One of the funniest, most clever and brilliant writings by Tom Stoppard. An excerpt from a scene in his play, Arcadia:
SEPTIMUS: Now, sir, what is this business that cannot wait?
CHATER: I think you know it, sir. You have insulted my wife.
SEPTIMUS: Insulted her? That would deny my nature, my conduct, and the admiration in which I hold Mrs. Chater.
CHATER: I have heard of your admiration, sir! You insulted my wife in the gazebo yesterday evening!
SEPTIMUS: You are mistaken. I made love to your wife in the gazebo. She asked me to meet her there, I have her note somewhere, I dare say I could find it for you, and if someone is putting it about that I did not turn up, by God, sir, it is a slander.
CHATER: You damned lecher! You would drag down a lady’s reputation to make a refuge for your cowardice. It will not do! I am calling you out!
SEPTIMUS: Chater! Chater, Chater, Chater! My dear friend!
CHATER: You dare to call me that. I demand satisfaction!
SEPTIMUS: Mrs. Chater demanded satisfaction and now you are demanding satisfaction. I cannot spend my time day and night satisfying the demands of the Chater family. As for your wife’s reputation, it stands where it ever stood.
CHATER: You blackguard!
SEPTIMUS: I assure you. Mrs. Chater is charming and spirited, with a pleasing voice and a dainty step, she is the epitome of all the qualities society applauds in her sex – and yet her chief renown is for a readiness that keeps her in a state of tropical humidity as would grow orchids in her drawers in January.
Playwright Lee Blessing
What inspired you to write Two Rooms?
This was the first play I wrote after A Walk in the Woods. As with that play, I went shopping on the front page of all the papers. I was consciously trying to find an issue that concerned as many of us as possible. The issue of westerners being kidnapped in Lebanon was getting a great deal of attention back then, especially since our government’s stated position was not to negotiate. A lot of people were learning for the first time that our government is all too ready to cut us loose if we get into trouble in the wrong country at the wrong moment.
How did your interest in political theater develop?
I think all theater is political. It’s just that some plays are a little more conscious of it than others. It seems a curiously American point of view to think that there is a “private” life that is completely divorceable from a “public” one. Everything we eat is the product of a political system. The worth of our houses turns out to be a very volatile product of a political system. The clothes on our back, the gas in our cars—it’s ubiquitous. Everything we do, think or say is done in the context of a political system. Political battles are fought in every sphere of our lives: cultural, business, aesthetic, religious, filial, romantic—you name it. Even choosing to ignore politics completely is, at base, an intensely political decision. Once a society has at least three members (perhaps only two) politics is born. This is the sadness and I suppose the majesty of politics. Who can imagine the Garden of Eden without a serpent?
What do you feel the differences are in the Middle East situation since you originally wrote the play?
The reason the play continues to feel relevant is that the problems in that part of the world are so chronic. While “hot spots” continue to shift and revolve, the reasons they’re hot remain largely the same. I suppose the Arab Spring is a new and potentially powerful development, but much remains to be seen as to how that will affect things in the long run. A decade of direct American military involvement also has been a big change—though of course in Iraq and Afghanistan any clear results are far from guaranteed. I’ve found that contemporary audiences have no trouble “plugging in” our current struggles for those in the play. The dynamics of political kidnapping remain the same, as do political posturing, secret dealing, murder for political gain, etc. It’s still the same picture puzzle, even if we’ve cut up the pieces in different ways.
What was your biggest challenge while writing the play? Would those challenges be the same if you were to write the play in 2012?
The biggest challenge was finding a metaphor for the hostage-taking crisis that would allow me to focus on Lainie’s struggle. Her solution (turning Michael’s office into a version of the sort of room where he’s presumably being held) is what allows us into the play emotionally. And yes, that challenge is the same for every play, in a way. No play gets inside us that hasn’t first provided a door—preferably a magic one—that we ourselves can enter.
What impact do you hope the play makes on audiences today compared to when you first wrote it?
