Go Deeper

The Forecast is Good for “Carthaginians”

Posted August 31st, 2011

Sitting in the cemetery of Old Swede’s Church, sudden big, wet drops of rain forced me and half the cast of REV Theatre’s Carthaginians to hustle our chairs under the canopy of a large tree. “This rain is not a sign of things to come, says Rudy Caporaso, REV’s co-artistic director. Carthaginians, set in a cemetery in Northern Ireland, will be performed in Old Swede’s Church cemetery and Laurel Hill cemetery for its run at the 2011 Philly Fringe.

“What we looked for was the most open but interesting space,” said Rosey Hay, the play’s director.

“We often design REV’s work around the space. We’re very excited about taking whatever’s there and using it to the best of our abilities. In New York,” where Rudy and Rosey are based, Rudy continued, “doing theater is rough. I hate theaters. I hate the lights, the sound board, all of that. I’m more interested in accessibility without that stuff.”

“We did Midsummer Night’s Dream with the U.S.S. Intrepid as a backdrop. I also like to work in more traditional spaces. But it made sense to do [this play] right here. I think it was Amanda [Schoonover] who said part of Fringe is being different,” Rosey said.

Amanda, a two-time Barrymore Award-winner (and a six-time nominee) and a finalist for the 2010 Otto Haas Award who’s performing in the show, said she’s a big fan of working with nontraditional spaces.

“It’s to do theater in nontraditional ways,” Amanda said. “What makes it fringe? What makes it different?”

“Theater pieces have the possibility of being an event,” Rudy added. Gesturing to the tombstones next to us, he said, “In a traditional theater this would’ve been Astroturf and Styrofoam.”

“You’re exploding it, doing something you can never do in a regular theater. Why do it unless you’re going to do that?” asked Amanda. “Seeing [EgoPo’s 2010 Philly Fringe production] Marat/Sade in the Rotunda–that made it epic.”

“This is a very traditional play, so we needed to find something about it to shake it up,” Rudy said.

The play, by Irish playwright Frank McGuinness, serves as tesitmony to the Bloody Sunday events of 1972, in which over two dozen Irish protestors were gunned down by the British Army in the Derry. The play’s characters are (mostly) confined to a graveyard, where at once they work out their grief and hope that their murdered loved ones will rise from the dead. And for Philly Fringe, REV shakes up the piece by taking us graveside.

“It’s interesting to really utilize the space to make the piece really really real–you doing theater in the space that the story could be occurring in,” Rudy said.

“The themes are really resonant today,” Rosey said. “Although the situation is not new, the themes about how the survivors survive, how they come to terms with that loss, are still relevant. The ultimate themes of redemption and finding some kind of brace are hugely important to me.”

While REV–composed of Rosey and Rudy as its driving forces–is based in New York, relationships from other productions and work in Philadelphia (Rosey teaches at the University of the Arts) brought this cast together. Rosey saw Susan Giddings–a British national who lives in Exton–perform elsewhere and asked her to audition. “It’s very nice to be asked to come,” Susan said.

“I met Rosey last summer,” Amanda said, when they worked on another project together. “I loved working with her and and I asked if I could please come and audition.”

“The fact that you did audition was so humble,” Rosey said. Amanda deferred modestly.

“You can see her little halo gleaming,” joked Susan.

“It’s a great balance with people we know and with new people, like one actor [Brian McManus] who’s from the Republic of Ireland,” Rosey said.

Rosey’s connections to UArts have yielded rehearsal space–you can’t rehearse in a cemetery every day, after all–and a faculty enrichment grant to work with current and former UArts grads. In this case, that number includes Amanda, Janelle Caso (the show’s production manager), their assistant stage manager, and their dramaturg. I asked Janelle about the challenges of working in not just one cemetery, but two different ones.

“The logistics are different,” she said. “Where do we set up backstage? All is open. Tech is easier though—there’s no practical lighting. Your priorities change in terms of what to focus on—bugs, sun, these become priorities for the actors.” And indeed, we were nipped at by insects as our conversation went on.

Old Swede’s is in the shadow of I-95, which creates noise over which Janelle has no control. But the actors said that working against that noise was helping their production.

“There’s something about having to project that keeps me from sinking into the maudlin or preciousness,” said Amanda.

“This play can easily become Irishly sentimental,” Rosey said.

“To have these voices be technically altered would be absurd,” Rudy said. “We’ve done a lot of outdoor classical theater. I believe if you can do outdoor Shakespeare in a way that makes the points, then you can get away with this.”

And the forecast looks good.

Carthaginians runs September 2 through 4 and September 9 through 11 at Gloria Dei (Old Swede’s Church), 916 S. Swanson Street, Queen Village; and September 16 and 17 at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue, East Falls. All shows 6:00 pm, $20. Bring chairs or blankets for seating.