The Interview: Director Melissa Rain Anderson Discusses Quiet Electricity.
Melissa Rain Anderson will be directing a reading of Michael Raver’s new play, Quiet Electricity as part of Emerging Artists Theatre’s New Work Series. The play tells the story of Jodie and Dana, a once happily married couple, that are forced to deal with the after effects of a tragedy which leaves them with very little to say to one another. When the power in their Hoboken apartment building is temporarily shut off in the evenings for rewiring, they are forced to spend their nights together in the dark. A simple game of confessions unearths truths and hidden feelings, leading Jodie and Dana to epiphanies about love, sex and marriage.
“What happens when we keep secrets from our partner?” muses director Melissa Rain Anderson (Geva Theatre Center’s In The Heights, The Great River Shakespeare Festival’s The Comedy of Errors). “The play examines what it looks like for two people to be living under one roof, sharing one life while each person builds a private room to store their grief. As the membrane that holds them together grows thinner and thinner, how does the partnership survive?”
I was lucky enough to have a chat with Anderson prior to her entering into the process of directing this reading.
Ross: Give us a bit of an overview of Michael Raver’s play, Quiet Electricity, and what brought you on board to direct.
Melissa Rain Anderson (MA): I believe the play examines what it looks like when a couple suffers a heart wrenching loss and how they grow apart from one another after such grief. It’s interesting to me because I’ve watched families go through terrible loss and there seems to be a chemical change, almost on a cellular level, how do we go on living with a person that has changed so drastically? At what point does grief take hold so tightly that we are unable to get back to our selves, to our partner?
Ross: That’s a compelling scenario, especially the idea of the chemical change. What would you like to say to the two leads, Rachel Pickup (left; The Globe Theatre’s The Merchant of Venice) and Rachel Botchan (right; The Sorceress), as they tackle such an adventure?
MA: For the actors, it’s a lot of history to “cap” or “bury”. What’s interesting to me is how the packed up emotions “ooze” or “seep” through the masks they wear in front of each other.
Ross: Looking back over your career as a director, what about this play excites you due to something unique, different or challenging?
MA: I direct a lot of musicals and Shakespeare and so I am thrilled to be working on a contemporary human piece. I am a huge fan of language based plays and although Michael’s language is very genuinely in the now and honest, it has beautifully written dialogue with clues into the human psyche: what do we want to share, what are we hiding and when, why are we running away and where are trying to get back to? I see the dialogue like a road map to the their hearts.
Ross: The play’s ending isn’t necessarily a happy one. How do you define what tragedy is and in comparison to Shakespeare’s, do you think of this play is indeed a tragedy?
MA: I feel that it’s more of a melancholy state of affairs. A slow burning toxicity that kills their partnership.
Ross: Tell me a little about your process in regards to this play. Are you an actor’s Director? Or do you see yourself in another light?
MA: As a director, I tend to direct the play, and guide the actors inside the “playground” we set up. Directing a reading is always about the actual text for me. What does the writer need to hear? Hopefully we unpack relationships and subtext. The actors bring great gifts: a beating heart, with history and a complex soul. I’m grateful to have such great actors in the room to share their gifts to this play.
Ross: Have you worked with the playwright, Michael Raver (Fire on Babylon) or the two actors before?
MA: Michael and I are friends and I’ve seen several of his play readings and I’ve read a few more. Quiet Electricity resonated with me deeply and I’m very happy to be collaborating with him. I haven’t worked with the actors before, although I’m familiar with both of their work and couldn’t be happier with this cast.
Ross: As a director, what do you ideally want from actors?
MA: Actors who come in with something to contribute and willing energy. Trust is key and I always look for actors who are generous with their gifts- generous with each other, to the process and to the material.
Ross: What do you want from a writer?
MA: A passionate artist is so compelling to work with. Writers who are passionate in making their work clearer and fleshed out are super attractive to work with. Writers who like to collaborate freely are a joy to work with.
Ross: By the end of the process, once you get to the reading, what do you hope the piece transmits to the audience? In the greater scheme of things? What is success for you?
MA: I hope to find where the pulse of the play resonates with the audience. When an audience is listening, leaning in and breathing with the actors.
Emerging Artists Theatre’s Annual New Work Series runs February 26th – March 18th, 2018. The reading of Quiet Electricity will be on Tuesday, March 6th at 7pm at Tada Theatre in New York. Tickets are $10.