Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dead Man's Cell Phone: The Director

“From the very beginning, this is a play of surprises. One surprise after another,” said director Michael Thomas. He gave a series of examples... but why spoil the surprise?

 Still it’s fair to say that in this relatively short play, the themes are large. “Sarah Ruhl gives us plenty to think about. Lies, secrets, communication, what’s selfish and what’s selfless.”

 And of course new connections to old issues brought about by the digital age. “The ubiquitous cell phone—it’s always there, but does it bring us any closer?”

 Thomas identifies aspects of this play that are common to Sarah Ruhl’s work. “Small things can be charged with meaning. Objects can be important. It’s also typical of her plays that we see a side of people we don’t normally see. Everyone has a part no one knows about. Everyone has surprises that appear once in awhile.”

Behavior by the characters in Dead Man's Cell Phone is so surprising that Thomas believes the question audience members will be asking themselves is: “Would I do that?”

 And there’s lots of humor, some of it outrageous. “There are some very funny moments.”

 Both as a director and as the artistic director of North Coast Repertory Theatre (a position he is leaving after 15 years), Michael Thomas has read a lot of plays. He’s learned to trust that first reading.

 “Those first gut reactions are important, especially as a director. Those first impressions, the moments that jump out, they stay with me in how I direct the play. The more I’ve directed, the more I’ve learned to trust those first instincts. Other people will have valid suggestions but it’s not your initial feelings. You can somewhat temper and alter those feelings but basically what I first thought when I first read the script is still important to me. It usually works out that way.”

 When directing at HSU it’s also important to him to cast HSU students whenever possible. “We had good auditions and I was able to cast every part with students—even the 65 year old woman, who will be played by an actress in her 20s."

" I’m very happy with this wonderful cast. I especially appreciate that they got off book early. There’s a point where you can’t really go any further with the book in your hand, when you act with your body. Being off book early was great.”

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