The Actors of THE NIGHT ALIVE Talk About Their Roles: Matthew Vaky plays Tommy

771471-250Matthew was last seen at Quotidian in Conor McPherson’s The Birds. The Night Alive centers on his character, Tommy.

“You said it Marvin.  What’s going on? That is the question.” 

I say that line in The Night Alive.  The question isn’t “to be or not to be?”  The question is “What’s goin’ on”?    It is such a funny, cryptic, tongue in cheek, yet brilliant and deep question.   As Tommy, Aimee and Doc dance onstage, I can feel McPherson giggling, because at the end of this gem, the audience wants to know “What the heck is goin’ on?  What just happened?”

For me, it is the question that hangs over Tommy’s life and throughout the play.   What has happened to me?  How did I get to this state?  I am estranged from my wife and my kids.  My get-rich plans have not worked out, to say the least. I try so hard, yet I live in complete and cluttered bedlam. What is goin’ on indeed?  Tommy is simply trying to do the best he can, yet his world is a swirling mass of chaos. In a split second decision, he helps Aimee, who has just been assaulted, by bringing her into his flat.  This action sets his life spinning in ways that at times seem out of control and at others seem destined by fate.

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David Dubov, Joe Palka, and Matthew Vaky in THE NIGHT ALIVE (photo by StJohnn Blondell)

At rehearsals, we kept unearthing enigmatic, cryptic, and magical ideas:  Is this whole thing a metaphor with Maurice as God and Kenneth as the Snake in the Garden?  Are these characters spiraling into a black hole? Kenneth does describe the darkness outside Tommy’s flat that way. Has time slowed down for these characters and have they crossed over into something otherworldly?  As an actor, I have loved exploring these ideas, but ultimately the beauty of this play is the humanity of these people.  It’s a play about people, plain and simple, and my flawed and kindly Tommy is a joy to embody.   


The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now

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Behind the Scenes of THE NIGHT ALIVE with Lighting Designer Don Slater

Don Slater is QTC’s Resident Lighting Designer.

Don Slater

Don Slater

As has been noted in other QTC posts, The Night Alive is my ninth Conor McPherson play.   I very much enjoy working on them as his writing style and my lighting style mesh well.  My lighting is largely naturalistic to realistic and tends to be on the dark side.  McPherson’s plays are similar in nature.  This commonality makes the process of lighting the plays a lot easier.

Having worked with Jack and Stephanie for 17 years (and designed for the logistics of The Writer’s Center during that time), we have a very comfortable collaborative process.  I read the script through several times, getting a feel for the piece, determining the locations and times of day, and learning something about the characters.

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John Decker in THE VEIL (photo by StJohnn Blondell)

In the case of The Veil and Shining City, there were special effects to create.  For those of you who saw The Veil, the ghost of the little girl was a lighting effect, not a projection.  The mirror effect at the end of the play was not a reflection – the light was passing through the mirror.  The Night Alive does not require any such effects.  There has been a bit of speculation about the light swirling above the center of the stage during scene changes.  Jack and I discussed how we might create an effect to cover the noise and bustle of the scene changes, especially since the pacing of The Night Alive is important.  We had two water effects projectors we used to create part of the environment for Port Authority many years ago.  I ran some tests with them and felt that they could work for us.  The effect is interesting and serves the purpose as well as generating some questions about what it represents.  Like McPherson, I leave that to the audience.  The rest of the lighting is straightforward and functional.  I tried to keep the scenes sufficiently illuminated and yet dark and spotty at the same time, to complement the sort of life in which the characters are living.


The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now

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The Actors of THE NIGHT ALIVE Talk About Their Roles: Joe Palka as Maurice

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Joe Palka joins a stellar cast in the QTC’s The Night Alive, playing the role of Maurice. He shares with us how he continues to grow in his understanding of his character and the play.

It’s become conventional wisdom among the cast members that Maurice is a God-like figure (thanks to David Dubov’s initial interpretation that had not dawned on me until he mentioned it!)  He looms from above, only coming down to pass judgment and guide behaviors.  One might even liken him to Zeus, with the thunder of his cane pounding from above, but his character must also exist in a realistic, human form–experiencing guilt, anger and concern for the passing of time and the end of life.  He has a transcendent awareness that “living in the moment” is the only thing that matters, and he suffers a terrible sadness that he cannot control man’s choices.  When he becomes frustrated at not being able to control the carnage and violence he sees on TV, one must wonder if God has similar frustrations at observing the same carnage and violence, but without the television. (No one doubts–at least I don’t–God’s ability to do something about it, but He has His own reasons for not interfering, should He choose not to do so.)
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Matthew Vaky and Joe Palka in THE NIGHT ALIVE (photo by StJohnn Blondell)

This is my second Conor McPherson endeavor, having portrayed Richard in an acclaimed production of The Seafarer at Scena Theatre.  The spiritual component of The Seafarer is more obvious, of course, when four rowdies play cards with the devil, but the theatre-goer is forced to navigate more obscure symbolism elsewhere.  Although I consider The Seafarer a superior work, The Night Alive is more honest.  McPherson’s symbolism is very apparent, but this is not only a play about the spirit.  It is about Time.  Having lived with the play for some months now, I’m confident the significance of all its devices may not occur to me for some months or years down the road.

