It’s All A Game: an interview with Erin Cronican, Executive Artistic Director, The Seeing Place Theater

The take away for audiences who come to see The Maids is to “make people stop and think about how they treat people, particularly people who are in service; that our society is built on people in service positions and we can treat people with humanity . . . to understand what it’s like to be ‘less-than’ and to walk out with a new found empathy for those in the service industry.”

Gaia Visnar, Erin Cronican

Gaia Visnar and Erin Cronican Photo credit Russ Rowland

“The Game — can we continue with it?” a question posed in The Maids, an absurdist play by Jean Genet is not so remotely detached from the current complicity confronting both American and global citizens. Pretending to strangle their employer, Claire and Solange, sisters and maids to Madame, struggle for their sense of selves under the guise of a game of make-believe; at first, the fantasy is amusing but then turns darkly tragic for the women who find themselves prisoners of their own diversion.

 

Produced by The Seeing Place Theater, Executive Artistic Director Erin Cronican exposes the dilemmas associated with the abuses of power in the class system. Selecting plays rarely seen, Cronican chooses to utilize her theater programs to focus on “creating edgy and compelling reinterpretations of works by playwrights that reflect the struggles and triumphs of our current society.” Honing a three-phase methodology, Cronican guides the ensemble through an organic two-month process: Pre-Rehearsal “Discovery”; Rehearsal Inquiry; Performance Feedback. One full month is spent “just breaking down the play, talking about it, talking about its impact on society, and what the playwright is trying to say, what he’s trying to do.” The Maids has its singular challenges in that there “are no definitive texts or quotes to pull together the things that have been written . . . hours were spent exploring the play’s meaning.” Once the ensemble creates a vision for its production they then proceed to getting it staged. Rather than have directors bring their singular perceptions to the play, Cronican’s approach invests in the imaginations of its talented cast — Gaia Visnar as Claire, Christine Redhead as Madame. “We don’t have the directors do it separately,” explains Cronican, who serves in both roles as actor/ Solange and director, “[that way] the actors are part of that developmental process.” Once the cast is “up on [their] feet trying out a lot of things discussed in the pre-production period . . . by the time we get to performances we have plumbed the depths of these plays very, very personally, and I think that makes the play very different for our audiences because we know them so intimately.”

The outcome of this organic process compels the cast to answer the major dramatic question: What is the effect of the abuses of power in the class system? In its final performance phase “we want the audience to look at this and say, ‘I recognize this struggle of power, maybe not in my own life, but maybe I recognize it elsewhere and what do we do about it?’”
Gaia Visnar personally shared how “it speaks to me today because . . . [as an immigrant working in the USA on a VISA] it’s about being subordinate and not having power and not being fair.” Cronican adds how artists pursuing their art, be it music, dance, theater feel a sense of “helplessness . . . being an artist in the city, wanting to take care of people but not necessarily have the resources to do so.”

At the close of the fast and furious hour and twenty-minute performance, actors go in the lobby to address audience questions so they “have someone to talk to about what they saw.” Feedback has been favorable: “People so far have really loved the play.” Audiences are encouraged to “come up with the answers for themselves.”

The take away for audiences who come to see The Maids is to “make people stop and think about how they treat people, particularly people who are in service; that our society is built on people in service positions and we can treat people with humanity . . . to understand what it’s like to be ‘less-than’ and to walk out with a new found empathy for those in the service industry.”

For Erin Cronican, the Arts truly are transformative. “‘The Seeing Place’ is the literal translation of the Greek word for theater, theatron: ‘the place where we go to see ourselves’ and if we can open up our [hearts and minds] and really listen to a piece of art, and try to find [ourselves] in it — painting, music, dance, that’s everything; then it opens your heart . . . it opens up your empathy. And it just makes you a better citizen.”

TSP The Maids

For a Good Time Call Old Ringers at the Ridgefield Theater Barn

Published on Thursday, 14 February 2019 14:37

Brewster’s Hamlet Hub

Written by Christine S. Bexley

Our protagonist is played to authentic perfection, down to the just-right Bronx accent and lilt of a seasoned day-drinker, by McGarry. Her throughline is natural no matter what wacky situations or daring costumes she is put into.

