Interview with Richard Hamburger
Production Dramaturg William Steinberger sits down with director Richard Hamburger to discuss Curse of the Starving Class.
William Steinberger: You’re a longtime admirer of Curse of the Starving Class. What initially drew you to the play, and what about it seems particularly right for an American audience today?
Richard Hamburger: Even though it was written in the 1970s, CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS is particularly resonant today with the mortgage crisis having led to so many people losing their farms, houses and land. Weston, the father in the play, says, “I always figured on the future. I banked on it. I was banking on it getting better. It couldn’t get worse, so I figured it’d get better. I figured that’s why everyone wants you to buy things. Buy refrigerators. Buy cars, houses, lots, invest. They wouldn’t be so generous if they didn’t figure you had it comin’ in. At some point it had to be comin’ in. So I went along with it. Why not borrow if you know it’s coming in.” Critic Marc Robinson calls the play an ‘exploded version of the save-the-farm play,’ and it is that original, incendiary, aspect that intrigues me most. Despite the play’s tragic dimensions, it also has an irresistibly droll, surrealistic sense of humor. Shepard is a wizard at revealing American patterns and proclivities in an unpredictable and intriguing way, without ever preaching.
Interview with director Anne Kauffman
Walter Bilderback: It's great to have you back at the Wilma. You've been busy since you were here last, and have been gathering great reviews for your work. You're working with Mimi Lien, who designed Becky Shaw, again on the set design: what challenges did Body Awareness pose design-wise? What does Mimi bring to the table?
Anne Kauffman: I'm THRILLED to be back at the Wilma again and so happy that Mimi is once again collaborating with me. I love working with Mimi because she and I are both interested in theatricalizing, or perhaps abstracting realism. We had a very interesting process on Body Awareness. Since the playwright tells us in the script that all three spaces exist simultaneously, Mimi and I asked ourselves "why" and "what does it mean?" We went through a couple of ideas where we threw out the directive from the playwright, and then found our way back to it. We discovered as we started to dig in that as the play progresses, the characters are like bees bringing experience and knowledge from one space, and sort of pollinating another...so as we watch them traverse and live in each location, we watch them bring work home to the kitchen, or the bedroom, and conversely what happens in the bedroom, makes its way back to
An interview with director Richard Hamburger
Interview by David Gardner
“You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.”
David Gardner: When you read through a script for a play you might direct, what goes through your head?
Richard Hamburger: You’re looking for the human possibilities to reveal unpredictable areas. You’re looking to see if it’s accurate to the way people actually are, rather than an idealization of how they should be. You’re looking to see whether it’s an original voice, rather than an imitation of someone else, or unduly influenced by a presently-fashionable author. You’re looking for an interesting story, depth of character, accuracy of observation, humor, and some insight into the world we live in.
"...life is actually a bit like Kafka would have us believe it is."
David Kennedy is the director of the Wilma’s upcoming production of The Understudy by Theresa Rebeck. This interview was conducted by Richard Kotulski, the Wilma’s Literary Programming Assistant and Casting Director.
RK: What draws you to The Understudy?
DK: I identify with the underlying anxiety that fuels the characters, and I enjoy the way it’s expressed in this very smart and funny writing. What’s great about The Understudy is that Theresa employs the imaginative universe of Franz Kafka as shorthand for all the ways in which we’re frustrated in the attainment of our desires by impersonal forces that, nevertheless, have a very personal effect on us. Kafka’s novels and short stories are actually comedies of a sort, but comedy infused with dread, a kind of tragic farce, as is The Understudy. To my mind that’s the best kind of comedy.
In the play we have three people, all of whom could be said
Interview with Director Anne Kauffman
What are some of the elements of Becky Shaw that drew you to it?
I find the characters in Becky Shaw incredibly delightful and extremely slippery. Each one, in their own way, is reprehensible but impossible to dismiss. One of the first things I look for in a play are characters who are complex and contradictory, characters whose intentions are not easily defined. And, these characters are full of contradictions, they're mysterious and brash and vulnerable and outrageous. Their desires and demands and philosophies drive the plot instead of the plot driving them, and for me, that's thrilling theater.
You mentioned both dioramas and paper dolls as being inspirations for the set design you worked to create with Mimi Lien--how do these things inform the world of Becky Shaw that you're creating?
Gina's inspiration for this play are 19th century novels such as Vanity Fair. These are novels about women and class, and I was trying to remember how, as a child, I was introduced to class, and how we recognize class in the United States. In our country, class is mostly defined by the haves and the have nots. Yes, 'royalty' of sorts does exist in this country, but really, it's driven mostly by economics and access. So, I was thinking a lot about accoutrements rather than blood-lines. In a way, stuff is the most visible sign of economic status in this country. We all start out naked and adorn ourselves, which is where the paper doll idea came from. The diorama is an extension of the paper doll idea in a way. I was very drawn to a permanent exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum when I was a child. There was a room that had tiny dioramas of drawing rooms from different Western European countries from 17th to the 20th century. These drawing rooms were furnished according to a particular socio-economic reality. The boxes were all the same, but the way they were adorned differed drastically and I was absolutely mesmerized by the sumptuousness or blandness of each environment. The dioramas were behind glass and there was a brass bar at about ankle height for small children to stand on to peer in. I could never get enough of that exhibit, I wanted to climb inside the worlds and live there, but was always kept at arms length from the rooms due to the barrier of glass and the labels with the relevant information about a particular room placed beneath the scene. I like this idea for Becky Shaw; I was intrigued by the idea that we might observe the unfolding of this drama inside categorized rooms as though it were a kind of social experiment.