Directing The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide has been a wonderful, artistically satisfying experience. Doing justice to Sean Graney’s script has been no easy task, however. I played the lead role in several years ago with The Hypocrites, a Chicago theatre company that consistently produces some of the best theatre in the city, and I felt a lot of pressure to put together a production that was up to their standards. I honestly believe we’ve achieved that.
The script, despite its brevity and young characters, is extremely complex. It’s a lot of things at once… funny, sweet, disturbing, violent, and fundamentally sad. While I have not seen a production outside of the original, I imagine it is a play that could easily be misunderstood.
It is utterly unique. Nothing that I’ve seen comes close to it. What other show combines elements of Chikamatsu, Beckett, and Charles M. Schultz? (Nada.)
For me, finding the appropriate tone was akin to figuring out a Rubik’s Cube. I knew what it was supposed to look like, but didn’t quite know how get there. Then, eventually, after a lot of mistakes and backtracking, everything finally lined up. Side note: Sean Graney has the uncanny ability to solve Rubik’s Cubes in a minute. No joke. The man is intimidating.
I was obviously lucky to have been in the Chicago production directed by the talented Jimmy McDermott, from whom I shamelessly stole some of my favorite moments. I was also lucky to be in contact with the playwright, as there were also many moments/concepts that I wanted to put my own stamp on, and he was extremely open and gracious. Tim Simons, who played the Mike Rice in the New York production, very kindly came in during tech week and gave a lot of invaluable notes.
On the Coeurage end, I had an embarrassment of riches with composer Greg Nabours, who took a playlist of songs that I felt reflected the right tone for the show, and effortlessly composed exactly what I wanted. Laura Nicole Harrison came in and created choreography more beautiful and nuanced than I could have possibly hoped for. Valorie Curry, despite the fact that she was in the middle of preparing a move to New York to star in a TV show, designed an awesomely evocative set that made the most out of out of our wee space. Michelle Stann, aside from dealing with being a great light designer, was instrumental in realizing the set during the build. Costume designer Karen Fix Curry was wonderful to work with as usual, and made one of my favorite moments of the show possible. Dramaturg Malika Williams brought in fantastic research that had a direct impact on the show. TJ Marchbank came in like a superhero, tied up all the loose ends, and made a gigantic bucket of gore like a champ.
Then there’s Ryan Wagner. He not only stage managed, but also acted as the movement coach. His Viewpoints sessions were a huge part of what made it so artistically satisfying for both the cast and myself, and the show would have suffered without his talent and leadership. Top that off with a ridiculously talented, kind, hard working group of actors… it’s just been beyond a pleasure. I can’t articulate that strongly enough.