From the Actress–New Plays with Maureen Torsney-Weir

By Maureen Torsney-Weir
So what’s it like to live in one of Jacqueline Goldfinger’s fabulous, complex, characters? In short – it’s like getting the best Christmas/birthday/pick your holiday present ever!!! I’ve been blessed to play Midge in Skin & Bone, Jackie’s second play in her southern Gothic trilogy that premiered at Azuka Theatre just 2 weeks ago!
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Drucie McDaniels (left) and Maureen Torsney-Weir in Skin and Bone
I work a lot on new plays. I love new plays and I’ve learned a lot about acting by working in new plays. When my children were young,  I couldn’t do more than one play a year but I could do play readings. I signed up with a bunch (well, four) of playwright groups in New York and Connecticut (where I lived at the time) to agree to perform in their reading series. What an education!!! The plays would come in the mail and I’d have a week (or less) to work on the character that I was playing for the reading. I learned to see what the playwright intended, and not to want to rewrite their play. I learned about structure, language, character development, and most of all, how the story was being told to the audience. Jackie is a master of all of the above. I especially love her use of language. There are so many wonderful interior rhythms. It’s a joy to work on this play.
There are lots of clues to Midge’s character and some are more obvious (like her family traditions) but some are delicious little treats hidden within the lines. For example – several times Midge mentions  phrases like: “you can have it next year” or “I’m gonna die here…” which lend an urgency to her wanting to keep her home and a desperation to her fights with Ronnie. The play is full of treats like that, but I don’t want to give it all away. You’ll have to come and see us!
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Twins & Things: A Quick Interview with Skin & Bone Playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger

Azuka is thrilled to be presenting Skin & Bone, the second installment in Jacqueline Goldfinger’s Southern Gothic Trilogy. As Azuka’s first-ever playwright-in-residence, Jackie developed Skin & Bone over two years with the company following Azuka’s premiere of the terrible girls, the first in the Southern Gothic Trilogy. Her play Slip/Shot received the Brown Martin Award and a Barrymore for Best New Play. As our playwright-in-residence, Jackie was obligated to answer some odd questions for us. Thanks Jackie!

Azuka: You grew up in Florida but now live in Philadelphia. Obviously these two places are very different, but what have you noticed that they have in common?

JG: Philadelphia actually has a very Southern vibe. It’s a cool city. It loves soul music and soul food. It’s not as crazy busy as NYC or other major northern cities, and not as uptight as New England. It feels like a Southern city in a northern geography.

Azuka:  Did your own relationship to your sisters influence your writing of Midge and Madge?

JG: I have two younger sisters. Midge and Madge aren’t based on my sisters but their relationship, the interdependence of sisters in an isolated place, definitely is. Not only were we geographically isolated, but our family was very politically and socially liberal in a very conservative part of the State, so there was this constant feeling of needing to have one another’s back.

Azuka: In earlier drafts, Midge and Madge were not written as twins. How did having your twins influence their characters? 

JG: During the development process I realized that the sisters needed a very special bond to keep the secret that they do – and with twins they are not only exceptionally close but they can emotionally, physically and spiritually mirror each other in interesting ways.

Azuka: Without giving anything away, the characters in this play are a bit extreme, but is there a certain character onstage that you relate to? Or pieces of yourself you see reflected in the characters?

JG: I wish I had Midge’s sass. I don’t. But it would be cool. I have definitely wanted to tell folks off and not done it where Midge has no problem saying whatever is on her mind. So that makes her an extremely fun character to write. Mostly, I write characters, not that I want to be, but that I understand. I don’t write hip-uptown-Abercrombie-and-Fitch characters who live in small boxes. I write characters who dare to live life, even when they don’t have much to live for, and you can see the legacy of their vast potholed journeys in how they move through the world.

Azuka: We’re so proud to have you as a playwright-in-residence here! What’s coming up for you?

JG: There’s going to be a reading of my new play for families, “Enter Bogart,” a 45-minute broad comedy, at White Pines Place on March 23 (http://www.whitepinesproductions.org/) and a reading of my brand new comedy for adults, “Trish Tinkler Gets Saved,” on April 7 at Theatre Exile (http://www.theatreexile.org).

