Eric Samuelsen: welcome to A DOLL HOUSE

Eric Samuelsen’s plays MIASMA, AMERIGO and BORDERLANDS have received their world premieres at Plan-B. His translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A DOLL HOUSE kicks off Plan-B’s 2011/12 Script-In-Hand Series on Sunday, August 28 in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. A DOLL HOUSE examines gender roles, social constraints and the power of secrets through the seemingly happy marriage of Nora and Torvald Helmer. People frequently ask me what’s involved in translating a play. Well, the goal is to render as closely as possible a text in one language into another language. But that’s trickier than it sounds. An example: In the play, Nora admits to her friends that sometimes she wants to say ‘fy fanden’ to Torvald. In Norwegian, ‘fanden’ means ‘the devil.’ So what she’s saying is ‘I want to say to him ‘go to the devil.’ Except that isn’t really something insulting we say in English. What she’s really saying is ‘I want to swear at him, I want to insult him, I want to shock him.’ English is rich in words of invective – we have lots more swear words than they have. Norwegians really just have ‘fanden.’ So to translate the sense of what Nora is saying, I have to come up with something equally shocking and inappropriate in English. But this is also Nora we’re talking about. Which word would she use? What I came up with is ‘Torvald, you’re an asshole.’ That seems to me about right. I call the play A DOLL HOUSE instead of the traditional A DOLL’S HOUSE. It’s a more...

Mark Fossen's most memorable Plan-B role

Mark Fossen has appeared in Plan-B’s THE ALIENATION EFFEKT, EXPOSED and AMERIGO as well as AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON, many a SLAM and participated in the Plan-B/Meat & Potato Directors’ Lab. If you know me only from my Plan-B roles, there’s a good chance you don’t like me. “Sympathetic,” “warm,” “relatable” … these aren’t really the words you’d use to describe a lot of the work I do. Let’s face it: I often play The Man. From a religious politician who campaigns against gay clubs, to a government official who looks the other way as nuclear testing poisons his own people, to a man arguably responsible for genocide. These aren’t even “bad guys with hearts of gold,” because there’s no heart of gold. These are forces of oppression on the wrong side of history. As awful as they are, I do love the challenge of these characters. I’m still inspired by the work I saw Jayne Luke do in FACING EAST when I was just starting my first Plan-B show, THE ALIENATION AFFEKT. She fully inhabited Ruth McCormick, when it could have been all too easy to stand to the side and make sure we knew that the actress and character were different people with different views. But the important thing with roles like these is to get inside and understand that they are always doing what they think is right. Certainly Christopher Columbus in Eric Samuelsen’s AMERIGO was the high point of these roles, and the perfect example: a man utterly driven by beliefs that seem alien, evil, and wrong. I don’t ever want to become an...

AMERIGO – Kirt Bateman

Kirt Bateman, Actor April 11, 2010 AMERIGO marks the fourth time (all with Plan-B Theatre Company) that I’ve been offered the opportunity to create a role (first was Nick in Aden Ross’ AMERIKA; then The Men in Mark Dickson’s EXPOSED; and then Judas in Matthew Ivan Bennett’s DI ESPERIENZA). It’s very liberating! There is nothing to compare my performance to (except my own performance). I don’t have to live up to so-and-so’s seminal performance of Hamlet…or the original actor and all the amazing performers that have put their spin on Sweeney Todd. Because of Plan-B’s commitment to new plays by Utah writers, there are many, many actors in this city that have been given this wonderful gift too (in no particular order): Jayne Luke, Jay Perry, Teri Cowan, Teresa Sanderson, Stephanie Howell, Jason Bowcutt, Mark Fossen, April Fossen, Joyce Cohen, Jason Tatom, Anita Booher, Tobin Atkinson, Ron Frederickson, Richard Scharine, Carleton Bluford – and many more. Personally, I consider it a gift to have the opportunity to create a role. For better or worse, I get to be the first actor ever to play Niccolo Machiavelli in Eric Samuelsen’s AMERIGO. I know, by the quality of Eric’s writing, that I won’t be the last (Eric is a true poet). But there’s another layer to this character (as with my experience in EXPOSED and DI ESPERIENZA): I’m playing someone who really lived (or in the case of EXPOSED, still living). It makes for some unique challenges. My first instinct seems to always be to try to find out as much as I can about the person and put together an...

