Hamid Dehghani’s ‘English’

Sanaz Toossi’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play English, a powerful, warm-hearted, and surprisingly funny play about four adult students in Iran studying for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), is getting an extraordinary production from director Hamid Dehghani that runs this summer at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. Hamid discusses how amazingly personal Toossi’s play is and the extraordinary theatrical conceit at the heart of it; how both the play and the production embrace questions of identity through humor; the difficulty of being as funny in English as you are in Persian; how the incredibly specific becomes wonderfully universal; and how working on this script with these actors allowed Hamid to clarify his truest artistic self. (Length 19:16) (PICTURED: Shadee Vossoughi and Nikki Massoud in the Goodman Theatre and Guthrie Theatre co-production of Sanaz Toossi’s English, directed by Hamid Dehghani. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Potter V. Scrooge

Joe Dempsey and Austin Tichenor play Mr. Potter and Ebenezer Scrooge in, respectively, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! at the American Blues Theater and A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre. The two Chicago actors share their stories of being cast and the mixed blessing of being perfect casting for two miserable old characters. Dempsey also reveals an appreciation for Saturday Night Live’s famous “Lost Ending” to the Frank Capra film; a shout-out to American Blues Theater’s brand new performance space; what one taps into to play a scurvy little spider; the luck of getting emotional plausible deniability; having front-row seats to some of the finest acting ensembles anywhere; the value of being of service to great stories; and the ultimate privilege of fulfilling audience desires at this time of year. (Length 21:15)

Scrooge To Scrooge

Larry Yando (left, above) discusses playing the role of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre production of A Christmas Carol with his “Alternate Scrooge,” the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s own Austin Tichenor. The two actors talk about the challenge of being haunted by the Ghost of Productions Past; how Dickens’s story continues to percolate in the off-season; how they navigate script changes, especially the little annoying ones; how Scrooge compares to some of the other great roles Yando’s played (such as Scar in The Lion King, Prospero, Roy Cohn in Angels in America); how seeing another actor play “your” role can sometimes act like “an undigested bit of beef;” why the story stays relevant year after year; the value of staying on your toes; how and why Scrooge chooses Marley over Belle; and how if A Christmas Carol ended 20 minutes earlier, it’d be King Lear. (Length 21:48)

The Nacirema Society

Chicago director Lili-Anne Brown brings extraordinary levels of funny and heart to the Goodman Theatre production of Pearl Cleage’s wonderful comedy of class, The Nacirema Society Requests the Honor of Your Presence at a Celebration of Their First One Hundred Years. Brown discusses the kind of rehearsal room she creates; how she worked her way up the theatrical ladder; how we don’t talk enough about the value of comedy; how the comedy basics of high status versus low status goes too frequently unrecognized; how she gives license to her actors to explore and invent; how the best and funniest idea wins; and how the recipe always begins with great actors and giving them permission to try. (Length 21:08)

TV’s Neil Flynn (Pt. 2)

Neil Flynn (The Fugitive, Mean Girls, Scrubs, The Middle) returns to talk about how he manages to work both sides of the acting street: comedic and dramatic, improvised and scripted. A theatre vet, Neil marvels at the times he’s been allowed to frequently act onscreen in 4-5 page scenes (something that rarely happens), and shares the reasons he doesn’t do many talk shows; the bites he’s gotten to take out of dramatic apples; the best business decision he ever made; how basketball led to his role of the Janitor on Scrubs; the joy of getting lucky twice; and his absolute satisfaction about his place on the showbiz ladder. (Length 18:52)

Remembering Frank Galati

Actor and professor Cindy Gold remembers her friend and colleague Frank Galati, the Academy Award-nominated and multiple Tony Award-winning writer and director who died last January. At a memorial held at Steppenwolf Theatre last Monday, Galati’s friends and artistic colleagues (including Mary Zimmerman, Robert Falls; Lois Smith, and Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty) remembered him as a generous and supportive artist in an event that was an inspiring celebration. Cindy shares her memories of working with Frank on his musical Loving Repeating (for which she won a Joseph Jefferson Award for playing Gertrude Stein); how Frank was a champion of the positive who had the ability to love an actor to a great performance; the joy of experiencing the “full Galati;” her talent to be a muse; and how Frank Galati continues to inspire. (Length 20:04)

Goodman’s 98th Season

Susan V. Booth, the new artistic director of the Goodman Theatre, talks about her recently-announced 2023-2024 season, the first she’s programmed upon returning to Chicago. Susan reveals the challenges of not only selecting a season, but in finding the right language to talk about it; the value of diminishing “capital-I importance;” her obsession with how elastic the definition of ‘theatre’ can be; the wonderful durability of this art form; the excitement of non-traditional spaces and theatre that happens outside of theaters; how every season is a chapter in an epic theatre saga; an exclusive tip for how to avoid a reputational “sh1tshow;” and finally, the trick of curating a season while also getting out of its way. (Photo by Joe Mazza.) (Length 18:39)

