AT HOME IN THE WORLD: A CONVERSATION WITH MELIA BENSUSSEN
What attracted you to The Luck of the Irish?
Kirsten's writing has an immediacy and emotional energy about it, while also being lyrical. When I first read the play I couldn't put it down: it felt fast and funny and amazingly moving. Exactly what you want to find in a script. Kirsten writes real people with real challenges and gives them an importance that elevates them and their quandaries to an almost mythic place. It is also, for me, a play that speaks deeply to an issue I think many of us find familiar: needing to feel at home in the world, and feeling that one has earned that place and belongs in it. The characters are all a little displaced, either because of race or class or the simple fact that they don't fit solidly into the mainstream culture of their moment.
What, if any, local resources are you tapping to develop this play?
Living in this city is a resource. It's a town of neighborhoods where community is often defined geographically. Knowing that and experiencing it first hand is helpful. At Emerson College, where I teach, I am also in the midst of working on a project about the 1970s in Boston and the forced school busing. I am steeping myself in the history of the interplay of races, communities, housing, and neighborhoods in this area. It's rich, painful, and fascinating material — and there are so many conversations to be had with folks who've lived through various iterations of this struggle in this area.
How will directing Luck differ from your experience with Circle Mirror Transformation?
Completely different! Annie Baker's writing in Circle Mirror Transformation is much more contained, and the goal in our rehearsal room was to find stillness and meaning in the silences. Kirsten's writing in The Luck of the Irish is expansive: she is crossing races, generations, neighborhoods, cultures, years! The Luck of the Irish has an epic feel to me. It's about reaching across as much as it is about searching within. It leads to a different energy in the rehearsal room and in the theatre.
How does directing a world premiere differ from directing an established work (say, Shakespeare)?
Actually a new play and Shakespeare have more in common for me than an established contemporary work that has already had several successful productions. For me, both new play work and Shakespeare require you to think through every moment verbally, visually, emotionally. You don't know what the gift of the moment can be: if one thread in a play is brought out more than others, you have an entirely different production and an audience takes away a different play. It's a fascinating journey.