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Category Archives: Nothing Personal

Eric Samuelsen has written for Plan-B Theatre Company for a decade where, in addition to the #SeasonOfEric, his plays MIASMA, AMERIGO and BORDERLANDS also received their world premieres.

It’s very rare for a fully professional American theatre company to devote time and resources to new work by local playwrights. It’s exponentially rarer for companies to do entire seasons devoted to the work of a single playwright. I expect, rarest of all, would be for companies to market that season using the playwright’s first name.

So: the Season of Eric. And I’m Eric; apparently sufficiently known (or at least notorious) to warrant not just a season of my work, but a marketing campaign based on my first name. It’s immensely flattering and a tremendous honor. Obviously, the greatest five events in my life were when I married Annette, and when each of our four children were born. I’m not kidding when I say this: The Season of Eric comes sixth.

We started off with GHOSTS. My PhD dissertation was on Henrik Ibsen, most of my scholarly publications were on Ibsen; I’m an Ibsen guy. And I can say this unequivocally; I love GHOSTS. And of course the ending of the play is powerfully and movingly tragic. But I’ve seen GHOSTS in production many times, and I’ve always felt there was something essential missing. Humor. Dour old Ibsen, the stuffy Victorian moralist. As I translated the play, I kept cracking up; I loved Ibsen’s subversive satirical wit. In our Script-In-Hand Series production, we only had a few days to rehearse, but it was so thrilling to hear laughs in the house. As well as tears, of course, at the end.

The first of my plays was NOTHING PERSONAL, a play in which I tried to capture the paranoia and rage of Kenneth Starr’s persecution of Susan McDougal, as well as the violent and violative ethos of the war on terror. Jerry Rapier, Plan-B’s Producing Director, had loved this play for years; I was worried about it. It’s edgy stuff for me; would it play? Thanks to a tremendous cast, and superb direction, it played brilliantly; so much so that it took me by surprise. I remember sitting in a dress rehearsal, completely taken by surprise, terrified for the brilliant April Fossen, as the brilliant Kirt Bateman tormented her with Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin looking on. That’s a weird feeling; to be shocked and appalled by something happening in a scene I wrote. Such is the power of live theatre, though.

Next up was the radio play FAIRYANA, billed as RADIO HOUR EPISODE 8: FAIRYANA. I wrote it as a play six or seven years ago, but it never felt right; never felt finished. And I’d never written for radio before, though I did work in radio many years ago. So in every sense, FAIRYANA was an experiment. Fortunately the wacky spectacle of savagely misanthropic and alcoholic people working as writers for a really sugary children’s television show proved funny, particularly given outstanding performances by Jason Tatom, Teresa Sanderson and Jay Perry under Cheryl Cluff’s direction.

Most of my experience as a director has been in a college setting, directing mainstage shows with actors still learning their craft. When I was asked to direct my play CLEARING BOMBS, I was worried about working with accomplished, professional actors. What I learned was how joyful it is to work with actors like Jay Perry, Kirt Bateman and Mark Fossen. They responded so superbly to every direction. And they were adept enough to really communicate the hard-core macro-economics at the intellectual center of the play.

Finally, came 3. Two of the plays in the set were over ten years old, and I worried about their relevance to audiences today. But it was astonishing to see how current the plays felt. Issues of feminism and faith, of objectification and commodification and male gaze and empowerment and friendships wrecked by homophobia were playing themselves out daily in the press and on the internet. And again, I was so blessed with a superb director and cast: kudos to Cheryl Cluff, Teresa Sanderson, Christy Summerhays and Stephanie Howell!

So finally, thanks. Thanks to Jerry Rapier and Cheryl Cluff. Thanks to amazing actors and audiences and designers and stage management.

Click here for information on how to purchase (or get a free copy!) of Plan-B Theatre Company’s latest eBook, #SeasonOfEric, which includes all five of the plays above plus Matthew Ivan Bennett’s DIFFERENT=AMAZING.

Audience comments on the world premiere of Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL:

NOTHING PERSONAL is the best thing I have ever seen, anywhere. Everyone must see this play.
- MaryBeth Jarvis Clark 

Whoa, Eric Samuelsen, whoa. Thanks Kirt Bateman, and April Fossen (and Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin) for making tears pour from my eyes and my face contort into what I’m going to call “WTF” face. I got home and said, “What the hell did I just see?” to my empty house. People: GO see NOTHING PERSONAL.
- Sarah Danielle Young 