Clyde’s In DC

Chicago-based actor Dee Dee Batteast (above) plays the title role in Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC and she discusses the wild tonal swing between this role and her previous role as Scrooge’s niece in the Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol. Dee Dee shares how much she loves monsters (both watching them and playing them); how she’s doing the devil’s work; how she navigates dizzying extremes; the possibilities of redemption; how freedom looks different for different characters; some strange lobby encounters; insightful mob boss comparisons; the power of playing elemental forces and the fun of playing a badass; and the differences – and surprising similarities – between Clyde’s and A Christmas Carol. (Length 21:43)

Saluting The Understudies

“Stand-ins of the world, stand up!” (Tom Stoppard, The Real Inspector Hound) 2022 will be remembered as the Year of the Understudy – not only did the Patron Saint of the Understudy King Charles III finally step into the leading role after waiting in the wings for 74 years, but audiences began to fully appreciate how understudies keep theatre going during a global pandemic. Understudies come in a variety of flavors, from covers to swings to alternates, and actors Loren Jones and Cindy Gold talk about which flavor they are in the Goodman Theatre’s 2022 production of A Christmas Carol. The conversation features lessons learned from the pandemic; how understudying can actually be a good paid gig; the difficulty of learning the lines without learning the moves; fast-tracking the understudies during rehearsal; the challenge of not just learning the role but the entire show; how old ways of doing things are changing; the identity of Scrooge’s overstudy; and tales of understudying both glorious and horrendous. (Length 19:43)

Goodman’s Christmas Carol

Jessica Thebus directs the Goodman Theatre’s annual production of A Christmas Carol, and this year she’s brought our own Austin Tichenor along to play Scrooge at ten designated performances. Jessica and Austin discuss how much the production changes from year to year (and, surprisingly, how little); how heaping helpings of Dickens’ actual text is present in the production; the willingness of returning veterans to investigate the script anew; the eagerness of artists and audiences to revisit this ritual; how a story is only as good as its bad guy; how everyone is invited to the Christmas Carol party; and how Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the great roles in the theatrical canon. (Length 17:43) (PICTURED: Larry Yando as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Goodman Theatre production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Jessica Thebus. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Lighting The Comedy

Tony, Obie, Drama Desk, and Joseph Jefferson award-winning designer Christopher Akerlind has designed the lights for the current Goodman Theatre production of Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s, a powerful comedy directed by Kate Whoriskey and featuring astonishing performances from a terrific ensemble (including friend of the pod Kevin Kenerly). Chris discusses how his bold (and funny!) lighting design for Clyde’s goes against his general philosophy of staying out of the way; how he always tries to stay open to the possibility of improvisation in your design; the importance of finding restrictions; how he’s open to the timing and rhythms of actors, language, and ultimately, audiences; how he embraces the opportunity to create visual humor; the secret to developing design muscles; and how Shakespeare is the opposite of restricting. (Length 18:29) (PICTURED ABOVE: Reza Salazar and Nedra Snipes in the Goodman Theatre production of Lynn Nottage’s Clyde’s, directed by Kate Whoriskey. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Tyla Abercrumbie’s ‘Relentless’

Tyla Abercrumbie is an actor, director, and playwright whose play Relentless was produced by Chicago’s Timeline Theatre Company, called “The best new work here in years,” by the Chicago Tribune, then subsequently presented by the Goodman Theatre. Relentless tells the story of two sisters who return to Philadelphia in 1919 to settle the estate of their mother and make family discoveries that change their knowledge of the past and will possibly determine their future. Tyla talks about her play came to be; what inspired it but also (more importantly) what motivated it; how her acting informs her writing; her goals for a large canon; the joy of costumes, both wearing them and writing for them; the fun of doing it the way Shakespeare did it; and how disparate ideas come together as if they were meant to be – which they probably were. (Length 21:40) (PICTURED: Ayanna Bria Bakari and Jane Ladymore in the Timeline Theatre Company’s production of Tyla Abercrumbie’s Relentless, at the Goodman Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson.)

Quarantine Panto Lives!

RSC UK member James Percy (William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged)) is playing “Silly Billy” in Dick Whittington at the King’s Theatre in Portsmouth, England, from December 8 through (God and COVID willing) January 3rd, 2021. James (left, on the right, with Austin and Joe Maudsley) talks about how they’re doing it, how it’s all going, who he’s playing, and how it feels to be back in a theatre putting on a play again. Featuring the challenge of “playing Tetris in the auditorium” to reduce capacity; rehearsing in the actual hall; how emotional it is to be back onstage again; the danger of contagious luvvies; switching comic roles, depending on the show; a special appearance from Ebenezer Scrooge himself from the Goodman Theatre audio production of A Christmas Carol; and sweet memories of meeting up in bars after live performances. (Length 16:36) 

