STOCKBRIDGE, MASS.: Playwright David Auburn has found a good way to learn from the greats who came before him: Direct their plays.
Auburn put a fresh spin on Tennessee Williams’s often-overlooked Period of Adjustment in 2011, at Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge, Mass. Now he moves on to another emblematic giant of American theatre—Eugene O’Neill—by directing Anna Christie Aug. 20–31, in a BTG production starring Rebecca Brooksher, Jonathan Hogan and Holt McCallany.
“I like going up against these major figures, like O’Neill or Williams, and trying to understand how they did what they did. To get to dig into the bones of work by these writers is the best way to learn from them,” Auburn contends.
Anna Christie, which appeared in 1921, won O’Neill the second of his four Pulitzers. Tracking the outcome of a troubled woman’s reunion with her well-meaning but oblivious father, it meditates on one of O’Neill’s favorite themes—an attempt to escape the suffocating weight of the past.
In its examination of a father/daughter relationship alongside the stirrings of a love story, one can spy a thematic connection with Proof, the 2000 play that nabbed Auburn both a Pulitzer and a Tony. “Parents and children—that theme seems like it comes up a lot in my own work,” the father of two reflects, “and I feel that, for whatever reason, it sparks my creativity and resonates with me.”
Brooksher, who will appear as O’Neill’s heroine, is an emerging talent whom Auburn has directed twice before. She says the title role offers the challenge of a woman with contradictory impulses. “She is a big ball of opposites,” the actress observes. “At the same time she says she hates men, she’s also falling in love.”
Auburn says the experience of directing other playwrights strengthens his own chops as a writer. “When someone is directing my play, I’m definitely impatient to see it realized and to have everything working. It’s helpful for me to be on the other side of things as a director, and understand that the process is the point.”