Dutch Masters Playlist

1992 New York certainly had a sound track—play the following and find yourself wafted back to the Dinkins administration:

A Tribe Called Quest: “Can I Kick It” by

Special Ed: “I Got It Made”

Naughty by Nature: “Uptown Anthem”

Big Daddy Kane: “Ain’t No Half Steppin’”

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo: “Road to the Riches”

Boogie Down Productions (BDP): “Remix for P”

Dutch Masters #TBT – The 90s Edition

The scintillating new play at Azuka Theatre, Dutch Masters, is set in 1992. This pits the heart wrenching story of two young men, Steve and Eric, against the backdrop of extreme racial tension of the early 90s. But more on that later…

We decided to have a little fun with our staff and creative team, and asked them for some Throwback Thursday pics from the 90s. Can you identify the Azuka family below?

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Dutch Masters runs now through September 29th, at the Off Broad Street Theater, 1636 Sansom St. For more information and to purchase tickets visit our website www.azukatheatre.org

Memorial Play

About an hour before our Opening Night I found out that my grandfather had passed away. It’s a good thing we were doing a play about death… Pop was my Dad’s Dad, and he and my stepmom, Pam, got the call from my grandfather’s nursing home in Louisville, Ky while they were driving up from Baltimore to Philly to see the show. In the telling of the telling of this story, my Dad thought for a moment that they could hide this sad news from me on such an important night, but I was standing outside the theater and as they stood waiting for the light to change half a block away on the other side of 17th, I could tell that something was very wrong.

They stayed and had dinner with the family friends that had also come up for the big night, and then with my encouragement drove home to get some rest and make plans to fly to Louisville the next day.

We were doing a play about death after all. I thought it would be too hard for them to watch. It was a pretty tough night for me as well.

Here’s what’s pretty amazing. Just four days earlier Pop and Dad and my brother Alex came and visited me. It was the first time my 97 year old grandfather had ever been to Philly. Which blew my mind. See, my Dad hosts this epic Kentucky Derby party every year. So epic, that my grandfather flies to Baltimore FROM Louisville to attend. And this year was no different. On my end, it would be the second year in a row that I would have to miss because I was in tech rehearsals that weekend. When we’re in tech for a show we have 2 days back to back where we bring all the technical elements together – these rehearsals are 12 hours long and a pretty big deal – regardless I got grief for missing out on the event of the year. Again.

But this time, and I’m not sure where the idea originated, but somehow this time my Dad and I started talking about bringing Pop up to Philly to see me while he was in town. The Derby is on Saturday, but I had Monday off and he didn’t fly back to Louisville until Tuesday. It’s not a far drive, he would be able to see me, my bright orange house, the theater, have a good meal, and then they could head back before it got too late. Which is exactly what we did. They rolled up around noon and pulled up in front of the Orange House and my Pop got to come inside for a sit down before we headed out to lunch at Village Whiskey where he ordered their Hot Brown, which he was quick to point out was not AT ALL what a Hot Brown was supposed to be, but that it was awfully good despite the difference. I recommended he have a Kenzinger with the meal, which we both did. It was a perfect day and we sat outside for a bit while Dad went and got the car so we could drive down to the Off-Broad Street Theater so he could see where I’d been spending all my time. Our set for the show was pretty much up, and I turned on some stage lights and he sat in the house while I told him about Azuka, and Failure and how exciting and hard and wonderful it all was. He told me he was proud.

Our last stop of the day was the National Constitution Center, I had often talked about the NCC during my time there, and my Dad and I knew he would really love the Freedom Rising performance, which he did. My good friend Felicia was performing in the last show of the day, there were maybe 4 other people in the show with us and we were sitting all the way up in the back, but it was like she was performing just for us. After the show she came over for hugs and hellos and Pop said that he thought everyone in Congress should come see this show, maybe it would inspire them to get something done.

Then three generations of Heishman men dropped me back off at my little orange South Philly house where there were lots of hugs and kisses and wonderful things that mean even more in hindsight when you understand they were the last ones. That day was truly a gift, the only regret being that we didn’t get to sit and have one last Maker’s and water together, but since there had been plenty of those in the stories of the months and years prior, it is a small regret, and one that’s easily forgiven.

Dad and Pam came back up to see the show this past weekend, after spending a week packing up almost 100 years of memories of a life well lived. I was nervous and excited and sad and happy. You know, ALL OF THE THINGS. I was worried that my Dad, who had been so very close with his Dad, would have a hard time watching the show. It was, of course, a play about death, but it is also so much more than that. It’s a play about life, and love, and living and loving, it’s a play about how we come together in times of great sadness and pain and help each other move on, move forward, and finally, when we’re ready, reclaim life. So, in a lot of ways it is a good thing we were doing a play about death. Sitting together in the dark theater watching the story of The Fail family come to life and eventual death, was exactly what we needed.