.fran on phone mouth open

Diane (Frances McGarry) gets more than she expected when she answers the phone in Old Ringers, playing through February 23rd at The Ridgefield Theater Barn. Photo Credit Paulette Layton

In the words of George Michael, “Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.” And some people find it lucrative to do it over an untraceable phone attached to a PayPal account in order to pay the electric bill.   Making its Connecticut debut, the Ridgefield Theater Barn’s first offering of its 53rd season, Old Ringers, by Joe Simonelli, finds women of (mostly) an advanced age in that very spot, to often absurd outcomes.    When Diane (Frances McGarry) finds her Social Security check drastically diminished, a wrong number to a sex hotline opens the door to an adventurous financial opportunity. Joined by her friends–the frisky Verna (Linda Seay), the trepidatious Kathy Ann (Stefanie Rosenberg), and the sensible Rose (Laurel Lettieri)–and her carefree boyfriend Harry (Mark Rubino), Diane and the group must navigate worldly challenges and personal discoveries while maintaining their sense of humor and avoiding the judgmental gaze of Diane’s pious daughter Amanda (Sarah J. Ahearn) and a roving Detective Rumson (Joshua Adelson).   The playwright defines these characters through, at times, heavy handed dialogue and slapstick-driven motivations, but the actors bring humanity and genuineness to such two-dimensional archetypes with guidance and adjustments from director Carol Dorn, who freshens the material a bit for the present era of technology, sex positivity, and elder visibility.

Our protagonist is played to authentic perfection, down to the just-right Bronx accent and lilt of a seasoned day-drinker, by McGarry. Her throughline is natural no matter what wacky situations or daring costumes she is put into. McGarry is matched in energy and ease by Rubino as Harry (who has some fun costuming moments of his own).    You could not ask for a better trio of friends than Diane’s to join her on this romp. Verna’s cliche “tramp” label was navigated well without unnecessary over-sexualization by Seay (who somehow did not come off as intoxicated despite double fisting a flask and a screwdriver. Impressive.). Lettieri’s Rose emanated grace and maturity (and a convincing bum hip), especially when espousing the customary “old lady wisdom,” despite the actress being no senior citizen.   Simonelli’s characters have some clunky and immediate transitions to make, and the cast worked diligently to make them seamless. Rosenberg’s Kathy Ann telegraphed her coming out moment from her first line, however, her distinct voice and pacing shifts were necessary for her bombastic reveal and she thrilled audiences in the process. Ahearn’s Amanda had to do some equally difficult personality gymnastics with the introduction of Tony Rumson, a detective played by newcomer to the craft Adelson. Ahearn jockeyed between over-wrought, teetotaling Christian and relaxed, inebriated flirt with speeds to induce whiplash. Adelson’s depiction of Rumson was a bit of a paradox as the actor’s earnestness clashed with the character’s reported bravado. For an acting debut, he rose to the occasion.

Indicated by the pre-show music, this world of women was raised on Diana Ross, Lesley Gore, and Sonny and Cher in the sexual revolution 60s, and came of age in the self-improvement 70s. That these ladies would be so hung up on the morality theories of others was a convenient if implausible plot device, and the use of the detective as the literal as well as figurative voice of the law fell flat. Someone needs to tell these folks to relax: as long as everyone’s over eighteen years old, phone sex hotlines are not illegal. Sorry Tony.   Setting the actual stage, kudos to set designer and builder Nick Kaye. The verisimilitude of the Bronx abode was not only impressive to behold, but grounded the farcical nature of the action in a world that could be realistically inhabited, and where the coffee was hot enough to see the steam from the last row. While the comedy benefits from the low-hanging fruit of scantily- (or comically)-clad seniors, costume designer Will Heese outfitted each character in garb that fit personalities and situations naturally and completely (although Kathy Ann could use a longer coat to support her character’s presented modesty, as her costume is still visible to the audience and cheats the reveal a little).

This is a show to take advantage of RTB’s cabaret style seating. Bring your favorite noshes, libations, and snacks to marvel at the riotous and resolute journeys these seven characters take. This brassy offering is anything but subtle as it raises laughter the to the rafters from sold out audiences.    Old Ringers runs until February 23, 2019 at the Ridgefield Theater Barn, 37 Halpin Ln, Ridgefield, CT, 06877. Doors open one hour prior to curtain, which is 8PM evenings and 2PM matinees. Tickets are $35 for adults, and $28 for seniors, students and veterans, and available at ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org or by calling the box office at 203- 431-9850. For more information, email  info@RidgefieldTheaterBarn.org.

Recommended for mature audiences.