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35 years ago, the Drama League founded the first home in North America dedicated to the development of young directors—the Drama League Director's Project, which today includes dozens of award-winning fellowships, residencies, and education opportunities for directors on Broadway, off-Broadway and at hundreds of regional and international theater companies. The Director's Project today boasts 350 alumni, many famous names, such as Mark Brokaw, West Hyler, Pam MacKinnon, Alex Timbers, Michael Mayer, and Sam Gold, to name a few. The list is too big to name all the people that this project has put forth. It gives many great artists the opportunity that they normally would not have had to develop their craft as stage directors.
Each year, The Drama League's initiatives culminates in Directorfest, the only festival in the country that spotlights existing new directorial talent, alongside conversations with today's most accomplished practitioners. The exceptional artists lead the future of the art form; it is hoped that the audience will experience their visions and celebrate their works at the same time.
'First Love' and 'Deathwatch'
First Love written by Charles L. Mee, who I had the opportunity to speak with before the show and afterward, had this play perform two other times. The first at American Rep in the 80s and more recently at The Cherry Lane Theater. It was directed last night by Seonjae Kim. It is a play that is about an hour long, as such, the play does not delve too much into the lives of both main characters.
First Love is about two people who meet in their 60s at a park bench. Anne and Dennis are former radicals dedicated to the movement of the 1960s where people like Abbey Hoffman and Timothy Leary were heroes of theirs. After a brief stint, they fall in love. With a limited stage, Kim has the two moving from a park bench, to a restaurant and eventually, Anne's apartment.
Kim tries to put the audience into both of the main characters quickly. Helped by their muse, Charlotte Ray Rosenberg, we get an idea of what they want out of life. Anne is more dedicated than Dennis in this relationship. Dennis worries about if his children can come visit whenever they like. He worries about if he wants to get married again.
Anne feels the polar opposite towards the relationship. She tells Dennis "You only get one great love, if you are lucky enough to even get one." Anne is completely and fully committed to Dennis, but that is not enough for him. He thinks that he loves another younger women. Dennis, scarred and confused walks the tightrope as Kim fully makes us see through her muse.
In this one act, Kim does an admirable job in directing this show. All the actors are very good. Dennis Holland was exceptional in his role. He is witty, serious and aloof in his role in First Love. The play is all very light, even while dealing with a serious subject. The projection in this play adds to the light, soft touch in Mee's play.
In Jean Genet's Deathwatch, Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li does a real good job directing the weaker piece of the evening. The three actors are very good in their roles, but the writing was just awful. The play is set in a French prison, with three prisoners: Green Eyes, Maurice and LeFranc. Genet never really tells us why these people are in jail. There is talk of a murder, one getting out in three days, Green Eyes (Arash Mokhtar), maybe getting executed, and LeFranc (Jorge Luna) hating Maurice. We do not know anything about these characters. The fight scenes, while very good, have no rhyme nor reason as to why they fight.
I also could not really fathom why DIGGLE, the scenic designer, designed the stage that he did. What looked like a continuous ladder going horizontally, the set made no sense. This play would have done better on a more in front of the audience open stage with industrial lighting, as opposed to glam lighting. An open stage would have given the audience a better understanding to what Li was trying to put forth here. Most of the action in this play was behind me. The setting had the characters all over the theater, and depending where you were sitting had a big impact in what you saw, or didn't see.
Directorfest at the Ohio Theater, gives young Directors a chance to show their creativity. The two plays that I saw had talented, promising young directors. While First Love was a better written play, Deathwatch had very good acting in it.
As a director, you take a play, whether it is well written or not, and make the best of it. Li did just that. In Deathwatch, he had a terrible script, weak scenic design, but he made the best of it. I did not agree with Li, however, to have the characters scattered the way that he did. Audiences do not like looking all over the place, would rather have the action in front of them. With a bad story, many thought it wasn't worthwhile to continue to look around.