Q&A with Ron West by Dan Berkowitz

So I was sittin’ around, staring at the computer, thinking once again that it might be nice to talk with someone about something to do with the theatre, when, out of the blue, I get an email from Italy asking if I’d do a Q&A. Don’t get alarmed: the Q&A isn’t in Italian. It isn’t even with an Italian. Or with anyone in Italy. The email only came from Italy because… aaah, who cares?

Writer/director Ron West and composer Phil Swann co-authored the musicals The People Vs Friar Laurence, which debuted at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, and Musical Fools, based on the play Fools by Neil Simon; both are now available from Samuel French. West’s recent directing credits include Welcome to Your Alternative Reality, which he co-wrote with Catherine Butterfield, for Open Fist Theatre Company at Atwater Village; Life Expectancy for the Hollywood Fringe; The 39 Steps at the Malibu Playhouse; and Twist Your Dickens at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where he also appeared as Ebenezer Scrooge; and at the Portland Center Stage. West has also written and directed many shows for The Second City including the Jeff Award-winning Curious George Goes to War, Sex and the Second City, and Disgruntled Employee Picnic, which toured internationally. His adaptation for Chicago Shakespeare of The Comedy of Errors, set in London during the Battle of Britain, won Jeff Awards for Best Adaptation and Best Production. West was a consultant to the improvisation TV series Whose Line Is It, Anyway?; a writer for Politically Incorrect; and a producer for the syndicated KwikWitz.

Ron West

West and Swann’s musical deLEARious plays at Open Fist Theatre Company at Atwater Village through December 16, and I decided to (virtually) ask him about it…

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

Ron West: Three second version. It’s a funny King Lear. Eight second version. Hate, greed, power, loneliness, fear, lies, and cruelty. And a crazy king. Twelve seconds. The play is comprised of three interdependent time periods: 60 AD, 1601, and 2017. In each of the time periods, one thing that is universal is that the person you depend on most – your father, your partner, your spouse, your offspring, your employer – is going to let you down. So with that sunny thought in mind, we wrote a funny musical.

Gina Manziello and Ramón Garcia. Photo by Darrett Sanders

DB: That’s actually nineteen seconds, but we don’t give refunds. It sounds as if you and your co-author, Phil Swann, are characters in the show as well as authors. How did that happen? And do you also play yourselves in the production?

RW: I don’t remember why we made the choice to put ourselves in as characters. We were just trying to link everything together. We knew we were doing 60 AD and circa 1601, so there was a kind of rule of three requirement. Phil isn’t playing himself this time; his role is acted by Jan Roper.

Ron West and Jan Roper. Photo by Darrett Sanders

DB: The show was first done at Open Fist in 2008, when it was a hit and won a bunch of awards. Why revive it now?

RW: The short answer is why not? The longer answer is if someone says, “Hey, I want to produce your play,” I am not going to question their motives. I am going to show up for work.

Chase Studinski and Micah Watterson. Photo by Darrett Sanders

DB: The press release says the show has 17 actors, which must be a record these days, when most theatres seem to prefer plays with as few characters as possible. Why such a large cast? (And how do you schedule rehearsals?!?)

Chase Studinski and Ensemble. Photo by Darrett Sanders

RW: It could be done by 12. The last time we did it we did it with 14. I was just trying to use the human resources of the Open Fist. The actors are the best production value. The text is slightly different than last time, owing to the added numbers.

DB: You’ve co-written this show, and are directing it as well, and you’ve done a lot of both writing and directing. Do you prefer one over the other? Which is more fun for you? And what’s it like to direct your own work – does the director in you ever criticize the writer in you?

Micah Watterson and Jason Paige. Photo by Darrett Sanders

RW: It’s all the same thing to me now. If you’re just an actor, though, it’s a lot less responsibility, and sometimes I prefer that.

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

RW: Although I appear intimidating, I am a big softie.

L-R: Chris Farah, Rachel Addington, Ron West, Scott Mosenson, Robyn Roth. Photo by Darrett Sanders

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Phil Swann and Ron West
Directed by Ron West

Through December 16

Open Fist Theatre Company
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039

Tickets: 323-882-6912 or www.openfist.org


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