with excerpts by Hutch Pimentel, Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Observer and HILLARY AND CLINTON Assistant Director Kevin Reyes


KEVIN REYES: Audiences attending Hillary and Clinton may well be confused when they walk into the theatre and see two actors who look nothing like their real-world counterparts portraying the characters of Hillary and Bill. This, however, is all according to plan.

HUTCH PIMENTAL: On the first day of rehearsal, after we read through the script for the first time, playwright Lucas Hnath made a quick announcement: “Throw out your dramaturgy packets. They won’t be helpful. They might actually be harmful.” What we thought we knew about the world we were creating would not serve us.

The intention of this is to create an experience called “stereoscopic theatricality”. “It’s a terribly pretentious term,” Lucas said in The Wall Street Journal. “But if you tell people, ‘Here’s a person you already know,’ and then you do some things contrary to the image they hold in their heads, there’s a dissonance. And if you can get audiences to hold both of these images in their mind at once, something exciting and mind-expanding and psychically beneficial happens. It’s uncanny and titillating all at once.”

REYES: To answer the playwright’s call, Victory Gardens went out of the way to cast these roles with actors who look nothing like their real-life counterparts. At the outset of the show, a black woman walks onto the stage and announces herself as Hillary Clinton.

This lets universality of the text resonate in ways that wouldn’t be possible if we were simply ascribing these characters’ words to people doing imitations of them. By having actors who represent a broader swath of America, we can see how Lucas’ story speaks for any person who has ever felt deep love for another and deep ambition for themselves.

PIMENTAL: The brunt of this weight falls on the actors, to maintain a suspension of disbelief in a world that is so far separated from the world they inhabit. They have to hold themselves differently and modify their speech patterns to inhabit the world that’s been created by Lucas. Lucas has written in every moment in which a breath or pause is taken. The rhythm of speech must be followed to a “t”. Once the actors unlocked the rhythm, and the whole play was laid out in front of them, it was beautiful to behold.

REYES: We throw everything we know about the Clintons in our world out the window, and let whatever details are provided in the written text come back in to create our versions of the characters. This allows the actors the freedom to discover Hillary and Bill anew. Through this discovery, audiences may find that by the end of the play, they not only know the Clintons more intimately than they ever have in the past 25 years, but they know a little bit more about themselves as well.

HILLARY AND CLINTON is playing now through May 1 only. CLICK HERE for more information.

Imperative Ephemera

(Left to Right) Cast Members Kelli Simpkins, Patrese D. McClain, and Mike Tepeli
Written by Bea Cordelia, Literary & Public Programs Intern

Well, it was an excellent turnout Thursday night at Backstage at the Biograph: Breathing Life into a New Play—a free sneak peek into the rehearsal process of the world premiere of Sarah Gubbins’ electrifying new play Cocked.  The moment before, the actors joked with each other in the corner, bubbling with excitement, as various Victory Gardens staff members scrambled to pack more than fifty chairs into the rehearsal room.  Cocked Dramaturg and VG Literary Manager Isaac Gomez introduced the event, and Cocked Director and VG Associate Artistic Producer Joanie Schultz set the stage.

Then: the performance.

Or better: the rehearsal.  There were still a full seven days before Cocked went into previews, and another fifteen until opening night.  Sarah had still been feverishly editing the script, churning out new pages in the middle of rehearsals, and would continue to do so after this particular evening, meaning even the following here-publicized excerpt of the play was not guaranteed immunity.  Of course, theater practitioners practicing what they do—the realization of their art never quite existing in the same way more than once, the deep melancholy of taking bows after the final performance of any given production—the Cocked cast was no stranger to ephemera.

In Scene 2 of the play, corporate attorney Taylor and her ex-con brother Frank bicker like children over his unwelcome and unanticipated presence in her home, leaving Taylor’s crime beat reporter girlfriend Izzie to feebly mediate between the two.  At once politically sharp and delightfully biting, the scene quickly had the audience in stitches.

Isaac started the panel conversation, asking how the actors would essentialize the play.

