We had the chance to talk to Jessica Aquila Cymerman, director of Reasons to be Pretty, which opens at Smock Alley this week. We asked about
The Irish premiere of Neil LaBute’s play ‘Reasons to Be Pretty’ – 13 – 17 Dec | 8pm | Boys School, Smock Alley
Visit Untold Wants website Here
For the uninitiated, how do you go about getting permission to put on a play? How difficult was it in this case?
You simply see if the rights are available for the play, and pay the royalty fees to whichever publishing company represents the work. In this case, Samuel French owns the rights to Reasons to Be Pretty. We got in touch and paid for the license to run of performances. We got lucky that the play was available to put on!
You seem to have had some interaction with Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom, The Slap), and the writer Neil LaBute about the production. Can you tell us about it?
I reached out to Thomas Sadoski at the beginning of the process with a specific – albeit young – outlook on the play, and with some questions. He was so supportive of our production, and enthusiastic about the investigative process of getting into the world of the text. He was happy to give his perspectives on Greg, the character he played in the original production. He expressed such a love for the piece and these characters, that he wrote back a two page email with his concepts and encouragement to continue with our thoughts that were on the right track, and thoughts on things we proposed that were new!
I have also had a few Skype calls with Mr. LaBute, who has been so gracious with his time and his thoughts. We dove into the play, into both of our interpretations, to pose questions in rehearsals both on the circumstances presented, and on the characters. Mostly we have been on the same page, which has been very encouraging! He has been so supportive to us and this production. I hope he likes that we’re premiering it in Ireland for the first time!
What attracted you to this play?
This play became very important to me, looking back on the volatile politics that have been going on in the United States this year. Suddenly this play became universally relatable, as it comments on the importance of words and how we speak to each other in society. Words matter; they effect individuals in a way we constantly underestimate. Ideas and movements are malleable, and spread like wildfire in today’s globalized world. Therefore, it is extremely important we pay attention to the language we use. But the demagogue who ended up winning the election, is turning that value on its head.
Furthermore, the characters portrayed are of a particular socio-economic class: They work nights in a factory and live paycheck to paycheck. These people would have been considered the same “forgotten” class that won the election. No matter the fact they ended up voting against their own financial best interests, promoting a one-percenter into office who will not help their situations. They were angry and wanted change because of a discontent with their circumstances. The characters in Reasons are just as uncomfortable, stuck, and take out their frustration on each other.
Moreover, I love the process of investigating why people do what they do to each other in life. These characters look at everyone else in their world as mirrors to reflect opinions on themselves, and that makes for fascinating and nuanced interactions. In a technological age where we are constantly bombarded by images and stories that portray better, more successful, prettier people, we strive to keep up with those impossible standards of beauty or success… or happiness, whatever that is. The number of paths and/or obstacles can be overwhelming to the point of paralysis. The sheer thought of starting is enough to feel stuck or to settle or less.
In the end, however, the play promotes empathy as humans greatest tool in navigating through life. Greg’s last quote states: “What does it take to be nice every once in a while?…Hardly anything at all.”
Have you seen any previous productions of it?
I actually haven’t! I’ve read it and the two sequels a couple of times throughout my theatrical career, but never seen it performed.
Untold Wants is a new Theatre Company. How did it come about? What are your plans for the future?
Untold Wants came about as a result of wanting to do this play. My producing partner is also playing Greg, and is also my real-life partner. We moved to Dublin at the end of June this year, and have been hungry to flex our creative muscles in such an inspiring city. This play was on our tongues for years, and we thought it was the perfect political time to put it up, especially coming toward the end of the year, when people tend to reflect a little more.
Our plans for the immediate future may include the sequel, (there’s also a three-quel), or an original musical I’ve been working on since doing my Master’s. We’re open to anything that comments on the status quo, and offers new perspectives on the world in which we’re living!
We’re hoping to collaborate more as well with young theatre-makers in Dublin, and are getting in touch with some Canadian companies even, to try to pursue co-productions.
Written by: Neil LaBute
Directed by: Jessica Aquila Cymerman
Set design by: Diarmuid O’Flaherty
Costume design by: Abby O’Reilly
Lighting design by: Conor Byrne
Sound design by: Kevin Blake
Fight Choreographer: Rich Wilson