Again, since so little in the Middle East has changed, I’d hope that contemporary spectators would have emotions similar to those experienced by the play’s first audiences. We tend to trust institutions even less than we did then, so perhaps today’s audiences won’t be quite so stunned by governmental indifference to the plight of American citizens in this sort of situation. And the love story’s a love story, of course. Those never lose their impact on us.
Do you feel that 20 years from now Two Rooms will still be as relevant as it is today?
I hope it’s not, because that would mean that little progress will have been made on these issues—or that things will have worsened sharply. It’s odd, though. My play A Walk in the Woods continues to feel relevant to audiences long after the breakup of the Soviet Union. That may be because it’s very hard to “uninvent” nuclear warfare. I think if a political play is well written, the politics of the moment to which it’s tied don’t always determine its “shelf life”. No one cares about the Thirty Years’ War, but we keep producing Mother Courage. And the Crucible is still Arthur Miller’s most-produced play.
Lee Blessing is an American playwright best known for his play, A Walk in the Woods, produced on Broadway and the West end, for which he earned a Pulitzer Prize as well as a Tony Award nomination. His Off-Broadway productions include A Body Of Water at Primary Stages; Going To St. Ives at Primary Stages (Outer Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play; Obie Award for Ensemble Performance); Thief River at Signature Theatre (Drama Desk nomination, Best Play); Cobb at Lucille Lortel Theatre (Drama Desk award, Best Ensemble); Chesapeake at New York Stage and Film at Second Stage; Eleemosynary at Manhattan Theatre Company, and Down The Road at Weissberger Group at the Atlantic Theatre. The Signature Theatre dedicated its 1992-1993 season to his work, consisting of Fortinbras, Lake Street Extension, Two Rooms, and the world premiere of Patient A. He served as Head of the graduate playwriting program at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
Divere City Theater Company’s production of his play, TWO ROOMS directed by Jamie Richards, runs until Friday, August 24th @ 8PM at Theatre Row’s The Lion Theater located at 410 West 42nd Street in New York City. Features Curran Connor, Dawn Evans, Victor Lirio and Bree Michael Warner. Tickets are $19.25 and can be purchased via Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200.
Excerpts from an interview with Oliver Oliveros of Broadwayworld.com:
Aside from performing in the play, you are also the artistic director of Diverse City Theater Company. What inspired you to select Two Rooms for this summer’s production?
A vital part of Diverse City Theater Company’s mandate is to explore socially relevant issues. In light of current tensions between the West and Arab world, we are re-examining friction from the recent past and asking the question, ‘how far have we progressed in the span of nearly 25 years?’ This play is powerful, compelling, and relevant.
What is the theme of the play?
The play touches on nations and religious factions in conflict, the media’s coverage, and the American government’s involvement in the Middle East.
But, to me, the theme of the play—on the human level—is about people who are forced to confront different perspectives. We oftentimes have a myopic view of the world. But, if we allow ourselves to see things through another person’s perspective or imagine ourselves in someone else’s difficult situation, we will find that we are capable of understanding and rising above conflicts and circumstances. Truth is complicated.
How and why might this play be controversial?
Because the play explores what it means to be an American at war on foreign soil. And the complicated position America has undertaken as a “peacekeeper” of nations.
How does the play relate to what is going on in the world today?
As I write this, there is a meeting between our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in Geneva with leaders from Western and Arab nations as an 11th-hour effort to revive the stalled peace effort in Syria. I believe it is relevant.
What are the challenges inherent in playing the role of the reporter in this play?
The challenge is perhaps not playing the stereotype or an idea of the character as someone who is selfish, self-serving, and constantly on a mission to attack and publish. Our job is to inject flesh and blood into these characters … to humanize them.
What is brilliant about Lee Blessing’s characters, specifically the reporter, Walker, is his insatiable curiosity about the world and the global events affecting lives of the innocent. He has an unshakeable belief that he must give a voice to the unheard. He is an idealist who believes in holding people and establishments accountable for their actions. To him, American taxpayers have the right to question his government. He is ambitious, indeed. But he is also driven by a passion for telling the truth. But, he learns along the way that it is challenging to report the truth. And that truth is deeply complicated because there are many people and groups trying to manipulate the truth.
