DC theater veterans Kerri Rambow and Fiona Blackshaw headline George is Dead, written by comedic icon Elaine May (Heaven Can Wait, The Birdcage). The one-hour play, opening December 3rd, will be the inaugural show from The Klunch, the new theater company launched by Cherry Red Productions co-founder Ian Allen. (“The klunch” is slang for the very 2015 condition of being sucked into an online or social media rabbit hole of an obsession.) Allen also serves as director of George is Dead.
In this dark comedy, Blackshaw plays Carla, a woman who is at home waiting up for her husband to come home following a nasty fight. Her evening is suddenly interrupted by an unexpected visitor – wealthy Doreen (Rambow), who is grappling with the sudden death of her own husband, the aforementioned George. The two women haven’t seen each other in years, but tensions arise from their common connection – Carla’s mother was Doreen’s nanny. The show is a humorous look at the class divisions and tension simmering just below the surface of the women’s relationship.
What attracted you to these roles?
Kerri: I was a very late addition to the cast, due to another actress breaking her arm unfortunately. Ian called me and I quickly read the script. I called him back within an hour and said, “Yep. I want it.”
She’s such an archetype. She’s one of those characters you don’t always get to play a lot. It’s a throwback to an old style, which I love. My immediate image was that of Elizabeth Ashley. This grand dame.
Doreen is very privileged She has married very well. It’s funny because the husband – I don’t think this is giving anything away considering the title – is dead. He has just died. And she never ever once talks about loving him. It’s more a matter of “Oh my God – now who’s going to take care of me?”
Fiona: Carla is an interesting one. She’s on a second marriage, which isn’t going well. She’s got an elderly mother she takes care of. She’s a woman who feels very put upon. And then Doreen shows up in her apartment and basically doesn’t leave.
One of the things that attracted me to the play was the fact that, reading it, you’re waiting for Carla to crack. You’re waiting for her to explode. There’s amazing tension that’s built. What is going to be the last straw here? Her character doesn’t express what she really thinks until the end.
How are these roles departures from work you’ve done in the past?
Fiona: One of the things I like about both Doreen and Carla is they’re really articulate. They’re hyper articulate. They’re very funny and witty in their own ways.
For me, one huge challenge is that I am a very emotive and reactive person. It’s how you train. A challenge was to be less expressive and wear my heart less on my sleeve and on my face. I haven’t done a play in about 6 years. So I had that fear of, can I still remember lines? (Laughs) Or do any of these basic acting things anymore?
One thing I want to stress is that our relationship in the play bears no relationship to how we are in real life.
GEORGE IS DEAD
December 3 – December 19, 2015
at DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street NW
Tickets: $25 -$35
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Kerri: That’s right. Working with her was a big reason I said yes. I’m coming back to the stage recently as well, so I had a lot of the same feelings and that bonded us.
How was your experience working with Ian Allen?
Kerri: It was my first time working with Ian as a director. At Cherry Red, I was a director myself, so I had worked with him and always admired him. Cherry Red was one of my favorite theater companies. I had no idea what I was getting into with this show, but I have been nothing but pleased. He really knows how to talk to actors. He understands this script like nobody’s business, which is the director’s job of course. I’m thrilled to be working with him. I’ve been learning a lot, from the first rehearsal and first day. It has just been so exhilarating working with someone who had so much enthusiasm for the project. It is contagious.
Fiona: It’s also my first time being directed by Ian, but I’ve known him for close to 15 years. I worked with him on Cherry Red stuff and used to do media relations there, and he is super fun. He’s brutally honest, which is great.
He has such a sharp eye for comedy in particular. There’s maybe two to five seconds difference on something being funny or tedious. He likes to put things on stage that are not typical. There’s a lot of discomfort in this play. Rather than shying away from it, Ian embraces it.
Kerri: Humor comes from that. You know how awkward moments can be incredibly funny – if you have some distance.
What’s it like starting up a new production company in the Klunch?
Kerri: Fiona and I are both company members. I love that I’m in on the ground floor. I loved Cherry Red and this seems like a natural progression. Still smart. Maybe not as dirty (laughs), but still not your standard theater fare.
Fiona: It’s still confrontational. There’s this idea with Klunch that theater doesn’t necessarily need to be considered a fine art, like with a museum – it can be popular entertainment. I’m super glad that Klunch is here and bringing a particular view of theater to DC.
Were you familiar with Elaine May’s work before?
Fiona: I knew of some of her movies and her work with Mike Nichols, but I hadn’t really connected it with playwriting until I got involved in this project. As part of our research, we did look at some of her movies like The Heartbreak Kid. Her stuff does require a certain type of delivery. It’s so specific. Comedy timing is one of those this is a real challenge.
Kerri: It’s been different from other comedy I’ve done. I’ve gotten so much good training that I’ll take a lot away from this project.
Fiona: It’s really funny and sharp. Part of Elaine May’s style is that you get the joke about 15 seconds later. It’s not big reaction shots.
Anything else you would want tell readers and audiences about the show?
Fiona: I want to stress that it is funny! It’s a rollicking night out.
Kerri: And it’s short. And you can bring your drinks! It’s a holiday play without the schmaltz and cloyingness.
George is Dead by Elaine May, directed by Ian Allen. Also featuring John Tweel, Jean H. Miller, Tom Neubauer, Alex Diaz-Ferguson, and Mark Osele. Costume design by Rhonda Key and Jennifer Tardiff Beall, set and lighting design by David C. Ghatan, sound design by Lucas Zarwell, stage management by Amanda Williams. Produced by The Klunch.