Once Again: Mr. Brian Dennehy

“The dream is the most important part of our lives.”
Brian Dennehy, 1938-2020

We remember Brian Dennehy, the acclaimed actor who passed away last night, April 15, 2020, with this repost of our podcast interview with him from 2012, recorded during his run of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Brian offers praise for his fellow actors, identifies the weather phenomenon O’Neill’s plays can best be described as, reveals what can happen when you succeed in an O’Neill play, shares who he thinks should be considered the Iron Man of the American theatre (the requirements for which sound strangely familiar), and laments the disturbing lack of 73-year-old vampires in the American cinema. (Length 19:09)

Director Robert Falls

Robert Falls is the Tony-winning artistic director of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and after talking with several actors from his productions of Death of a Salesman (left), The Iceman Cometh, The Winter’s Tale, and Enemy of the People, we finally get to talk to the man himself. Bob discusses how he approaches his work, and how ultimately passion decides everything, but along the way gives shout-outs to Mark Larson and his invaluable book Ensemble; talks about how he finds his way into the work; shares guest appearances by Winston Churchill; reveals one or two trials by fire; enthuses about amazing introductions to Shakespeare; and tells a great story about working with Vanessa Redgrave (though probably not the story you’re thinking of). (Length 24:55)

Playing Historical Characters

Three members of the fantastic ensemble gathered together for the Goodman Theatre production of Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet – William Dick, Gregory Linington, and Larry Yando – gather to discuss the particular obligations that must be considered when playing real historical figures. Featuring extensive dramaturgical research, actual archival video, the wild imaginative leaps required to be able to portray a 19th-century critic as if he were human, tributes (or ripoffs?) from Trader Joe’s, the invention of merch, arguments about Hamlet’s age, similar pressures playing the famous historical figure Ebenzeer Scrooge, the ultimate dedication to the playwright’s text, and a play ostensibly about a diva that’s actually about an ensemble. (Length 22:43) (Pictured (l to r): William Dick, Larry Yando, and Gregory Linington in the Goodman Theatre production of Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet, directed by Donna Feore. Photos by Liz Lauren.)

The Winter’s Tale

Dramaturg Neena Arndt and actor Nathan Hosner (Polixenes) discuss The Winter’s Tale, currently running at the Goodman Theatre until June 9, 2019 in a production directed by Robert Falls. Featuring the importance of leaning into the tonal shifts; how the play plays in our current historical moment; the dangers of a record-scratch; eliminating thee’s and thou’s; acknowledging aspects of the play that may be either bugs or features; changing the first-person from plural to singular; identifying the hinge of the play; shout-outs to actors Dan Donohue (Leontes), Christiana Clark (Paulina), Gregory Linington (Antigonus), and Philip Earl Johnson (Autolycus); casting clowns; some notes for Will Shakespeare; possibly changing one’s mind about the quality of the play; different treatments of Time; and the very first question one must address when you decide to do The Winter’s Tale — how do you handle the Bear? (Length 24:20) (Pictured (l-r): Dan Donohue (Leontes) and Nathan Hosner (Polixenes) in the Goodman Theatre production of The Winter’s Tale, directed by Robert Falls. Photo by Liz Lauren.)

Episode 629. 2018’s Top Podcasts

Happy New Year! We kick off 2019 with excerpts of the Top Ten Most Downloaded Episodes of the RSC Podcast from 2018. Featuring novel excerpts from novelist Christopher Moore; testimonials regarding the efficacy of prison theatre programs; reviews of our favorite Broadway shows; the challenges of working on a new play about Mikhail Gorbachev; love for and from retired National Public Radio broadcaster Robert Siegel; actors from the Prague Shakespeare Festival; affection for Slings and Arrows; new plays inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and practices; confessions from an actual Lady Macbeth; and — finally! — an answer to the question, “What is Shakespeare’s greatest play?” Listen to the excerpts then click through to hear the entire episodes! (Length 23:03) 

Episode 590. Serious Actor Clown

Philip Earl Johnson stars in Enemy of the People at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and talks about the creation of his role in this new adaptation, and how he divides his time between theatre work and his other life as the RenFaire clown MooNiE. Featuring the fundamental virtues of conviction and truth, brushes with rockstar greatness, travels with Angels in America, the value of getting through 200 shows, the art of combining Ibsen with Charlie Chaplin, the magic of whistling, the inspiration of junkyard dogs, and the glory of scoring a leading role the old-fashioned way — by auditioning. (Length 24:17)

Episode 581. Reagan And Gorbachev

The Goodman Theatre in Chicago’s latest production, a world premiere by Rogelio Martinez called Blind Date, chronicles the courtship and ultimate conference in Geneva between American president Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Chicago actors Rob Riley and William Dick play Reagan and Gorbachev and talk about the challenges and rewards of playing two such seemingly familiar historical figures. Featuring the wonders of YouTube, the dangers of sketch comedy, massive and mostly-read biographies, reboot opportunities, gifts for character actors, the challenges of rewrites, and best-selling Broadway Play Publishing playwrights. (Length 24:08)