PTP/NYC, a theater company celebrating their 28th anniversary, recently brought a revival of David Edgar's 1998 play Pentecost to New York City's Atlantic Theater. The New York production is directed by Cheryl Faraone, who in addition to being the co-founder and co-director of PTP/NYC is also a professor of theater and gender studies at Middlebury College. You can read our review of Pentecost here. We sat down to talk with Cheryl about directing Pentecost, liberal humanism, and politics.
StageBuddy: What are some of the things that led you to direct Pentecost?
Cheryl Faraone: Pentecost was a play that had always interested me, because you never see this factor of combinations, the whodunnit about the story of the painting is utterly fascinating, how it is and then it isn't again and then it is again and then it's destroyed. And then the humanity but non-sentimentality he brings to the story of all of the refugees. I like smart theater. I like theater where your mind is incredibly active, not only as an audience member but also as directors and actors working on a play. I mean, we're still making discoveries about reading this one script and the shadings of meaning.
StageBuddy: What was the process of casting the actors for the New York production like?
CF: David [Edgar] is making such a point in this play about different national characteristics. He presents a brief vision of how we can all cross borders and have the same story and that we can understand each other if we're just given the opportunity. [We needed] smart actors, people who would inhabit the reality of the nationality and not just the character. I can imagine actors for whom the nationality who be less important than just the feelings, and that doesn't tell the story.
StageBuddy: This is a very challenging play to put on.
CF: You can see that in that it hasn't had too many productions. You need the depth in the cast but you also need the resources to produce a play of this magnitude. I mean if this were, say, on Broadway, where it doesn't belong and would never go, but if it were, you couldn't afford it. You couldn't afford the salaries for a company of this size if they were all on Broadway-level contracts.
StageBuddy: Russia has been in the news again lately. Were you thinking about that when you chose this?
CF: Completely. The whole idea of borders and ownership and people turning their back on other people in their own country. I mean here too, not just across the ocean. It feels like a play whose time, sadly, has come again, that there's as much tension now as there was then.
StageBuddy: How does your work as a gender studies teacher influence the kinds of plays you do?
CF: I very often do plays by women. Pentecost in a sense is anomalous because it was written by a man.
As a director I'm very interested in the women characters. I don't consciously create a focus on them but I certainly do make sure that their voices are very clear and very heard.
StageBuddy: You're giving a lot of opportunities to women, and people of color. Was that something you considered in choosing this?
CF: That's important to us. We generally have four or five titles we're considering, and which two we choose will depend a lot on how can we have all of these different elements come into play? How many of these things can we make sure that we're supporting?
StageBuddy: What are your core values as a theater company?
CF: It's kind of a joke, but liberal humanism. An awareness of multiple representation and not reifying the status quo. We're not young bomb throwing dissidents, but people need to think about things that they've maybe taken for granted all along. Stuff is not that simple, and there's always another side to the story.
Performances of PTP/NYC's Pentecost continue through August 9.