Nothing is ever simple anymore, but that’s a cliche — people have been complaining that they yearn for simpler days for generations, and it’s far from certain that life was ever all that simpler in the first place. It’s the difference between perception, which can easily substitute for reality, and reality, which can easily substitute for perception.
The interplay between these quizzical states of mind is explored poignantly in Jonathan Blitstein’s Keep Your Baggage With You (at all times), which had a short run last month as part of the DreamUp New Plays Festival at Theater for the New City (155 First Ave.) and now, owing to its general critical approval, has extended, running Sept. 16 to 28.
Blitstein’s play takes place over several years, tracing the “devolution,” to quote from the press release, of a friendship between two young New York men “whose bonds are compromised by the stresses of career, family, relationships and 21st century sexual mores in a complex digital age in which we ask too many question, but don’t have enough answers.”
No, nothing is ever simple anymore.
But what is simple is the idea to showcase Keep Your Baggage… by asking the director, my friend Daniel Talbott, to conduct a 5 Questions with the play’s four-member, uber-New York cast: Dan Abeles, Jessica Dickey, Nate Miller and Laura Ramadei.
And so that is precisely what we’ve done.
And now, 5 questions the cast of Keep Your Baggage… has never been asked — and a special bonus question:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Molly Ward: “How do you walk in those heels?”
Laura Ramadei: Someone once asked me if my real-life experiences ever inform or coincide with my character’s experiences and if that’s scary. Regardless of the fact that none of my intention as an actor is to exploit or borrow directly from my real emotional life, stuff bleeds in anyway. And it’s terrifying.
Daniel Abeles: “Do you enjoy being typecast?”
Nate Miller: The most perceptive question anyone asked me about my work is: ‘Why are you an actor?,’ or, more to the point, ‘Who are you an artist for?’ I have been asked this many times throughout my life and try to ask it of myself as much as possible. It is a poignant and necessary question that fuels the artist to always strive for more and constantly reassures me that what I do is real and important. I still don’t have a perfect answer but at this point in my life the answer goes something like this: ‘People need art. Not simply for escape from their daily lives, rather, they need art so that they can live their daily lives. Art is the catharsis we experience without deadly consequence. It is the embarrassment we feel without shame, it is the pain that leaves no scar and the lie that allows us to face the truth.’
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Molly Ward: “Do you do anything unusual to prepare?”
Laura Ramadei: “So how long are you going to give this acting thing?” A boss asked me that. I don’t think he was curious about my work so much as he was an idiot. I say ‘was’ because he’s dead now…not really.
Daniel Abeles: “How did you prepare for that role?”
Nate Miller: “Oh, you’re an actor? What are you gonna do when you grow up?” A guy asked me that at a swanky bar one night. I just stared at him and then said “Whatever the fuck I want.” I was my own personal hero at that moment. Who is he to judge what I do? But even now, I’m still proud of myself. I get to imagine and create for as long as I want. He gets to sit in a cubicle till he gets his two weeks of vacation.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Molly Ward: “What’s weird?”
Laura Ramadei: My cousin once had some pretty curious questions about how it works to be in a sex/love scene on stage or film. She had a theory that women would be better at it.
Daniel Abeles: “What were you doing under the desk?”
Nate Miller: I was at the performance of The Coast of Utopia where Richard Easton had a heart attack on stage. It was terrifying. The audience was asked to leave the house and wait in the lobby. In the lobby an older woman asked me if I knew what was going on and when the show would continue. I told her I didn’t think the show would continue that night (because at that point no one knew exactly what had happened). She looked at me and quite matter-of-factly asked “Can’t they just drag an understudy up there?” I was speechless. This woman paid upwards of $100 to go share an “experience” of humanity and in the process totally missed the life-and-death situation happening in front of her eyes. That shook me.
The following two questions were posed by director Daniel Talbott:
4) When’s the last time you’ve wanted to slit a director’s throat (other than mine) and drink their blood, and, looking back, do you still think it was them or you or a combo of everything and all of the above?
Molly Ward: When Polish director Krystian Lupa engaged in improvisational drumming during rehearsals and performances of our Three Sisters production, I felt angry. But when a British journalist in a Scottish pub asked me why I wanted to work with a director who played a bongo drum during his own performances, I said, “Look, if your mind is limited from the expressionistic potential of Chekhov, that’s not my problem.”
Laura Ramadei: I’ve been pretty lucky with directors, actually. In eighth grade my director screamed at me and told me I was incompetent. I wasn’t acting in the show, though, I was his stage manager. That’s the only time I’ve stage managed and I’m not really gifted at it. But I think it’s safe to say he was overreacting.
Daniel Abeles: Pass (because it’s every director I’ve worked with. Ever. Besides the one I’m currently working with).
Nate Miller: I’ve worked with some difficult directors. I don’t think I ever wanted to induce physical pain but I’ve definitely had a few heated exchanges. I think it’s a combo. We’re all trying to create something impossible and magical and terribly fragile. So, ego and vulnerability and emotion take the reins some days. But at best, you find a common ground to see each other’s perspective, and at worse, you fail and learn. So, yeah, combo of all and everything.
5) When’s the last time you wanted to have sex with a director (other than me)?
Molly Ward: I never want to have sex with the director. Directors are always telling you what to do.
Laura Ramadei: This is my first time.
Daniel Abeles: Oh, definitely a pass.
Nate Miller: I don’t really have sexual things for my directors but I do find that I adopt their mannerisms almost always. It’s unconscious and weird. I think it has to do with trying to be on the same mental plane and adopt a way of working and thinking that lets us have a mind-meld to create cohesive work. Or, I could just be pretty unstable…time will tell I guess. That being said, Vivienne Benesch is a true goddess.”
The following bonus question was posed by young Bailey Drew Talbott:
6) If you were a robot, what type of robot would you be, you silly guys?
Molly Ward: I’d be a robot with big butterfly wings, you silly boy.
Laura Ramadei: I’d be the intersection of function and design. Maybe retro chic with feminine finishes — a rustic orange or soft pink metal with an easy-bake oven in my belly and a built-in radio and laser beam eyes and wings for flying. And I’d be the kind of robot that has feelings.
Daniel Abeles: I would be a Robonaut 2 — the first robot to tweet from space! (That’s the only way I’d be on Twitter — if I were a space-bot).
Nate Miller: Inspector Gadget — a lot of useless shit that is usually funnier than it is practical or functional.