Maurice brought me challenges of range.  He is not inherently a humorous character like Richard or Captain Boyle in Juno and the Paycock.  However, he is not completely lacking in humor – he wouldn’t be Irish if he was – but he is dealing with the guilt of losing his wife, which continues to cast a shadow over everything.  He is sweet when he meets Aimee, but he becomes vindictive shortly thereafter due to his frustration with the aimlessness of the others.  McPherson allows for no clear explanation, but again, it’s a play about Time.  One of the beauties of the play is how it allows the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps.  That is the essence of great theatre, and McPherson is a writer uniquely gifted for the theatre.

The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now
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The Actors of THE NIGHT ALIVE Talk About Their Roles: Grant Cloyd as Kenneth

grant-cloyd-headshotGrant Cloyd makes his QTC debut in The Night Alive as Kenneth. He shares how he approached playing “evil.”

“Evil has no meaning” – so says Maurice in scene 4 of The Night Alive. In many ways, working on a character as troubled and troubling as Kenneth has entailed adhering to that adage. As a performer I can’t play “evil”. I simply say the words and perform the actions that McPherson wrote and let the audience react and judge as they see fit. My work is to find the mindset and the backstory that justifies these actions. And in this case, the answers often aren’t found in Kenneth’s lines – in which he is frequently coy, cagey or outright deceitful. He is more than willing to “pull your peanut” to get the information he needs while providing little insight to his own motivations.

Throughout the play, McPherson poses more questions than he answers for Kenneth. The script reveals that he drives a car, is prone to violence, and that Aimee denies she knows him until eventually revealing, “He’s my boyfriend,” before quickly clarifying, “Well, my ex.” Later, when asked how she could be with “someone like that” she simply offers, “He changed.” Little else is said about Kenneth. Indeed, he is never even named for the audience – no character says his name and he never introduces himself at any point. The only reason the audience might know his name is because it’s listed in the program.

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Chelsea Mayo and Grant Cloyd in THE NIGHT ALIVE. photo by StJohnn Blondell

Ultimately, this limited pool of information is a gift. It allows me (and my cast-mates and director) to use these kernels to create a backstory that fits within McPherson’s generous parameters. I get to answer those questions. What is Kenneth doing when he is not on-stage? How did he change? What is his relationship with Aimee? Why does he do what he does? What was his childhood like? What kind of car does he drive? The list goes on and on, or as Kenneth might say, “round and round”. And though I have a lot of questions to answer, McPherson only gives Kenneth one problem to solve. It’s a problem which speaks to both the core of the character and the task of the performer: Kenneth and I both have to find some way, “To forget that a devil lives inside of [me] and [I] should probably just go home but [I] can’t do that.”


The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now

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The Actors of THE NIGHT ALIVE Talk About Their Roles: Chelsea Mayo plays Aimee

Chelsea.Mayo.headshot (1)Chelsea Mayo was last seen at QTC in this summer’s The Lady with the Little Dog as Anna Sergeyevna. In The Night Alive, she plays Aimee.

How is your role in The Night Alive different from your role in McPherson’s The Veil?

In The Veil, set in 1820s Ireland, I played Hannah, a teenaged girl who is about to be married off to a wealthy Englishman in order to settle her family’s affairs. All of McPherson’s characters are haunted in one way or another; Hannah sees ghosts, hears voices, and actually acts as a medium in a seance. Aimee’s demons aren’t as visible, but she’s haunted by decisions she’s made or been forced to make.

There’s also a difference of nearly 200 years between the two plays. Aimee is the only woman in The Night Alive, which is common for McPherson’s plays, if they have female characters at all. The Veil is an exception with five wonderful roles for women ranging from late teens to seventies. In The Night Alive, Aimee is an outsider, stumbling into Tommy’s life and changing it forever. In The Veil, Hannah is the one who has strangers appear in her world to shake things up.

What was your process in developing your character? Was there a key physical characteristic that helped you to define your character? Aimee is the youngest character, only in her late twenties, but life has already dealt her some hard blows. We see the physical effects of that violence at the top of the show, and McPherson hints at her past over the course of the play.  Thinking about weight and resistance helped me to shape her movement, exploring when she feels the heaviness of that burden and when she’s able to let it go for a while. I think the beauty of this play is in the surprising contrast between the dark and light moments, and I hope audiences will enjoy being as bewildered by the sudden shifts between the two as the characters are.


