Every other week, the editors of American Theatre curate a free-ranging discussion about the lively arts in our Offscript podcast.
This week, it’s an all-female Tony Awards discussion! Suzy Evans, Diep Tran, and Allison Considine share Tony stories, including the times Allison was a seat filler, and predict which shows will take the top prizes. (Suzy’s favorite for Best Musical may surprise you.)
Then we serve up two Tony-related interviews: Rebecca Taichman, nominated for a directing Tony for Indecent (17:25), and Kevin Moriarty, artistic director of Dallas Theater Center, this year’s regional Tony Award winner (48:35).
Excerpts from the interviews are below:
Rebecca Taichman on how she discovered God of Vengeance by Sholem Asch (the inspiration for and subject of Indecent): I was a grad student in directing at Yale getting my MFA. In my first year I was looking for a project. They asked us to do a one-hour long piece of our choosing; all the directors could pick their own project. I happened to be reading a book by Alisa Solomon called Re-Dressing the Canon in which she mentioned God of Vengeance and the obscenity trial from when it was performed in New York in 1923. So I read it and I just couldn’t believe how extraordinary the play was.
How Indecent has changed post election: You can just feel it resonating on a new level, a tragic one. I think really the parallels between the ’20s in New York and today are so eerie. It just feels like this cycle of history that we keep spinning on. In 1921, there was a massive immigration restriction law put in play, and again in 1924, even further choked immigration. It was a real time in this country of anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the country. And this is just one of millions of stories of how that played itself out. But a big part of what happened to God of Vengeance was the more assimilated Jewish community was very uncomfortable with that immigrant story being told and by immigrants on the Great White Way. And that it was an authentically dangerous moment for Jews in America—it felt like to them, [it was] really a terrible choice. I think that fear—the realness of that fear is more palpable now than it was two years ago. And issues of censorship and sort of controlling what can be spoken and what cannot be spoken.
Kevin Moriarty on the role of theatre in 2017: A challenge I think for all of us in theatre right now is trying to figure out, is my role as someone who leads a theatre and someone who makes art to speak to people who have a different experience than those of my relatively liberal friends? Is it to open up a conversation about what connects us and an honest dialogue about what divides us? Or is it a platform to galvanize all of us who share common beliefs and values? That’s complicated, and I’m watching the field as a whole answer those questions in radically different ways. Sometimes, we can make art that I think, and hope, is going to change people’s minds or open up new experiences for them. But we may be only speaking to fellow travelers. And I think determining what the real, genuine, honest goal of that dialogue is, and who do we want to be in that dialogue, that’s the first important step. And then the work itself can effectively achieve that.
What kind of work he looks for: For me as an artgoer, I want to go to art that wakes me up, that upsets me. I want to get mad sometimes and say, “That’s not the way it is!” And that’s a glorious thing. I spend a lot of time trying to help audiences understand that my job as an artist is to tell a story clearly and to tell it compellingly. So if you say, “Kevin, I fell asleep at that play,” I have failed. If you say, “I stayed wide awake but I had no idea what was happening,” I failed. But if you say, “I saw that play, I stayed wide awake, I understood everything that was going on, and I’m really, really mad about it. I didn’t like it.” Well, that’s not a failure, certainly not on my part as an artist. I’m going to call that a success! And hopefully if you engage over an entire season of work, then you find yourself in alignment on some conversations and in deep difference on others. And I think that is a great joy of going to the theatre.
Suzy loved La La Land, the musical film about love and career dreams in Los Angeles, directed by Damien Chazelle. Diep has finally seen it and she wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about it. The two of them debate whether or not having inexperienced singers and dancers helped or hurt the movie.
Suzy recommends Constellations by Nick Payne at Geffen Playhouse (June 6-July 16), also about the relationship between a man and a woman. She loves the play, and thinks Ginnifer Goodwin and Allen Leech will do a beautiful job in the two-hander.
Allison finally saw War Paint on Broadway and learned a lot about makeup from Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. She also reports that the song about dinosaurs is delightful.