Do you feel that the implications in the play about the government’s policy and their lack of ability in some cases to get hostages back safely are valid? How does this influence the way you relate to your character?
None of us truly knows about the details of the government policy except those who were involved in the recovery missions. What we do know is that a tremendous amount of power-plays are at work especially in a location such as the Middle East. Which is why something as apparently straightforward as saving a civilian from a military group is so much more divisive.
This play was based on the mid-80’s Lebanon hostage crisis. Mr. Blessing, the playwright, wrote about a very specific event involving one specific character, Michael Wells. One can surmise that Michael is a composite character inspired by some of the prominent American hostages such as David Dodge, Terry Anderson, William Francis Buckley. History shows that from 1982 to 1992, there were, in fact, 96 hostages that were taken in Beirut, Lebanon. Most were Americans or Western Europeans.
This informs and helps me a great deal in crafting a rich history for Walker, the character I play in Two Rooms.
Do you think that the play is anti-American in its presentation of the American government?
No. There is nothing anti-American or anti-government about telling the truth. Our Constitution says so. Would you think it is anti-American to ask why George W. Bush, the Senate and the House, Halliburton, and others who influenced both our policy and our financial ability to go to war were not held accountable? Is it Anti-American to question America’s involvement in the Middle East? Is it Un-American to question the trillion dollar spending decisions made to fund a war built on emotion and little else?
No ... to question, to learn and to become aware—that is American. That is the very essence of Walker. He is prepared to ask those questions, regardless of whether or not he likes the answer, because he firmly believes that the public has a right to know the truth.
How does the play reflect the past and present Middle East situation and the United States' handling of hostages taken overseas?
There were so many forces involved in the civil war in the middle east—religious groups, political terrorist groups, occupational forces, peacekeeping forces. This doesn’t count the influence of outside countries supporting or refusing to support local entities militarily or financially. And once ‘peace’ was attained, what remained was a very chaotic situation. The continued involvement of Western countries as peacekeepers—including the US, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom—has done little but to continue to endanger the civilians. Just like the characters, Michael Wells and Jim Mathison, in the play. We—the civilians—were being punished because our country got involved in the multinational peacekeeping mission.
Almost 40 years later, the conflicts still exist. Americans and others—mostly civilians themselves—are still getting kidnapped.
What impact do you hope this play will have on its audience?
We are in the most polarized time of our nation since the civil war. And because it is such a polarized period, there is a greater need to be more informed.
I hope that audiences will be inspired to be more aware of global events both past and present, to become more involved with and aware of our government, and to perform due diligence on candidates before we elect them. These are the individuals and politicians who are ultimately charged to legislate. Legislations that affect our lives, our progress and our race.
The good folks at TheFilmAm.net interviewed me in April for an article they published on May 1st. You can find the article here which is actually the edited/short version of the interview.
I am sharing the complete interview with Maricar CP Hampton below:
What are your thoughts on Asians being underrepresented on Broadway? Is it an issue of racism? How do you think we can get over it?
No, I do not think that it is an issue of racism. There is not a straightforward answer to this question. Does “underrepresentation” mean content or people?
America is a free market economy. We live in a capitalist culture. Just like other businesses or industries, Broadway is a commercial business. It takes strong leadership and passion to spearhead producing a show on Broadway. It comes with tremendous responsibility, which includes raising a significant amount of cash and convincing investors that this venture will yield profit. And one must demonstrate—based on track record, projections and scenarios—how such a venture would provide a return on their investments. It is profit-driven.
