By Neil LaBute
Presented by Studio Players
Friday, Jan. 18-Sunday, Feb. 3
Performances Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; 3 p.m.on Sunday
By LISA ANNITTI
For Montclair Local
In “First Person” we report on events in, well, the first person. Reporters draw on their own experience at the event to describe it.
If you haven’t heard the controversial name Neil LaBute, you are about to when Studio Playhouse, 14 Alvin Place, Montclair performs its next mainstage “Some Girl(s)” by LaBute that opens Jan. 18. Some Girl(s) is about a “Guy” (who is called Guy in the script) about to get married. He decides to go back and visit some of his ex-girlfriends that he mistreated to “right some wrongs.”
I am on the season planning committee of Studio Playhouse, helped choose this play after it was submitted by Amy Fox and I was asked to be the assistant stage manager. What that means is I assist the stage manager, Sam Silver, with all her responsibilities such as being on book for when an actor calls for a line, assisting with set construction, assisting with set changes and resets between scenes, set break downs, and providing thoughts about bringing the play to life. I also was involved in discussions of which characters would sit on the bed and which never would, as well as how each woman that Guy visited had her own agenda.
Assistant stage managing is essentially training to be a stage manager. Once a show opens, the stage manager takes the reins from the director, and is responsible for maintaining the director’s vision. The stage manager also coordinates with the light and sound operators during the show so that the cues are the same every performance.
Since Silver will be moving out of state in February, Studio board members want to train new people.
So, why did a small Montclair community theatre perform such a piece? LaBute’s writing depicts sexism, misogynism and makes you ask “Do men really treat women this badly?” In February 2018, MCC Theater cancelled LaBute’s upcoming production of “Reasons to Be Pretty Happy” (itself riffing on the names of his plays “Reasons to Be Pretty” and “Reasons to Be Happy”) and terminated his playwright-in-residence status after 15 years “in order to maintain a respectful work environment” according to an article by Michael Paulson in the New York Times from February 2018. No other information was provided. Then, the Geffen playhouse cancelled his play as well.
The content of his plays raise questions in light of the current #MeToo movement, the Twitter hashtag that called attention to sexual predators who’d been harassing women for years, including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Aziz Ansari, James Franco, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner and Louis C.K.
As I sit quietly with Fox and Silver during the rehearsal process, what often is discussed with the actors and amongst the three of us was who the character of Guy really is as a person.
I watched how Fox encouraged the actor to vary how obnoxious and unfeeling he was.
She discussed approach to characterization with the actors, and is open to input. If she likes the idea she will say “yes do that” and if she doesn’t she offers other suggestions to try.
She and production manager, Kevin Ohlweiler, choreographed fight scenes together so nothing seems inappropriate or endangers the actors.
As a director it’s her responsibility to portray her vision of what the script should be.
She is very detail oriented, making sure to have every aspect of a hotel room visible on stage: a vent, a suitcase stand, fake electrical outlets, paper lids on the mugs, and a key scan on the door. A lot of directors leave the set up to his or her set designer. Not Fox. She used the same approach to how actors played their roles: in one scene, Guy meets his free-spirited ex Tyler, played by Lisa Vasfailo. Tyler kisses Guy. Fox crafted the interactions to reflect Guy’s reluctance at first and then showing his inevitable succumbing to Tyler’s charm.
As I sit through each rehearsal night after night, what I think about more and more is the actual strengths of these women. As I read the play over and over and watched it come to life, my opinion is these women are not victims. Each woman stands up to Guy in her own way. I have seen the cast do it over and over, and I still react audibly at some of Guy’s dialogue when he makes comments of how and why he broke it off with each woman.
The funny part is, I have come to be friends with the lead, Seth Kaplan, and he is the complete opposite of Guy. Kaplan is happily married, with a son and a daughter that he dotes on. He even brought his son to help at set construction. Kaplan sometimes wanted to be more sympathetic because that is who he is in real life, but that is not what Guy’s character is about. In one rehearsal, Kaplan touched Bobbi’s hand (a character played by Brittany Haydock). Fox instructed him not to do that: it was too kind.
As assistant stage manager for this LaBute performance, I learned a lot about these characters and a little more about the playwright. As someone that is usually on the stage and not behind it, it was a different perspective for me. Under the tutelage of Silver and Fox I saw first hand just how much goes into putting on a show and how much work and responsibility is involved. As an actor you just have to show up, become one with your character, learn your lines and blocking, listen and react. I’ve performed at Studio Players four times, but this is the first time as ASM.
To answer the above question of why a small theatre would do such a piece: Why not bring attention to male chauvinistic behavior and the #MeToo movement? When the audience leaves the theatre, I am hoping they see how strong these women have become since their relationship with Guy and how sometimes it’s too little too late.