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Sam Gold (#110 of 4)

Summer of Sam: An Interview with Fun Home and The Flick Director Sam Gold

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Summer of Sam: An Interview with Fun Home and The Flick Director Sam Gold
Summer of Sam: An Interview with Fun Home and The Flick Director Sam Gold

For the past five years, director Sam Gold has been a standard bearer for seriously accessible American theater. He zig-zags from 70-seat to 2,700-seat venues, from new plays to revivals. He works prodigiously (five shows this season alone), but never without care. Not everything has been received rapturously, but all have featured tightly knit acting ensembles, a keen consideration of text, and precisely configured playing spaces. In 2013, he directed The Flick by frequent collaborator Annie Baker, who went on to win the Pulitzer for the play. One of the two finalists was Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel Fun Home, which he’d directed at the Public Theater.

This spring he’s brought the two back. Though Fun Home wasn’t broken, he’s continued to fix it up, transforming a stirringly effective show into the most emotionally satisfying new Broadway musical in decades. The Flick remains an essential work of hyper-realist art. Both translate cinematic ideas of focus and framing into arresting, theatrical visions which grab the heart. I spoke with Gold between TV rehearsal for a Fun Home promotional event, in the march toward the Tony Awards, and an Off-Broadway preview for The Flick.

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel is split into three characters: “Small Alison,” college-age “Medium Alison,” and grown-up Alison. Who are your Small and Medium Sams?

I grew up on the Upper East Side, when there were movie theaters in the neighborhood. They’re all gone now. I started acting in high school, went to college as an English major, not knowing what I’d do. I was acting and, early on, was encouraged by some people to direct because it was right for my temperament, which is a nice way of saying I’m a very bossy, opinionated person. And also I was a terrible actor.

The Best of Off-Broadway’s Theatricalization of Film: The Flick, Belleville, & Really Really

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The Best of Off-Broadway’s Theatricalization of Film: <em>The Flick</em>, <em>Belleville</em>, & <em>Really Really</em>
The Best of Off-Broadway’s Theatricalization of Film: <em>The Flick</em>, <em>Belleville</em>, & <em>Really Really</em>

The best Off Broadway productions so far this year—The Flick at Playwrights Horizons, Belleville at New York Theatre Workshop, and Really Really at Manhattan Class Company—would probably make lousy movies. There’s no shame in that, but plenty of irony. After all, the traditional well-made play still serves as the model for most film scripts. To stake out fresh territory, talented young writers like Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, and Paul Downs Colazzo have veered away from the classic theater conventions annexed by films. Turnabout being fair play, they’ve theatricalized film techniques and genres to come up with something all their own.

Baker’s The Flick is a virtuosic example of naturalism. But it’s also a high-concept exploration of the push-me-pull-you relationship between film and theater. Collegiate movie nerd Avery learns how things work behind the screen at the Flick, a movie theater in Worcester County, Massachusetts. His teachers are the 35-year-old, longtime attendant Sam and 29-year-old projectionist Rose. The plot is minimal and the running time is maximal, giving director Sam Gold room to exhibit how theater can match film’s vaunted prowess at exhibiting the flicker of feeling crossing someone’s face.

The Right Way: An Interview with Uncle Vanya‘s Reed Birney

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The Right Way: An Interview with Uncle Vanya’s Reed Birney
The Right Way: An Interview with Uncle Vanya’s Reed Birney

Just the mere announcement of a new production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at SoHo Rep, the venturesome Tribeca-based theater company, generated much excitement among New York theater aficionados; the quickly sold-out, initially six-week run is now extended through July 22. A century-old Russian classic is unusual programming for the Obie-award winning company best known as an incubator for contemporary work by emerging writers, but what makes this production noteworthy is the thrilling alignment of three of the brightest talents working in New York theater today: playwright Annie Baker, who adapted a new version of the text, director Sam Gold, and actor Reed Birney in the title role. The three previously worked together on Circle Mirror Transformation, Baker’s keenly observed and deeply felt 2009 drama about a group of people in an acting class. The 31-year-old playwright, whose work includes Body Awareness and Aliens, is one of the leading writers of her generation, while Gold, age 34, is one of the most sought-after directors in town. Birney may not be a marquee name, but he’s one of the finest actors working today in New York City theater. He started his career at age 22 playing the juvenile lead in Albert Innaurato’s Gemini, an Off Broadway hit which went on to enjoy a successful run on Broadway in the mid 1970s. More than three decades later, he experienced a career resurgence with his uncompromising performance in the 2008 New York premiere of Sarah Kane’s Blasted. In 2011, after a remarkable season in which he appeared in three new Off-Broadway plays (Kim Rosenstock’s Tigers Be Still, Adam Bock’s A Small Fire, and David West Read’s The Dream of the Burning Boy), the 57-year-old actor was awarded a special award from the Drama Desk for his body of work. We recently spoke with the actor about his career and his current role.

Family Ties: An Interview with 4000 Miles Playwright Amy Herzog

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Family Ties: An Interview with 4000 Miles Playwright Amy Herzog
Family Ties: An Interview with 4000 Miles Playwright Amy Herzog

The most dramatic thing that happens in playwright Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles occurs at the beginning of the play. That’s when 21-year-old Leo, all grimy from a cross-country bike ride, arrives unexpectedly in the middle of the night at the door of his 91-year-old grandmother’s apartment in Greenwich Village. But with the series of incisive scenes that follow, both funny and moving, Herzog has written one of the best new plays of the season. She charts an unconventional intergenerational friendship between grandmother and grandson; Leo is dealing with the recent loss of his best friend in a biking accident while Vera is coping with the annoyances of getting old. Herzog’s writing is surefooted and quietly brilliant. She’s equally comfortable writing dialogue for characters that are more than half a century apart and suggests complex lives for even the supporting and off-stage characters. At 33, she has the grace and insights of a mature writer.

4000 Miles has been given an impeccably calibrated production at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (through June 17), directed by Daniel Aukin and featuring the Tony and Drama Desk award-winning actress Mary Louise Wilson, as Vera, the nonagenarian grandmother and Gabriel Ebert as her grandson. Wilson, best known for Grey Gardens and Full Gallop, and the relative newcomer Ebert give memorable performances providing perfect foil for each other; the production is also enhanced by Greta Lee and Zoë Winters in the supporting roles and by Lauren Helpern’s evocative set design.

Herzog first gained attention in New York in 2010 with After the Revolution, an epic, semi-autobiographical family drama which spans three generations of an American communist family in New York and Boston. Vera, the matriarch of family, is a recurring character in both After the Revolution and 4000 Miles. The House recently caught up with Herzog to chat about her work.