We, obviously, want to see ourselves represented on the big stage called Broadway. Stories about us, about people like us. In my opinion, if we want more content about Asians on Broadway, then we need to produce it ourselves. I cannot hold the commercial establishment responsible for the lack of content about Asians. For example, Hispanic Americans represent a larger part of the national population than African Americans. But, there is more commercial theater about the African American experience because there are African Americans who rise up to leadership roles as producers producing theater about them. They are important members of the commercial theater establishment. Asians with wealth, on the other hand, do not take risks in the theater. Generally speaking, they are too fiscally responsible and probably do not view commercial theater as a sound financial investment because of the uncertainty of the return.
I do hold some of the large non-profit institutions accountable (some with Broadway productions). They are the flagship theater companies that position themselves to the NEA and various foundations as producers of “diverse content representing their community,” and are recipients of large sums of taxpayer dollars from the government and tax-deductible donations from foundations and other sources. But their programming, casting, and hiring of artistic staff prove otherwise. These theater institutions are the ones with the fiduciary responsibility—not the private enterprise—to be inclusive, to develop and produce diverse content and programming, and to cast actors of color non-traditionally. Sadly, this is not the case.
Finally, I think Asian actors are getting a better share of roles on and off Broadway. Asian Americans represent 6% of the national population. Is this reflected on stage? No, not yet. But it will be. And if we want a larger share of the pie, it should be up to us.
I think we need to start producing work on stage that mirrors our part in the 21st century America—the global village. If we want to capture a bigger share of the roles that are being cast on Broadway, we need to expand the way we portray ourselves. Then we can better influence mainstream producers, directors, casting directors—the commercial theater establishment—in the way they see Asians. As Americans. Perception is reality, as they say.
What is it in theater arts that appeal to you?
The theater is a profound venue for expression, story-telling, and creative collaboration. To me, personally, it is also a venue to explore the universality of the human condition—how all of us are connected regardless of race, religion, creed and gender. That is my interest and my passion.
What are some of your inspirations in creating/ producing your projects?
Extraordinary circumstance, characters, relationships and language inspire me. Especially plays that have a meaningful social message. I go to the theater to be enlightened. I want to have gained a new perpective or insight ... or take with me something to think about when I walk out of the theater. And I want to share that experience with our audiences with the plays we present.
As an actor, how do you prepare for a project?
It depends on the play and/or part. And every actor’s preparation/process is different. I ask a multitude of questions and it begins with, who am I? What is the world of the play? What is the core circumstance? What is my relationship with the other characters? What do I want from each of them? Why is the play happening and what is my part in the event? I break down the scenes ... and investigate the life underneath the words. If it is a period piece, I do a lot of research. I imagine the world--the social and economic background of the play, dialect, character and impediment work--and immerse myself in it. Basically, I strive to craft a specific world and a specific person with rich history. It's not always easy ... and I don't always succeed. But, the beauty of doing stage work as an actor is that the exploration never stops. The exploration work does not end on opening night.
How do you see the future of Filipino theater actors in New York?
We are the largest Asian American group in the theater, on and off Broadway. We have a new generation of inspired directors and playwrights rising to artistic leadership—and making names for themselves—such as Nelson Eusebio, May Adrales, and Victor Maog. In addition, more collaborations and partnerships are being formed. So I am confident and enthusiastic that our artistic community will continue to thrive.
Any advice to the new generation of Fil-Am theater actors?
Read the book, Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. And after reading the book, if you still want to pursue an artistic path—or rather, if you must—then march on! And while doing so, train … and train hard. Read the classics … it will help you explore and investigate deeper meaning when working on a contemporary piece. Most importantly, be insatiably curious. Replace certainty with wonder. Certainty is the death of art.
What are some of your future plans/ projects?
For DCT, we will present a series called COLOR BLIND in July, as part of our annual Green Room Series program. Traditionally, it is a presentation of new works in development that we are considering for a mainstage production. But this year, it will present scenes (traditionally played by Caucasian actors) from classical and contemporary pieces using actors of color. I want to further underscore that these worlds can be expressed from a non-White perspective, and that actors of color can play these parts. We will be inviting industry folks to come.