April Fossen in NOTHING PERSONAL

April Fossen in NOTHING PERSONAL

Listen to me and hear me now. I had the good fortune to catch NOTHING PERSONAL in dress rehearsal. I was FLOORED by what an amazing piece of work this is on EVERY level. I have never, NEVER had such a completely engaging, provocative, visceral, PRESENT experience watching a live performance as I did watching this one. So well done, and such residual fodder for thought. It was hard not to stand up and talk to the characters, try to help, yell at some of them. It was hard not to get involved. It was difficult to simply to stay seated in my chair like an audience member is supposed to. Amazing work by everyone. Thank you to Eric Samuelsen, Jerry Rapier, Kirt Bateman, April Fossen, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, and to everyone else who took part in the creation and funding of this play. It feels to me like NOTHING PERSONAL is an evolution of the art form.
- Melissa Rasmussen

We were really challenged by the play because it was a “play” and not completely factual – that’s not a complaint, it’s just that we kept thinking about what was legal and what wasn’t.  As a result, we are trying to research the case to refresh our memories.  We’re recommending NOTHING PERSONAL to everyone we meet as one of the most compelling plays we’ve seen.  Thanks for introducing us to a play that was as harrowing as it was fascinating.  The actors were superb – and they had a superb playwright too.
- Joyce & John Barnes

Those were powerful performances last night, and a powerful play. When [my daughter] Carly and I left the theatre, she turned to me and said she felt free. That is, free in the sense that we were “getting out” along with Susan. The set design was genius and completely effective. It felt as though there were bars, and, indeed, felt as though we, the audience, were in there somehow with Susan. It was good to leave, and then, to evaluate what that feeling meant living as we do in the “land of the free.”  I didn’t mean to write a review; just wanted to congratulate you [Jerry], Eric, Kirt, April, Dee-Dee, and all. Thank you.
- Betsy Ross

WOW.  I’m not even sure I have the words to describe my response to NOTHING PERSONAL. Intense. Brilliant. Thought-provoking. From the moment I entered the theater to the talented-actors bow, I was on the edge of my seat. My first words at the close of the play? “I can’t breathe!”  What a way to open the #SeasonOfEric!  Bravo, Plan-B, you’ve done it again – theater at its very best!
- Michael Thompson

Very well written and of course excellent acting.  Definitely one to see again.
- Ann Clark

Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre Company through November 3 with Kirt Bateman, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and April Fossen.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Martine Kei-Green Rogers

Martine Kei Green-Rogers

Martine Kei Green-Rogers is a Raymond C. Morales Post-Doctorate Fellow in the Department of Theatre at the University of Utah and the dramaturg for NOTHING PERSONAL and CLEARING BOMBS this season at Plan-B.

NOTHING PERSONAL by Eric Samuelsen takes me on an infuriating ride. Don’t get me wrong; it has nothing to do with the production or even Samuelsen’s crafty use of language. My fury has everything to do with the unfolding of the story and its subsequent emotional roller coaster ride.

In order to explain what I mean, and to illustrate how these harsh words are actually a great compliment, I want to rewind in time to the first run I saw of this play (October 6). As the dramaturg on this lovely production, I had the opportunity to sit in on a very early run of the show [after only 6 days of rehearsal]. The director (Jerry Rapier) had just finished preliminary blocking and character work when all the designers were invited in to see the shape of the production thus far.

At this run, I found myself with numerous questions about the play and the production. Aware that it was very early in the rehearsal process, I even prefaced my thoughts to Jerry with this quote: “It is sooooo early in this process so take most of these [notes] with a grain of salt. These are just the ruminations of a crazy woman and the journey I went on while watching/ the questions I found myself asking while watching.”

“I love Ken’s smugness and calmness -its a nice contrast with Susan’s frenetic energy. Its also sets an interesting tone.”

“What is that moment that makes her decide to open up to Ken?”

“What does Ken get from indulging her in these convos? “

One specific note I sent to Jerry is the basis for this blog post: “The mental ride Susan has been on makes me crazy. I feel as crazy as she feels!” I followed that with, “This has just gotten ridiculous – but in a good way – the savagery (mental and physical) of it all.”

The main theme of Samuelsen’s script brilliantly emerges. Essentially, in the process of attempting to “nail a President,” a woman was abused in the worst ways imaginable – mentally and physically – although it’s important to remember that NOTHING PERSONAL is more of an allegory than a history lesson; and in the end, we are to accept it as “nothing personal.” In a day and age in which we are asked to accept that this can/and should happen to someone in order to discover the “truth” is disturbing (you will know what I mean by “truth” after you see this production)! Taking the mental roller coaster ride with Susan by watching this show is heart-wrenching and downright disturbing.

I went to see the show again yesterday (October 20), which brought up many of the same emotions, this time heightened by more rehearsal time and the inclusion of scenic elements, lighting, costumes and props that did not exist at the time of my first viewing. I went on that roller coaster ALL OVER AGAIN! S o much so, that I wrote a note to myself saying, “Arrrrgh…I don’t know if I can do this with her again.” But I did. And I will again next Sunday. I may even be a better person for it.

