15 performances or fewer under the Equity Showcase Code. As for the 50-plus theaters, I just don’t see how it is feasible for anyone to do an Equity show under the new contract. We still have plenty of non-Equity shows that are looking for a home and we will find a way to survive as we always have.

Matt Chait (L) and Circus-Szalewski. Photo: Ed Krieger

DB: What’s the most wonderful thing about working in LA theatre? What’s the most horrible? (This isn’t me, it’s an old Stella Adler exercise!)

MC: The most wonderful thing about doing theatre in LA is the openness. There are a lot of schemers and dreamers out here who are willing to try anything. And when they leap into a project they often don’t know who they will get to help them with it, either the cast or the crew or the designers. People are constantly collaborating with strangers and forming new relationships. That is truly exciting and very different, at least in my experience, from New York, which felt to me more closed in, with theatre being a tighter knit community with everyone watching and assessing one another and, in general, leading to more cautious choices.

The worst thing about doing theatre in LA is the lack of serious commitment that so many people have that are involved in theatre here. For many it is a way of passing time until they get a “real” job, meaning a commercial or a bit part on TV. Also, many of them are easily satisfied with doing something passable. How many times have I heard, “Don’t worry,” “It’ll be okay.” For God’s sake, who the hell wants to do okay theatre? If you are not trying to deliver an experience to an audience that is life-changing, or attempting to affect people in a way that they will never forget, then what is the point?

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

MC: For three years I was the proud owner and operator of The Ricycle, a macrobiotic pushcart that I operated on the streets of Boston. The carts were built at a place called The Shady Deal Welding Parlor in Richmond, Vermont where I had spent the summer working for the Aquarius Tree Service. In short order I had three carts: one at B.U., one at M.I.T., and one at Government Center in downtown Boston. I may have still been in the pushcart business if Al Pacino hadn’t come to town to do The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and cast me in a plum role. So I was reinfected with the acting bug and returned to New York to once again seek fame and fortune.

Disinherit the Wind
Written by Matt Chait
Directed by Gary Lee Reed

March 3 through April 9

Ruby Theatre @ The Complex
6476 Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90038

Tickets: 323-960-4420 or www.plays411.com/disinherit


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