For the month of August, I will be in a full-length play at Theatre Row. I can’t talk about it yet … but we will be announcing it soon.
How did Diverse City Theater Company come about?
It came about as a way to satisfy my need to have a venue for my work. I grew up. The mission then organically evolved into a serving a much bigger purpose.
Are there are many theater groups organized by Filipinos?
Yes … Ma-Yi Theater Company (Ralph Pena and Jorge Ortoll); National Asian American Theater Company or NAATCO (Mia Katigbak); and Leviathan Lab (founded by Ariel Estrada).
What are your thoughts on Ma-Yi Theater Co.?
Ma-Yi is a terrific organization that develops new works serving Asian American voices. They are my friends. NAATCO is also another terrific Asian American theater company that produces classical pieces using Asian actors in the roles usually played by Caucasian actors. And Leviathan Lab is an up-and-coming theater organization that has already created critical mass of, and an inspiring collaboration among, a majority of younger Asian American artists.
How is DCT different from Ma-Yi Theater Co. and NAATCO?
Ma-Yi Theater Company and National Asian American Theater Company (“NAATCO”) are two of the most important Asian American theater companies in the country. Both companies have been around for over 15 years.
Ma-Yi started out as a Filipino theater company whose founding members are the revolutionaries and innovative theater artists from back home. It is still run by Jorge Ortoll and Ralph Pena who expanded its vision to provide a venue for, and serve all Asian American voices in the theater, which are underrepresented and underserved. What Ma-Yi did was very exciting—and important—because it formed critical mass of Asian American theater artists.
NAATCO—under Mia Katigbak’s artistic leadership—produces classical theater pieces using Asian American actors. Mia, through NAATCO, actually started the non-traditional casting movement for Asian Americans over 15 years ago. We owe her a debt of gratitude because her productions showcased—and proved—that Asian American actors can play these parts—Chekhov’s Ivanov and Seagull, etc. Through her productions, we were able to share our perspectives on some of the great classics.
DCT is not an Asian American theater company. The mission of DCT is to commission, develop and produce original plays that tackle not only race issues but also social issues such as age, gender identity, social politics, and examination of the American identity in the 21st century. I want to create a theater company that also promotes non-traditional casting of actors—one that reflects the colorful spectrum of our national culture and underscores the universality of the human condition.
What is your vision for DCT, and from here, where do you think DCT is headed?
The vision for DCT is to find, as well as commission, plays that explore what connects all of us regardless of our locale, race, sexuality, religion, age, gender or creed. With funding, I would like to form a global network of playwrights on the Internet, something like a playwrights exchange program worldwide.
In addition, we will continue our advocacy of non-traditional casting by producing theater pieces traditionally cast with Caucasian actors—classical or contemporary—with the inclusion of actors of color.
Most importantly, the vision is for DCT to be sustainable. Last year was a terrible year. In the current economic landscape, it is a “grow or die” situation for many theater companies our size. The future is bleak for many arts organizations. But for DCT, extinction is not an option. The task is to craft a sustainability model … a growth model. And it will not come from the traditional non-profit model. DCT will not be solely dependent on foundation grants, donations, and sponsorships. DCT will be self-sustaining while it is honoring and fulfilling its mission.
How do you see the future of theater arts in the Philippines?
I, sadly, am not that cognizant of the theater scene in the Philippines. My friends Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga are two of the country’s movers and shakers, so I am certain that the future of the theater arts in the Philippines is in great hands.
How else do you think can Philippine theater arts improve?
Perhaps produce more original works? Right now, I think much of the theater consumption back home are pieces from the Western world. I think it is great! I also would like to see more original works produced for mainstream audiences. But again, I am not immersed in the theater scene back home so I am unable to accurately assess or give a truly informed opinion.
About Sondheim concert, do you plan a repeat?
There have been talks about Los Angeles and Manila productions of the Sondheim concert. Nothing is confirmed at this time. But yes, there is immense interest from various parties.
actor | theater director | life, wine and food enthusiast. i play with words and worlds.