Oh, Medea, Medea — or Maddy, as those who loved you used to call you. You were evil yet you were sympathetic. You were vexing yet endearing. You were psychotic yet entirely in control and cognizant of your actions. You’re normal and abnormal, terrifying and fearless. You are, and shall forever be, the enduring inspiration to generations of theater makers.
One such theater maker is Will Le Vasseur. He is the playwright and director of Maddy: A Modern Day Medea, which runs through Aug. 29 at Nicu’s Spoon Theatre (38 W. 38th St.). Le Vasseur has reset the murderous mother’s tale to a trailer park in the American heartland; he has cheekily chosen to call it The Corinthian. Starring Lynn Kenny, Blaine Pennington, Heather Shields, James Stewart and Ben Strothmann, the play is being performed in tandem with Chekhov’s no less weighty The Swan Song, which posits an old actor waking up from a drunken stupor to find himself on an empty stage and a candle, surrounded by his former glories on the stage.
Laugh-a-minute summer fare? Debatable. But intriguing ? Yes — and welcome additions to the list of productions from the Redd Tale Theatre Company.
For tickets to the production, visit www.smarttix.com or call 212-868-4444.
And now, 5 questions Will Le Vasseur has never been asked — and a bonus question.
`1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Can’t/don’t you want to do anything else with your life?” Best. Question. Ever. I try as much as I can to live the life that I want to live, so this always prompts me to do a little check-in with myself. If I ever get to the point where I can say “Yes (period, not comma),” then I know I’m going to give it up. Right now, I can honestly say, “No.”
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Don’t you want to make money?” Short answer is always “Yes,” which is then followed up with, “But you’re an artist.”
If money makes your world go round, fantastic, let that world be the one you live in. I want to make art, entertain people, and hopefully send them away a little better or more knowledgeable than when they came to me. Does that mean that I have to spend money to do so? Sure. Have I not purchased groceries to pay for rehearsal space or props/set/etc.? Sure. But if your standard for success is solely based on how much money you obtain in the process, its just biz and not combined with art at all. I do want to make money, but like any investment, you will end up spending some before you make some back. I’m hoping that the red ink will soon turn black, but it’s not my only concern at the moment.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Winner: “Why don’t you just do gay plays? I mean, you being gay and all…”
I didn’t know my sexuality determined what kind of theater I make/put on! I mean, if the play’s good, has a rocking message, and makes people think, sure! Bring it, lets put it up! But to dedicate my company’s time to only one small focus in the pantheon of ideas… To do gay just because you’re gay, I’ll leave that to the 15,000 other theater companies around the world to do where they can do a better job of it than I could. Art is art is art. Gay/straight, doesn’t matter as long as it is effective.
Runner up: “What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?”
4) Medea is kind of the eternal inspiration, isn’t it? Yours is set in a trailer park and, per your PR materials, “adds a Fringe/X-Files/Supernatural element.” Why is Euripedes’ tragedy important to be retold, and how will your resetting speak to what’s unique about the American character? How do the play’s otherworldly elements add to the experience?
Agreed. Medea, as a character and as a play, is a wonder to behold. I think the original play forces us to ask ourselves, “What would you do?” Given X, Y, and Z, what would each of us do? Taken to the extreme, you have Medea. She does what a lot of us wish we could do (even those of us who say “Oh, I couldn’t!” have that dark little corner in their mind where they wish they could.). But for me, modern audiences have a hard time relating to the ancient text, unless it has its ass handed to it as Fiona Shaw did so recently.
Americans, for some reason, be it Jerry Springer, Cops, or campy movies, see the trailer park as something to laugh at and poke fun of. I put Maddy in a trailer park to give her the immediacy of feeling trapped, unable to move, desolate. Great places for a character to start out and see where they can go from there. I wanted to challenge the audience to strive to see that futility over the stereotype. By putting such a nerve hitting show like Medea in that location, it instantly sheds the skin of comedy and becomes more humanistic.
The original text gives us Medea as a witch. I didn’t want to take the audience into a world of cauldrons, potions and spells. Too easy nowadays, too predictable. We’ve seen Charmed or The Craft, seen the struggle of witches as people, etc. So, I thought, what better way to examine the human experience here than through nonhuman lenses? It brings it down to the simplest nature of Medea where we get to see her struggle not only with humanity itself, but within her.
5) You’re pairing Maddy: A Modern Day ‘Medea’ with Chekhov’s The Swan Song. Can you talk about how these pieces interrelate and what inspired you to put them together?
I often ask myself the same question! They’re both rather downers! But each examines a character in their rawest form. Yeah, there are simple correlations such as talk of stoms, chaos in life and emotions, and as an audience member, you have a hard time loving the main character. They’re somewhat off-putting, but each of them is within us, especially in The Swan Song. That old actor is at the heart of all artists. Some see him for what he is and move on, some wallow, some turn and run. I guess I just wanted the audience to ask themselves, “How do we handle these vampiric personalities, especially when they exist within us?”
6) Can you discuss Redd Tale’s West Coast roots-what brought you to New York and why? Also, your website it states that donations can be made via Stolen Chair Theatre Company. We’re big Stolen Chair fans-how did you discover them? How does your arrangement work?
RTTC originally started when I did my senior project for Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA. I produced and directed The War of the Worlds, the 1938 radio broadcast made famous by Orson Welles. Boy, did I like doing that, creating a piece from the ground up. So I did another show a year later, the West Coast premiere of the British musical sex farce Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens. It was such a spectacular failure (for me) that I didn’t know if I had it in me to lead a project like that again.
I moved to NYC in 2004 and began trying to make it here as an actor. I won’t bore you with the tedious details, but in 2007, a couple friends of mine wanted to put on Closer by Patric Marber. So I thought, what the hell, lets do it! That was a success (for me) and made me toss down the next gauntlet to myself: do a piece you’ve wanted to do for five years.
Stolen Chair came into the picture in 2008 when I met my boyfriend. He was roommates with one of the members, and I got introduced into their circle when I was cast in The Accidental Patriot… after one of their cast members had to leave. Luckily, Jon Stancato and I were able to then have some great conversations during that time. He’s really a great resource for knowledge. He, along with the entire Stolen Chair company, was instrumental in helping create RTTC’s next venture in August of last year: Lonely Planet by Steven Dietz.
I’d loved that show since 2003, when I was introduced to it by my theater department chair, Richard E.T. White. Fortunately, being in Seattle at the time, I was able to work with Laurence Ballard, for whom the role of Carl was written. I believed I was ready for the challenge and took the leap of faith. Though we lost a ton of money, I felt it was a tremendous success, I learned a ton and kept pushing the bar higher and higher for myself.
Stolen Chair was kind enough to help us by umbrella-ing us under their nonprofit status. So that means when you help our company by donating, you’re also helping Stolen Chair, as they’re getting 5% of the total donation. That kindness has allowed us to get Maddy on its feet, and I will be eternally grateful to them for that.