Before rehearsals began for Into the Breeches!, Trinity Rep’s Braxton Crewell asked resident actors Anne Scurria and Phyllis Kay to share their thoughts about working on George Brant’s new comedy, which he wrote with them in mind.
Braxton Crewell: What is one thing about the show that excites you?
Anne Scurria: Oh, there are so many things that excite me about the show. George Brant is such a sensitive, terrific, and capable playwright. What he’s done is, he has taken our experience, in a way, at Trinity and put it through the lens of a well-made 40s movie. It’s going to be really exciting to bring my character to life and to watch everyone bring these characters that were written for them, to life. It’s going to be delightful.
Phyllis Kay: I love George’s writing. I guess the last thing I’ve worked on of his, was The Mourners’ Bench, and he just understands the best way to tell a story. His work is very clean and spare with gorgeous and evocative language, and it’s thrilling to be a part of. Breeches is particularly great because like Annie said, it’s written for us, and it’s interesting to look at a play and say “Oh, that’s my voice” or “That’s how he hears my voice.” These characters are familiar characters that are translated, I guess, through George’s understanding of the company’s particular strengths. So I’m very excited to see where this goes, because I love when you think you know where a script is going to go, but you get into the rehearsal hall and it’s full of surprises, which happens with this sort of rich material.
Braxton: What are some challenges in the rehearsal room you are excited to tackle?
Phyllis: Well, I think translating the jokes from page to stage will be interesting, but the given circumstances that he has come up with are fertile ground. There’s a part in the show where the girls go through a series of theater games, one of which involves walking trying to “walk like a man,” which will be fun. The whole thing is really great and we don’t really do “backstage” plays anymore. So if we don’t know about the given circumstances of a theater, we’re in trouble.
Anne: One thing that’s going to be really fun for me is going to be trying to keep all the “balls in the air.” How can my character keep pleasing everybody and still gets things done, adding in the fact that she’s learning on the job. It’s going to be hard to keep that train running through the show, especially since every time she gets something right another thing goes wrong that she has to fix, but that’s what makes it so wonderful.
Braxton: What are some ways that you connect/disconnect to your character?
Phyllis: You know, I like to make friends with the character, always. The simplest way to put it is that, I was taught that you don’t become the character, the character becomes you. There are parts of me that are a better fit for Celeste and there are parts that might not be the best fit, but I don’t know what those are yet, because I still need to roll up my sleeves and dig into that while we are creating those relationships in the rehearsal room.
Anne: I don’t know how I am in life, but when it comes to the theater and being an actor, I’m a “glass is all full or overflowing” kind of person. I try to be very positive about the things that theater can do and the changes that it can make, and so I love that aspect of Maggie. Where we differ, is that she is so tactful all the time, which I think is going to be a challenge, because sometimes I just want to stomp my foot and say, “You’re wrong.” But of course you can’t just do that, so she’s very smart in that way. I think it that will be fun for me to find, as well, the fact that she is so generous about listening to each person and finding out what they need to jump on the train that she’s creating for everybody. It will be really fun to explore the road she finds to bring herself to a place of power and how it’s not what we would recognize as a “male” kind power.
Braxton: Can you describe your characters’ relationships to each other?
Anne: In the beginning, I think it’s hard for Celeste, Phyllis’ character, because she has been the “muse.” She is a crucial part in planning shows, so having to go from that, to being one of a cast, is difficult. I think that for Maggie, my character, she realizes it’s going to be hard, and I think that Celeste is trying to create her new place, so I’m excited to find out how they travel the road that ends in solidarity on opening night of their show. Whereas Andrew, Maggie’s husband, has always been in charge and Celeste has been his leading lady, she and Maggie are more collaborators in the end, which is exciting and fun.
Phyllis: It’s good to familiarize yourself with the play, to a point, and then see what comes off of the other person when you’re both working together in the rehearsal room. That’s always very surprising and rich and layered. The fun thing about a piece like this is that we actually do know each other and we have worked together, and that is something that can be deepened when we work on shows like this.
Braxton: What is one message you hope audiences draw from this hilarious show?
Phyllis: You never really know what the end of the road will be. Maggie starts with an idea of what she wants to do, and she can’t anticipate the setbacks or what might go wrong, but the success of her idea is so different than what she imagined. What’s so great about the play is that, that journey is so thrilling to be a part of, and I hope the audience enjoys not seeing where it’s going, because the characters don’t see where it is going. I think that’s a great message. [Another is] to keep sight of the fact that life will be beautiful again. You have to just keep going and keep your passion alive. Adjust to challenges truthfully and find a way to keep realizing your dream.
Anne: One message is how smart George is as a playwright, managing to fit all these theater topics that we, to this day, are still talking about and dealing with into this show. Another message, and the one that moves me the most, is that in times of divisiveness, like now, theater is something that can transcend that. It can bring people together and it can represent everybody. I hope that it becomes a meeting place between the actors and the audience. Where they meet each other, creating an experience together that can never be repeated, because audiences are never the same and neither are the actors from night to night. That’s what I think is magical about theater and that is also what is so relevant.