Haydn Radford -A freelance writer born in Adelaide, who loves living here. I write about movies, theatre, entertainment, literary and art events. I am happy to promote & review your events. www.weekendnotes.com/profile/121822
An interview with Geoff Brittain and actors during rehearsal
The play, by American playwright Beth Henley, has an interesting history. In 1978, Henley completed her play but was unsuccessful in gaining much interest after submitting it to several regional theatres. However, in 1981, the play won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. In 1986, the play went on to be the basis for Bruce Beresford's Oscar-nominated movie.
I interviewed Geoff Brittain and members of the cast during their rehearsals - Cheryl Douglas (Meg), Georgia Stockham (Lenny), Allison Scharber (Babe), Steve Marvanek (Doc Porter), Adam Schultz (Barnette Lloyd lawyer) and Deborah Proeve (Chick).
What in particular attracted you to this play?
GEOFF BRITTAIN - Everyone was so amazed at how well Beth Henley wrote. I like the strength of the characters in this play. I usually select plays based on the characters, rather than the play itself. I quite like what I can do with those characters and also what the actors can do with the characters.
Cheryl Douglas and Steve Marvanek - Photographer Norm Caddick.
GEORGIA STOCKHAM - To me, it is a well-written play and the emotions flow on with touches of dark comedy which is something I love. I find the characters are fleshed out so well. It is easy to follow where the play is taking you.
STEVE MARVANEK - In 2020 the play was postponed because of COVID-19. The original actor was unavailable and I stepped in at the 11th hour. Although I only have two short scenes I am really enjoying playing Doc Porter because there is a lot of complexity, but the challenge for me is to make it all emerge in those two short scenes.
CHERYL DOUGLAS - Through Geoff's direction we have managed to put a darker edge to the three sisters, who all have some mental health issues. The family dynamics and the love the sisters have for each other hopefully comes through and audiences will relate to the characters, or know someone who has or is suffering with mental health issues.
Allison Scharber and Adam Schultz - Photographer Norm Caddick.
WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE MEANING OF THE TITLE?
GEOFF BRITTAIN - In this dysfunctional family, each of the three sisters have something that has happened in their lives whether it be issues with love, family, with shooting a husband and suicide. And in the background, there is granddad who is dying; one sister has to stay home to look after the aged grandparent, while the other sisters flit off and there is this resentment. I think some people will latch onto this because it happens in so many families.
ADAM SCHULTZ - Every character in the play has that moment where their motivations come from not thinking about correct actions from the head. The cliché is, "are you thinking with your head or thinking with your heart?" I think the play shows in different ways how every character has to make that choice and in real life, this moment can bring wonderful opportunity and also huge mistakes. The play does a really good job of showing the different ways it can affect different people by having these other characters surrounding the three sisters, that perhaps come from a different perspective on things and how their thinking with the heart affects them differently.
ALLISON SCHARBER – Every character seems to have committed a crime. Everybody seems to have a confused version of how to show and receive love.
Georgia Stockham and Allison Scharber - Photographer Norm Caddick
THE PLAY IS SET IN MISSISSIPPI IN A SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN WITH AMERICAN CHARACTERS. DID YOU PROPOSE TO INTRODUCE ANY CHANGES?
GEOFF BRITTAIN - I did think about changing it and setting it in Australia but it works much better the way it is written. Sometimes the author does not want you to change it, because they wrote it that way. Besides, I like doing the accents. The things that happen, the patterns of speech, the turn of phrase can't be said without the American accents.
ADAM SCHULTZ - Set in the 1970s, so much of the whole story is driven by what happens in the southern small-town dynamic where everybody knows everyone. Also, I don't think any other place in the world embodies that bible-belt dynamic. You can get little bits of it, but really not to that extent.
GEOFF BRITTAIN - It remains to be seen how convincing the audience and critics find the American accents. It doesn't matter, because you can do the best accent in the world, but someone in the audience will find it awful. You can't always win that one. To me, the whole thing of being an actor, is taking on roles with different sounds and accents.
STEVE MARVANEK - I know one musical show where all the characters were American and the reviewer picked on one performer's American accent and the actor happened to be the only American in the cast. (Ha! ha! ha! Group chuckles)
In America, there are different dialects all over the country.
We are different as to how we interpret the character. The sisters have different life experiences, mixing with different people, living in different cities and states in the US. Your accent may change with these differences.
GEOFF BRITTAIN - If your performance is strong enough people are not going to worry about your accent. They will be more interested in your character than your accent. Anyway, we can't afford dialogue coaches like they can in the movie business. (Ha! ha! ha! Group chuckles)
WHAT IMPACT DID THIS PLAY HAVE ON THEATRE?
GEOFF AND CAST - This play was written by a woman and performed in the early 1980s when mental health issues were not talked about like they are today.
There are more female characters than men. Most plays are generally tipped towards men, with more male characters. It is nice for a change to be in a play written by a woman, about three sisters who are friends, but have their differences. It is a change to have this communication on stage.
All the issues that come up in this dysfunctional family – shooting somebody, suicide and death, are driven with a female cast with touches of dark comedy.
HAYDN: Thank you everyone. I look forward to your exciting production.