My Pop lived to be 97 years old. He survived a Great Depression, served in WWII and lived through many other wars, he saw the world change in remarkable and unimaginable ways. He outlived his wife of 60 years, my amazing Mimi. He was an avid bowler, a remarkable and prolific singer, and he drank a bourbon every day. He passed away peacefully in his bed having lived a long and full life. This play has become for me a great and mighty tribute to him. And I raise my glass to J.W. Heishman, knowing that he is looking down on all of this with love.

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Meet Kevin Meehan

Azuka snagged the chance to ask a few Failure: A Love Story related questions of our cast and crew.
So…without further ado…

Meet Kevin Meehan (Mortimer Mortimer)

What is your favorite time of day?

The hour of the pearl. The moment between day and night when time seems to stop and examine itself. – for all you Steinbeck fans, a little nod.

Describe one thing you had to share with your siblings.

When we were both of age, my brother and I had to share the family car. It was an 1989 maroon Plymouth voyager. The thing lasted forever. But once I was able to drive it became somewhat a point of contention. Also it was the car my father used so his need trumped both of ours. Also this meant we had to drive my younger sister places.

What is one other book, film, song, or work of art that reminds you of ‘Failure’ and why?

Rothko paintings. They’re self contained and totally engulfing. You stand there and stare into the color and it wraps itself around you. Like a memory. And looking at a Rothko you only have the memory of the moment before which is the color and that leads you to the next moment which is the color. It’s like a snake eating its own tail.

What is your favorite moment when working on a new production?

When you get to the point where you know the piece well enough to know what you don’t know.

Any childhood pets?

Yeah – we had a bunch. At least 3 hamsters, hermit crabs, a turtle. But the dog I grew up with was the best. Her name was jasmine and she was this brown mutt with a weird lump on her head. She was calm and lovable and I was probably a little rough with her was I was little and wanted to play. I’ll never forget the day in the 5th grade when we had to put her down. She was just old and everything was failing her. We kids said our goodbyes and went to school while my dad took her to the vet.

Kevin Meehan (Mortimer Mortimer)

Kevin Meehan (Mortimer Mortimer)

Meet Amanda Sharp

Azuka snagged the chance to ask a few Failure: A Love Story related questions of our cast and crew.
So…without further ado…

Meet Amanda Sharp (Costume Designer)

What is your favorite time of day?

Very early morning, around 4 am, when it’s still dark, but the birds start to wake up and greet the day.

Describe one thing you had to share with your siblings.

Only child, and I don’t know that I share very well.

What is one other book, film, song, or work of art that reminds you of ‘Failure’ and why?

The Peasall Sisters.*  They’re three sisters who sing folk music in beautiful 3 part harmony.  They are reminiscent of the place between dreams and reality much like the Fail Girls themselves. They have a haunting quality to their voices, and they seem of another place and time, which works well with the theme of memory and surrealism that we focused on so heavily while in process.

*Azuka Note: Here’s a link to YouTube for a video of the Peasall Sisters – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg1CyWSJ7E4

What is your favorite moment when working on a new production?

More than anything else, I really love doing research.  Image research specifically.  I think feeling inspired is my favorite sensation, and when I do research, it gets really intense.  I hoard images of other people from other times, in old photographs or fashion plates. I bookmark what’s de mode in sub-sub cultures, and I rip out photo-editorials from big, thick, fashion magazines.  All the images help me see this person coming to life inside my mind.  Then it needs to be talked over and actualized.  It’s the most fun for me.

Any childhood pets?

I had a cat named Keke, I found her under the Christmas tree when I was two.  We were best friends, siblings even, and oh man did we love each other.  I used to cut baby doll clothes to fit her and push her around in a stroller.  Any cat that sticks around after that deserves sainthood. We were best friends until she died in 2009

I also had a Leopard Spotted gecko named Rizzo in fourth grade and my mom killed her by accident by leaving the window open on a cool spring day so that Rizzo could “Get some air”.  She froze.

Amanda Sharp (Costume Designer)

Amanda Sharp (Costume Designer)