I say all of this to remind people that the theatre is a beautiful and visceral art form. Some of you may watch this show and never come close to the emotional ride I went on. Some of you may watch and go even farther down the emotional “rabbit hole” than I did. However, it is a story, and a journey, I would advise you not to miss!

Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre Company October 24-November 3 with Kirt Bateman, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and April Fossen.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin

Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin

Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin has previously appeared in Plan-B’s THE THIRD CROSSING and SLAM.

“I think it might be challenging for you to play a role where you don’t get to speak,” said Jerry [when he offered me the role of the Matron in NOTHING PERSONAL]. I, of course, thought this to be extremely funny, since I am known for being loquacious. I soon found out he was serious and the most challenging part is NOT that I don’t have anything to say but that I have so much to say. So much I should say and don’t say ANYTHING.

I admit I had to reach deep down to find empathy for a middle-class white woman who is unjustly imprisoned. I mean big freaking whaaaa! Yet this play should not – and is not – filtered through my almost-ever-present lens of race. This play is about power – those who have it get to do whatever they want to those who do not. When that happens, you are bound to feel empathy for the underdog.

Lest I get too preachy (pun intended), what I really love about live theater is the process. I love working in small frosty theaters [the heat has been off in the Studio Theatre since rehearsal began], inside jokes, meltdowns, tantrums, snide remarks, deep-down belly laughter, nicknames, frank discussions, reminiscing, openness and breakthroughs…a playwright’s words on paper interpreted and brought to life by some of the most creative creatures on the planet. It is indeed about the journey.

Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre Company October 24-November 3 with Kirt Bateman, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and April Fossen.  Click here for more information and tickets.

April Fossen

April Fossen

April Fossen has appeared in Plan-B’s SHE WAS MY BROTHER, MESA VERDE, LADY MACBETH and SUFFRAGE.  She has also appeared in eight SLAMs and the Script-In-Hand Series reading of 8.  April has created roles in two plays by Eric Samuelsen for Plan-B: first MIASMA in 2006 and NOTHING PERSONAL, opening October 24.

Here we are at the end of the first week of rehearsals for NOTHING PERSONAL and I’m feeling a little lost. Like maybe I know less now than I did at the beginning of the week. So, I’m going to make a list of 10 things I DO know.

1. I know that I trust Eric’s writing. I know that if I let myself give in to the words and the character and the story, it will all be there as a safety net. Eric’s plays are nothing if not safe places for actors to get lost in.
2. I know that I trust the people I’m working with. I trust Jerry to be honest with me. I trust Kirt to be super creepy on stage and super not-creepy off stage. I trust Dee-Dee to make sure things don’t get too pinchy.
3. I know that I wouldn’t last a day in prison.

April Fossen in rehearsal as Susan in NOTHING PERSONAL

April Fossen in rehearsal as Susan in NOTHING PERSONAL

4. I know that I’ll learn my lines eventually (hopefully soon), but tonight it’s too many words so I’m doing this instead.
5. I know that the floor of the studio theatre is hard.
6. I know that I should probably add Ibuprofen to my Costco shopping list.
7. I know that I’m incredibly lucky to get the opportunity to work on this script and be part of the #SeasonOfEric. And I know that I better not squander it.
8. I know I’m exhausted. But I don’t know that I can really take a day off (see #4).
9. I know that Susan didn’t have sex with Bill.
10. I know that gravity is the force that holds us on this planet.

Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre Company October 24-November 3 with Kirt Bateman, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and April Fossen.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Eric Samuelsen

Eric Samuelsen

Eric Samuelsen has been writing for Plan-B for a decade: seven SLAM plays, two Ibsen translations presented as part of the Script-In-Hand Series (A DOLL HOUSE and GHOSTS) and three world premieres (MIASMA, AMERIGO and BORDERLANDS).  The 2013/14 #SeasonOfEric is fully dedicated to his work.

From 1996-1998, Susan McDougal, a woman from Little Rock, Arkansas, married to Jim McDougal, an S&L owner, was under investigation by Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr for her alleged complicity in the Whitewater case. Because she refused to testify before Starr’s Grand Jury, Susan McDougal spent eighteen months in federal prison, including 8 months in solitary confinement. David Hale, a main Whitewater witness, insisted that she had had an affair with Bill Clinton. She insisted that she had not done so, and would not lie about it in court. For that refusal, she was imprisoned.

