Artistic Soulmates Vicky Boone, Margery Segal, and Annie Suite Reunite for Love's Fire
Vicky Boone. Margery Segal. Annie Suite. These three theatre artists know each other so well that their overlapping conversation about the play Love's Fire at St. Edward's University, a project on which they are all collaborating, goes something like this: "So it's lush, lush, lush ..." -- "Right. Right." -- "Boom. Naked ..." -- "Na..." -- "Yes, naked ..." -- "The stage is na ..." -- "... then Bitter Sauce." "Yes."
In this play, seven of our contemporary playwrights are entrusted to respond to one of seven of Shakespeare's amorous sonnets. Bitter Sauce, by Eric Bogosian, goes first. Onward, from Ntozake Shange, Marsha Norman, and William Finn to Tony Kushner, Wendy Wasserstein, and John Guare, love is many things.
Like love, theatre is risky. Annie refers to both: "Some of it is pretty, some is nasty. You might not expect this from St. Edward's."
The three of them are making a whole out of these disparate pieces, originally commissioned by The Acting Company, a national repertory theatre, and produced at the Guthrie Center Lab in Minneapolis in 1998.
Vicky: "What was the original inspiration to create that made the commission of this work possible? What was their motivation?"
Margery: "They wrote a grant."
They constantly underscore each other. Boone and Suite go back 20 years. They were roommates at Texas A&M. Segal hooked up with the then-nascent Frontera in 1992, after seeing the company's production of Mi Vida Loca: "It was ferocious."
Vicky measures time by her theatre's season: "That was when Annie and Jason [Phelps] played family in every play." Annie ticks it off on her fingers: "First he was my son." Vicky jumps in: "And then he was your brother." Margery nods sagely: "They were actually like brother and sister. Annie would ... " She stops. She doesn't want to continue, but Annie outs herself: "I just always have a period of time in rehearsal where I tend to hit people."
Boone is Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre's artistic director. Suite is a founding company actor, now marketing director, for the Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Ed's and an acting teacher there. Segal is the head of MS/Nerve dance company and a frequent Frontera choreographer. But Love's Fire is the first time that Vicky, Annie, and Margery's stars have aligned for one piece since ... "I dunno. Like Weldon Rising-ish?" asks one. Six years ago.
"What about Water Principle?"
"Margery stopped in for that, but we decided the piece had to be very still."
Suite snorts: "Except for scene changes." Since then, the three artists have worked together in pairs, a pattern best explained by some kind of complicated square-dancing ritual. However, the threesome has never worked in this collaborative configuration, with Boone and Suite directing, and Segal choreographing for both of them, and with Boone and Segal working on a university project outside their companies.
Auditions are a tag-team approach:
"He has good rage."
"She won't say the fuck word."
"Hey, sweet pea."
"She has more than we are seeing. I want to get it out."
"Don't be the pathetic hound dog, be a man!"
Boone delights in this direction and jumps up and down. In fact, all three of them focus their energies in vertical sort of ways. Suite directs an actor to feel it coming out of the top of his head: "It's here, hon. Swoosh." She gestures up and out with gloriously long fingers. Segal, pleased or excited, grabs the hem of her wide cotton pants leg and accordions it up over one knee. She bends her leg, pushes down against the ground, she pops back up to the surface. A buoy, a marker, a flare.
They overlap like some kind of Fourth of July celebration.
"Shakespeare didn't intend for these poems to be published. It shocked him."
"Why a sonnet to express the form of something private?"
"The piece is like building a sonnet. Maybe.
"Poetry's such a disciplined form of writing, it seems there's something desired about that kind of emerging form. The world -- making it into something with form as opposed to entropy, you know. Moving toward making form."
A sonnet is a 14-line poem with the rhyming structure ababcdcdefefgg. The production came about a little less formally. Suite explains the St. Edward's decision-making process: "About a year ago, Ev Lunning brought this play to the table, and I read it and came back and said, 'There's no way we can do this play.' I was concerned about language. And Melba [Martinez, the program's artistic director] said, 'Oh no we can do it,' and then those people who hadn't read it said, 'It's based on Shakespeare; we have to do it.'" She looks at the ceiling and lets that luck and irony sink in. "Anyway. After they decided it should be done, there was no one who could direct it. Then I had a dream that it -- my memory was that it had nine plays ... it was like this three thing going on -- I had this dream it had three directors."
Each of them describes sharing a language with the other two. It's mercurial with whimsy and intent.
Segal goes from playground to professor: "Here it's like, let's make stuff. We have to make stuff. This play is calling out for making lots of different stuff, rather than hitting the top of one arc. I'm really open to see what they make. I think we're all structuralists. I think we're all approaching this from a structural point of view, as creators."
Boone looks down when she's serious. "I love structure." Then her face relaxes. She laughs.
It's like they're hardcore bikers who reunite to talk about the early gritty days. They've missed each other since going legit.
Vicky on Margery: "She and Jason were performing in the choreographers' workshop and Jason was in a piece of Margery's. Manual Nirvana."
Annie: "Was that before or after Road Kill?"
Vicky: "It was before. And among other things, it was marked with these aggressive diagonal crosses with trash cans being thrown. It would change gears really ruggedly. A duet? Would you call it a duet? Yeah."
Margery: "We were showing our teeth, we were trying to seduce the audience with our long, slim wrists and ankles."
Annie: "What was the thing that I got volunteered for? To help her with her programs? Oh, god."
Vicky: "And then Jason and I wanted to do theatre with movement in it. And so I was like, 'Do you think Margery would do movement for us?' And that was in August, I think, then House of Yes was that fall. So pretty much after that ..."