“It’s not a gun play,” Mike Tepelli, playing Frank, began, in response to the popular misconception of the show.  “It raises a lot of questions about what it feels like to be safe in modern America, and what it feels like to be lonely.”

“It is a play about armor, in many ways, about protection…and about weapons being at the epicenter of our relationships,” Kelli Simpkins, playing Taylor, followed.

Sarah Gubbins had some larger theoretical thoughts about the piece:

“…I’m very interested in the idea of the materiality of thought, the materiality of belief, the ways in which our emotional truths, the tenets of how we ought to believe in the world—those are intangible, but I do believe those thoughts can gain materiality in the world… There is a physical ramification to thinking differently.”

Patrese D. McClain, playing Izzie, suggested, “When circumstances and people collide we ask, Are those our boundaries, or are those what we’ve been conditioned to think?

Sarah began writing Cocked in 2012; the world was a different place then.  The infamous Aurora movie theater and Newtown elementary school shootings both took place in 2012, but since then we’ve seen the explosion of activism around Black Lives Matter and confronting police brutality, harrowing video footage of too many executions, more rampant Islamophobia than ever, the continued genocide of trans women of color, and the list goes on.  In a country that boasts its valuation of individuality, the United States has become a veritable battleground for those who are different.

“I believe in the power of thought to change society,” said Sarah. “I have no assumption of improving the city, or the theater district.  I would love, and humbly so, if audience came to this, and really sat with this—sat with the performances, and sat with the beautiful thoughtful design, and sat with the integrity of the direction—and walked around with them.”

True to her words, it has been an enormously collaborative process.  In fact, the majority of the rehearsal room has been in it for the long haul: Joanie and Kelli first became acquainted with the play at its inception, and Patrese in November for a workshop reading of it.

“You have a trust, and it really helps to check the panic and terror,” added Sarah on her relationship with the actors.

“As an actor, the trust is so important for you to expose yourself for you to get to your best work,” replied Patrese. “Sometimes things are ugly, and that’s okay.”

Kelli referred to bringing a world premiere to the stage as “a gift and an honor.”

And in the context of premiering a play so engaged in gender, race, and class politics—and at a theater acting “in direct response to what’s happening in the world,” as Isaac asserted, Victory Gardens can truly “change the world one play at a time.”

It is not easy work, but VG “tries to cultivate an audience who want to invest themselves in the risky work that we do,” Joanie stressed.

Based on the audience size Thursday night, the work is well underway.

Catch Cocked February 12th through March 13th.

Two American Generations Colliding by Isaac Gomez

First rehearsals are always exciting. From design presentations to a meet and greet with the Victory Gardens’ staff, there is always something electrifying about freshly laced spike tape outlining the parameters of the set, and actors fiercely highlighting their scripts in anticipation of that first read.

Before we began, Director Joanie Schultz shared a few words about the importance of the play and the way it resonates in the world today: she spoke briefly about the complexities surrounding Assisted Living, and the realities that face our loved ones afflicted with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; she touched on the life and music of Arvo Pärt, and the deep metaphors behind a whole rest note in music composition.

And once introductions had died down, and design renderings had circulated, everyone settled into their seats and those magic words were heard: “Rest. A play by Samuel D. Hunter.” And then something happened. The one thing this play speaks to, and one that continues to permeate the rehearsal space — A moment. A collective breath. A rest.

The play, though complex in nature, is not only a tender tribute to our elderly, but also to our millennials; two American generations colliding, both at crossroads, everyone in transition, and all searching, all hopeful.

The first week of rehearsal is a time for discovery. As we continue to learn more about the world of the play and its inhabitants, we begin to develop a deeper understanding of the profound messages Sam has left for us in the wake of his words. In just a few short weeks, we will be sharing that process with our patrons throughout preview performances of Sam Hunter’s Rest. It is within those crucial days that we are able to learn from our audiences — the final component of our process, and one of the most important.

We hope you will join us on this journey. We’d love to have you.