In a sense, then, the character ‘Susan’ in my play NOTHING PERSONAL refers to Susan McDougal, and ‘Kenneth’ refers to Kenneth Starr. References in the play to ‘David’ mean David Hale, ‘Jim’ equals Jim McDougal and ‘Bill’ means Bill Clinton. NOTHING PERSONAL is a play very loosely based on McDougal and her imprisonment.

But not all that much of it. My initial impulse was to focus entirely (and factually) on McDougal and her imprisonment. But as I wrote the play in the darker years of the Bush administration, I became increasingly concerned about the loss of civil liberties taking place through a wide variety of measures and incidents. The Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, the illegal detention of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo and other ‘dark sites’ across the globe, all reflected an overall atmosphere of fear and paranoia, leading to the destruction of basic American constitutional provisions. I began to see Kenneth Starr’s out-of-control Whitewater inquisition as an early symptom of that paranoia. Starr’s self-righteousness, his prissy obsession with sexuality, his prurient obsession with McDougal’s appearance and (as he supposed it) loose morals, it all seemed to reflect a similar narrative to the Bush/Cheney war on terror narrative. America under attack. America in terrible mortal but also moral danger. Because Bill Clinton was sexually rapacious, (hardly the case), because he had had an affair with Susan McDougal (which was completely untrue), America was morally threatened, morally bankrupt even, and McDougal’s civil rights could be violated with impunity. I’ll grant that that 9/11 attacks did constitute an actual threat to the American homeland. But by so routinely violating the fundamental human rights of detainees (most of whom were entirely innocent), we lost the moral high ground, and lost as well the opportunity to genuinely engage with the Moslem world.

The same arrogance and self-righteousness and contempt for rule of law continues today. I supported Barack Obama’s candidacy because I saw in him the possibility for genuine change. But as our country continues drone attacks that kill non-combatants, and Guantanamo stays open, that assault on civil liberties continues. I supported the President in both his political campaigns, with both time and money. But friends tell friends the truth, and this President has also succumbed to fear, with its attendant violence.

So the play gradually shifts away from the specifics of the McDougal case, and begins to make reference to such ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ as sensory deprivation and waterboarding, none of which actually happened historically to McDougal.

The third character in the play, the Matron, represents for me the law enforcement establishment, the soldiers at Guantanamo, the bailiffs in the courtroom, the jailers and cops and foot soldiers. She’ll go along with Starr, but when he loses her, he’s done. And she’s deeply, personally and genuinely religious, which I have symbolized by having her speak entirely using glossalia.

The idea that ‘truth’ is a function of power derives from Kenneth Starr. And the play also explores a link between fundamentalist religious dogma and conservative politics. The play also echoes 9/11, symbolized by imagery of people leaping from the roof of a burning building.

The play does describe ‘Susan’ as being mistreated in ways that Susan McDougal never was. No confusion is intended—I simply want the play to have a broader scope than the specifics of one case.

Eric Samuelsen’s NOTHING PERSONAL receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre Company October 24-November 3, 2013.  It opens the #SeasonOfEric. The cast features Kirt Bateman, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin and April Fossen, directed by Jerry Rapier.  Click here for more information and tickets.

 

Jerry Rapier

Jerry Rapier

Jerry Rapier has been Producing Director of Plan-B Theatre Company since 2000.  Plan-B, his son Oscar and his husband Kirt are the joys of his life.

I have had two of the most rewarding experiences of my creative life directing Eric Samuelsen’s AMERIGO (2010) and BORDERLANDS (2011) for Plan-B.  Eric writes with an enviable ease about Big Ideas – he can be Truthful with a Capital T and Intellectual with a Capital I, yet still guide his audience to a soulful place, a place of passion, a place where a true marriage of truth and intellect is possible – a place where you have no choice but to take pause, reexamine and choose how best to move forward. He has an uncanny ability to identify the gaps in the recorded history of historical figures and address the “What if?” without resorting to straightforward biography. Simply put, he makes the historical personal.

So when it came time to select the 2013/14 season, I did what I had been considering for quite some time – I invited Eric to be a resident playwright. And then I did something else I had been considering for quite some time – I asked if Plan-B could stage an entire season of his work. I wanted to celebrate his range as a playwright and let some of that been-under-a-bushel-far-too-long work see the light of day. From there, I asked him what mattered most to him of the dozen or so plays/ideas he had in various stages of completion. Together, we settled on (click on each title for details): NOTHING PERSONAL, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 8: FAIRYANA, CLEARING BOMBS and 3.

But I wanted to see those four and raise them two so we’re also staging Script-In-Hand Series readings of Eric’s translation of Ibsen’s GHOSTS and of MIASMA, the first play of his we produced back in 2006 (which will be read at THE ROSE EXPOSED).

Join us for what we’re affectionately calling The Season of Eric.  Click here for more information and to subscribe.