Ibsen’s work is always relevant. That’s what makes his plays so exciting. They are rooted in an older world, but the themes are always constant. Ibsen’s plays are about this conservative, male dominated Norwegian society that he grew up in. He actually wrote the majority of his plays when he left Norway and lived in Italy for something like twenty years. He had to leave to write and comment about his culture and background. Ghosts deals with the past, being haunted by our own past, our families past, traditions, the cycles we get stuck in.
In Ghosts the past comes back to haunt the lead character, Helene Alving, and ultimately causes the breakdown of her family. Lecherous Honey tells the story in a new way, what happens if Helene Alving totally rids herself of her past? How can she cleanse herself and move on to a better world and re-discover herself, explore her sexuality and find her strength in the process?
How does he fit Cock and Bull's experimental, visceral approach to dramatic storytelling?
Part of our mission is to deconstruct classic work; taking a classic play and turning it upside down to see what happens when we look at it in a new way. What themes remain? What needs to be explored? Lecherous Honey is an adaptation of his work by Los Angeles playwright Megan Breen. Megan and I have been friends for 15 years and I am a huge fan of her writing. We were trying to think of a project to work on together and I had just re-read Ghosts and A Doll’s House by Ibsen.
We discussed the relevancy of the piece and how it related to our own lives and realized that Ghosts was the play to explore. I asked Megan to use Ghosts as a seed to expand on Ibsen’s world. Her writing allows for fantastical moments which are the core of Cock and Bull, it allows us to use our heightened sense of design and overall aesthetic in the world she creates. Lecherous Honey itself forces us to explore the world viscerally.
If you had to direct a play or film about Ibsen's life, who would you cast as Ibsen and why?
Probably Tilda Swinton. She’s in everything and could totally work mutton chops.
Who are a few non-theatre artists who have had the biggest influence on your directing style?
My biggest influence is Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. All of his work inspires my idea of character and storytelling. Fashion photographer Tim Walker inspires my idea of creating strong visual images. Matthew Barney and the Cremaster cycle has always stayed in my head.
Lecherous Honey will be performed promenade style in Berger Mansion, the audience moving room to room as if they are the "ghosts" in this event. What was the most affecting theatrical event you have experienced and why? How, if at all, did it alter your approach to directing?
My favorite company is Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio from Italy. I saw their production of Julius Caesar at the MCA and it blew my mind. Caesar gives a monologue at the top of the show and the audience sees a video projection of his vocal chords giving the speech. It was outrageous, stunning and was the first time I literally held my breath in theatre. It was everything I want theatre to be.
I will never forget seeing Richard Foreman’sPANIC . I had studied so much about Foreman and then got to see his work and it was so rewarding...it was maddening and followed no rules.
I think seeing more experimental work allowed me to come back to Chicago and see how I could manipulate realism and add on fantastical theatrical moments. I think we are just on the precipice of this with Cock and Bull and hope we keep expanding the way we create theatre and the work we produce.
What is exciting about staging the play promenade style and what are some challenges?
It’s exciting to be close to the action. Each audience member sees a different viewpoint of the work. We are calling it a site-specific piece because it is created with the architecture of the Berger Park Mansion in mind. The mansion really allows us to look at this play in a new way. Lecherous Honey incorporates the natural Norwegian landscape into the world of the play; the aurora borealis, fjords, forests, rivers, salmon. The challenge and exciting part of this production is that we have had to create all of this “nature” inside an old house.
What is the most personally compelling sensory experience for you as an audience member?
I think sound is really capable of helping us create magical worlds. Sound always gets my adrenaline pumping. We work with an incredible sound designer/company member, Matt Reich, and he has made me now hear the world of the plays we create so much clearer. I get excited just hearing what he creates.
Of the five senses, which do you tend to explore the most viscerally in your theatrical productions and why do you think you do so?
I think visually. I think in visual snapshots when I direct a piece and try to paint the piece theatrically. I literally close my eyes and try to see each moment as a painting or snapshot. I wish I could start from day one with sound, costumes, lights, set and just paint and create. I literally need like four weeks of tech to have the play look like what I am thinking in my head. I love the challenge of using traditional theatre techniques or old tecnhinques to create magical moments. We rely on the audience to suspend their system of disbelief for a few hours.
Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen a ghost?
I have seen many ghosts. I believe I was haunted by an actual ghost for most of my childhood. My grandmother actually saw a ghost in Mexico when my mother was born and I believe that this ghost haunted me as a child. He looked like Abraham Lincoln. My mother sees ghosts too; I think we have a connection the spirit world.
Is the Berger Mansion haunted? Should we bring sage sticks to cleanse the theatre of angry spirits each night?
It totally is haunted. I have felt like I was almost pushed down the stairs, had a window suddenly rise, and in one room feel like someone is watching my every move!
Which play has "haunted" you recently? (I.e., stuck with you, you couldn't forget it/let it go, etc.)
I was recently at the IPAY(International Performing Arts for Youth) festival in Montreal and saw two TYA(Theatre for Young Audience) plays that I cant stop thinking about one was a piece from Belgium and incorporated wooden duck puppets that layed eggs. The other was this play about fiherman and the sea....we sat in a tiny tent on sand and the room was filled with whale puppets and they gave us candy when we left.
How do you want Lecherous Honey to "haunt" its audience?
I hope there are moments that ignite people, make them think, and unsettle them after they leave the theatre.
LECHEROUS HONEY OPENS OCT 21st. Four weeks only. Get tickets here.