Margery: "We were so informal. That was four projects right in a row."
Nobody is overly romanticizing Frontera's literal salad days, a time when everybody was in food service. (Annie sighs: "Glory be.") But it was also a period of depth and intimacy, of extended collaborations. Now, with additional personal and professional responsibilities (kids, employees, five-show seasons), it takes at least a year and a half to plan anything.
When you think about it, it's hard to imagine doing this work -- acting, directing, creating intimate relationships between bodies and text -- with people you don't know very well. It is especially true of this project. Love's Fire is a giant ski slope with many different emotional diamond trails. It's steep. Perched precariously at the top, you might think, How am I ever going to get down? Trust them. They trust each other. An enormous amount of work has already been done.
Vicky: "I worked with three of the actors last fall [in Frontera's production of Polaroid Stories]. I worked with Reagan, one of the designers, and I haven't worked with Kortney, but I feel like I know her a little bit, and I know Angela, too. And Brian, I know Brian well. I get energy from them in sort of the Frontera landscape, but it's a group of people who are 18-21 who are a really big energy source for me."
Annie: "Two have been my sisters. One has been my nephew. I've acted with Bradley and Sara. I've had Stuart, Brad, Meg, Jenny, Shannon, Elizabeth, Kortney, and Reagan in my acting class. Lee, Jason, Jenny, and Kortney are my box office staff. I just think it's a natural progression for us. My work at St. Ed's has allowed me to meet these people, give energy to Frontera, and it's nice to kind of be a liaison, get them out there; and it's nice to have people in the professional world come to us in their academic world. It gives them a lot."
Fourteen lines, 10 syllables per line. But you can't beat these three women for poetry and efficiency.
Vicky: "Ran into Annie in the theatre lobby, she's like, 'How about blah blah blah?' Oh, that's a great idea."
Annie: "Five-minute production meeting."
Margery on Annie: "So organized. I've never worked with someone so organized."
True. Annie is also barefoot. At a production meeting, she gathers her flowy CP Shades skirt around and makes a note in her calendar. Earth Mother with a big, huge, honkin' Day Timer.
Suite is quick to reassure that there are no fisticuffs when she directs. As an actor, though: "Fair warning, man. There's a point in rehearsal, like the second week, whoever's in front of me gets hit. It's tradition. It comes out of that moment before you can define what it is you want to come through your body. That energy has to go somewhere. It usually only lasts a day or -- you're looking at me like I hurt someone. I never hurt anyone. Did I hit him that hard?"
Margery: "I don't know. I had just come from New York where it wasn't that an unusual a thing."
Vicky: "I don't remember any of this. I don't remember Annie hitting anyone at all."
Annie: "You don't?"
Vicky: "Vaguely. Dianne [Murray, in Weldon Rising]. You might have hit Dianne."
Annie: "Of course I hit Dianne."
Private emotions, public form. They are unafraid of complexity.
Then it all comes out in a rush. Boone is prepared "to let some of the pieces fail." She laughs: "I don't mean like bad acting. But I think it would be ideal for us to stay to some extent off balance or not in a perfected, concluding kind of form until you get to ... "
Annie agrees: "If you think of a sonnet there is no answer until the couplet ... "
Margery: "Which would be the last two pieces..."
Annie: "There's information, there's questions, debate, then there's an answer."
The conversation begins to stream together. Fourteen lines. "Well, there are seven writers." "Eight if you include Shakespeare." "Oh yeah. Him."
Annie: "I rewrote the audition form and the questions are like, 'My first reaction to reading this play.' 'This is what an ensemble is.' And the last one, 'This I know.'"
Vicky: "And I like the part about who plays instruments, too."
Annie: "They're bringing drums, tambourines, violins, saxophones ... "
Vicky: "Well, let's just make a band."
Love's Fire is about the process of creation, but a creation that, rather than builds things, takes things away until one simple pure thing remains. Boone, Segal, and Suite form a triangle, and that thing is the space between them.
Margery: "I get a mirror image really quick. I know if I'm being pushy, I know what it looks like on their faces. I get a quick reflection of how important something is to me, or whether I really want to let this go. I get clear about what I want or what matters."
Vicky: "There's a giant theme of listening inside the piece, the idea of making something so someone will listen to you, whether it's to get God's attention, you know what I mean ... It's like, who listens to you when you speak, whom do you listen to when they speak, and that's the thing that comes up inside the pieces, and I think, structurally. the play doesn't want us to say the same things as directors, it wants us to listen to each other. I got this from the Shange."
Annie: "Did you?"
Vicky: "Totally. You have to listen to play music together. Don't listen to me, listen for your part. I'm playing, now I want you to play, but we have to listen to each other to play together."
Annie: "Well that ties into [Kushner's] Terminating. Talking nonstop and yet picking up what he's not saying, like afraid of silence or something."
Margery: "That's cool."
Margery: "There's one thing I feel blessed with: It's the excitement that's been shared, the private excitement. There are a lot of things you have to keep to yourself in a professional situation, so you're not too vulnerable, but inside you're like, 'I get to do something I've never done before.'"
What is it she's never done before?
Margery: "I've never worked with a sonnet."
Vicky, also: "I've never directed Shakespeare."
Annie: "As much as I've tried to get her to direct me in one of the Henry plays."
Annie is sneaky. "That's my goal."
She looks around the table at the other two: "We work well together. I don't know if we've ever spoken it out loud. But we work well."
Love's Fire runs through April 16, Wed-Sun, at Mary Moody Northen Theatre on the St. Edward's University campus. Call 448-8484.