AMERIGO, et al – Eric Samuelsen

Eric Samuelsen, Playwright Sunday, April 4, 2010 So, this was my week last week: Monday: a rehearsal of Ibsen’s A DOLL HOUSE at UVU. Tuesday: a rehearsal for THE MYSTERIES OF MONSTER GROVE at BYU. Wednesday: a rehearsal for AMERIGO at Plan-B. Thursday, MYSTERIES again, Friday, A DOLL HOUSE again. And all of it, just about a year after I almost died. Couple of years ago, I finally figured out how to write the Columbus play I’d had in the back of my mind ever since 1992, when everyone wanted to write about Columbus. Columbus got all politicized back then: heroic mariner v. contemptible genocidist, neither of which interested me. I loved the Columbus of the libro de los profecias, the Columbus who wanted to be one of the two prophets dying in the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus returned. But to write about him meant the play didn’t want to be about Columbus by himself. It also wanted to be about Amerigo Vespucci, and also Machiavelli, and also this amazing Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Now the play is done, and published, and in rehearsal, and everyone in the cast is astoundingly right and good and wonderful. Matt Bennett is Amerigo, and he sort of intimidates me – such a brilliant writer and actor and twenty years younger that I am. Kirt Bateman is Machiavelli, wonderful Kirt, so relaxed and charismatic on stage. When you read Octavio Paz on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, it’s clear Paz sort of fell in love with her. Reading her poetry, so did I. Now I can see...

AMERIGO – Matthew Ivan Bennett

Matthew Ivan Bennett, Actor Sunday, March 28, 2010 For me, the joy of working on AMERIGO has been imaginatively exploring the edges of morality. A few months ago, after getting cast, I read Amerigo Vespucci’s so-called “Letter to Soderini,” which describes his voyages. The letter has a handful of fantastical passages which, no doubt, are exaggeration. I knew from the play that the authenticity of the letter had been challenged, but I purposely stayed away from academic reviews of it. I wanted as an actor to believe that he’d seen what he wrote – or, at least, that he saw MOST of what he wrote and added flourishes here and there in the name of creativity and salesmanship. Even though I’m a generally liberal person, my sense of right and wrong is sharp in relation to the world of advertising. Like a lot of you, I can’t watch TV commercials because their logic is so ridiculous and offensive to me: “this deodorant will get you laid,” “this fast food will make your children love you,” “this drug will deliver you from your demons.” So it’s strange to me to play a man who was so comfortable, and felt justified, in telling white lies for a dollar (or…gold piece). But it’s fun! Everyone is, of course, a little selfish. And Amerigo is honest about it. He announces freely in the play that he’s out for gold. It’s freeing to play someone so selfish and so honest about it — and also so life-loving. Selfish and honest and life-hating is interesting too (like Scrooge in A CHRISTMAS CAROL), but it’s harder,...

AMERIGO – Deena Marie Manzanares

Deena Marie Manzanares, Actor Sunday, March 21, 2010 Who knew I’d find myself looking so forward to Purgatory? After spending nearly every day there for a week, I’m falling in love with it. Purgatory is of course, the setting for AMERIGO, where I am lucky enough and extremely humbled to step into the shoes of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Sister of the Immaculate Conception. Poet and playwright. 1648-1695. She was centuries ahead of her time, teaching herself to read and to speak Latin, cutting off her hair when she wasn’t learning fast enough. Upon entering the convent where she remained until her death (she died of the plague after caring for her sick sisters), Sor Juana amassed the largest library in Mexico. “I knew what I wanted and discovered how to get it.” A great beauty, writer, scholar, lesbian, and defender of womens rights, she was eventually pressured into silence, and all of her books and belongings were taken from her. She then repented of having lived so long without religion in a religious community. Today, the woman who was then silenced is highly revered. I want every acting experience possible, and I’ve never played someone who really lived. It was something I was very much hoping to do, and look who I got! I am in awe of Sor Juana. I want to let her find me rather than play any preconceived notion of what she must have been like. I can feel my version of her starting to sneak in, in the way I stand, in a strength and stillness I’m finding, In my voice....

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