The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now

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QTC favorite Audrey Cefaly’s THE GULF receives rave reviews at Signature Theatre

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Maria Rizzo and Rachel Zampelli in The Gulf. (photo by Margot Schulman)

For an evening of thought provoking drama, see Quotidian Theatre Company alum and playwright Audrey Cefaly spread her wings with her latest play, The Gulf, at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. Cefaly’s play portrays two lovers drifting along in a spare boat, adrift in the middle of a backwoods Southern river delta, as they sort through their six-year relationship, realizing that moving forward may well mean moving in different directions.

The Gulf has drawn rave reviews for its ability to portray the joys and heartbreak of love. As John Stoltenburg of DCMetro Theatre Arts observes, “Audrey Cefaly’s The Gulf is as memorable as anyone’s own first broken heart and as enduring as anyone’s longing for lasting love.”

According to Amanda Gunther of Theatre Bloom, Cefaly’s story is “profoundly crafted with a striking emotional core. [She] articulates her work with nuance and finesse while doing so in the practiced patois of the gulf vernacular” and is “practically a poet with the give and take, push and pull, ebb and flow of the way these two women interact.”

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Maria Rizzo and Rachel Zampelli in The Gulf. (photo by Margot Schulman)

 

The acting is also first rate. Ryan Taylor of DC Theatre Scene observes, “Maria Rizzo and Rachel Zampelli make a cracking pair, evoking a couple that has been together long enough to know each other inside and out, just enough to effectively wound in argument, with full knowledge that both have a killing blow stored, just in case.”

Jeffrey Walker of Broadway World proclaims that Cefaly is “an exciting new voice for the theatre,” and he adds that Rizzo and Zampelli give “two of the most riveting performances I have seen this season so far.”

David Siegel of DC Metro Theatre Arts agrees, enthusing “The portrayals by Maria Rizzo and Rachel Zampelli will be talked about beyond DC, as they should. They set a high bar for those who come after them, when The Gulf becomes a play produced through[out] the United States, as I am sure it will be.”

Further accolades come from Peter Marks of the Washington Post for director Joe Calarco, who ensures “the 85-minute comedy-drama is invested with an assured, soulful intimacy.”

The Gulf is a play that is not to be missed!

Tickets, $40-$89. Through Nov. 6 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. Visit sigtheatre.org or call 703-820- 9771.

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Quotidian’s Take on THE NIGHT ALIVE

Why in the world, you might ask, would Quotidian Theatre Company choose to stage ConorTNA CultureSpot McPherson’s NY-Drama-Circle-Award-Winning Play The Night Alive after its Bethesda neighbor, Round House, so successfully produced the play just one year earlier? Well, let’s go back to December 2013, when QTC co-founders Jack Sbarbori and Stephanie Mumford saw the difficult-to-categorize work at the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York. As usual, we saw the play a couple of times and sat as close as possible to the stage in the intimate performance space, a former church, so we could feel a part of the action. We were spellbound by the authenticity and humanity of the quirky, yet entirely recognizable characters. The dramatic shifts between the everyday and otherworldly, the seediness and sublime, the despair, and laugh-out-loud humor enthralled us.

So of course, Jack–McPherson’s number one fan and noted director of McPherson’s plays in the D.C. area—had to do it. He immediately applied for the rights, but was chagrined to learn that a larger regional theatre had it in reserve for a staging in the distant future. In the meantime, Jack mollified his disappointment by directing another McPherson play on his “to-do” list, This Lime Tree Bower, and just as soon as Round House completed its production of The Night Alive in the fall of 2015, Jack successfully obtained the rights.

One of QTC’s core missions is to examine the canon of works by its cornerstone playwrights—Anton Chekhov, Horton Foote, and Conor McPherson. Having previously staged McPherson’s The Weir, Dublin Carol, Port Authority (D.C. area premiere), The Seafarer, Shining City, The Birds (D.C. area premiere), The Veil (U.S. premiere), and This Lime Tree Bower, QTC is running out of McPherson’s plays to explore, while garnering a reputation for expert and insightful stagings of the master Irish playwright’s works. Despite Round House’s fine production last season, D.C. Theatre Scene’s Tim Treanor still put QTC’s 2016 offering of the same work on his annual list of “won’t-miss shows.” According to Treanor, “Quotidian… specializes in the subtle and the underplayed, which is just perfect for this play.” In July 2015, D.C. Theater Scene’s Roy Maurer praised QTC as “the best stage to experience McPherson’s plays in the Washington, D.C. area.”

So, even if you have already seen this play, QTC’s special affinity for McPherson’s work is likely to make you see it in a different light, particularly its mystifying ending.


The Night Alive runs October 21 – November 20, 2016 at The Writer’s Center, where QTC is the Resident Theatre Company. Tickets are on sale now

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