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The Importance of Being Ernest Hemingway

nytheatre.com q&a preview by James Rutherford
August 27, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Director.

What is your show about?
Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway tear into each other in a rollicking macho-queer tragedy of disappointed love.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in New York City — ostensibly in Greenwich Village but really at the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum. I went to college at Providence's Brown University and then returned to New York to receive my MFA in Directing from Columbia University. I've spent the last few years pinging around Eastern Europe, studying movement with Gardzienice in Poland and working with the incredible Teatrul Maghiar in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

What are some of your previous theater credits? (Be specific! Name shows, etc.)
Last year I directed Sarah Kane's 4.48 PSYCHOSIS and Franz Kafka's LETTER TO MY FATHER at the Magic Futurebox in Brooklyn, remounting productions I had developed for AXA in Action, a festival that occupied sixty rooms of a hotel in central Prague, Czech Republic. In 2011 I directed Shakespeare's AS YOU LIKE IT at Classic Stage Company and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM at the Riverside Theater. In between producing my own shows I develop work with the wonderful students at the Stella Adler Conservatory.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is one of the best-loved plays in the English language, but it is woefully underexamined. This comic romp premiered in 1895, and two weeks later Oscar Wilde was on trial for homosexuality. Just like the protagonist in his play, he too was leading a double life, and his abusive relationship with a young man ultimately robbed him of his liberty, his health and his artistic career. The challenge became obvious: can we use Wilde's finest, funniest play to tell his private story of betrayal, humiliation and despair?

Which character from a Shakespeare play would like your show the best: King Lear, Puck, Rosalind, or Lady Macbeth -- and why?
If we are to learn anything from Rosalind's predicament it must surely be that male drag is a powerful and complicated thing. It gives her a voice and the freedom to become whoever she wants — the opportunity to grow into her astonishing potential. And yet when her sense of self becomes entangled in her male persona (and when love is involved), things start to get awfully difficult for her. So too with us: the macho Hemingway male and the Wildean dandy are both kinds of male drag, and our play explores the dangers a life built on posturing and deception. When we come to lie to those we love, we start to live for those lies and no longer for ourselves.

Who are your heroes?
Our play is a play about artistic heroism and the human cost of Art, and Wilde and Hemingway are doubtlessly some of Art's greatest heroes. We are inspired and humbled by these giants, who lived and died attempting to move Art toward its essential state: a conduit for human energy to sublimate impossible Beauty and impossible Truth.