Mark St.Germain to Premiere Dr. Ruth
A New Works Initiative for Barrington Stage Company
By: Charles Giuliano - Jan 27, 2012
During a press conference to discuss the 2012 season, artistic director, Julianne Boyd provided resonance to the notion of company for the remarkable, regional Barrington Stage Company. More than just assembling a program of plays Boyd is dedicated to creating a company in ever sense.
That means assembling and working with a sustainable team of artists including directors, actors, scenic designers, educators and administrators. As she informed the media playwrights are an essential aspect of that familial approach. If a company just remounts standards and classics there is no real growth of theatre as a living entity.
In that regard there has been a development among theatre companies to commission new plays. Not doing so risks missing the ability to work with the best available creative talent.
The playwright Mark St.Germain has a long relationship with Boyd and BSC. He is a board member and artistic associate. Now he is the first recipient of a New Work initiative and program which, this season, will see the world premiere of Dr. Ruth.
While many companies focus on the privilege and prestige of world premieres she is considering the unfortunate phenomenon that many of those plays fail to find a second production. Only a small selection of new works find their way to Broadway, Off Broadway, and regional productions.
In addition to new works she is developing a second sight series. As an example of this BSC is mounting the New England premiere of The North Pool by Pulitzer Prize-finalist Rajiv Joseph, whose Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo starred Robin Williams when it was produced last season on Broadway. The North Pool premiered in California and as Boyd put it people did not take airplanes to go see it. So it will be entirely fresh for East Coast audiences. Joseph plans to be on hand to further polish his play.
Boyd is creating a balanced program opening with a popular musical, Fiddler on the Roof, followed by a lesser known Arthur Miller play The Price. Previously Boyd produced his The Crucible. The Main Stage season will be rounded out with a farce See How They Run directed by John Rando.
On the Second Stage there will be premieres- St. Germain’s Dr. Ruth, and a workshop production of The Black Suits, a garage rock band musical with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Iconis and Robert Maddock. In addition to The North Pool the other restaging will be Lungs by Duncan Macmillan, in its East Coast premiere.
During the press conference St. Germain discussed Dr. Ruth after which I caught up with him for follow up on other projects.
Mark St. Germain Dr. Ruth came about because of Freud’s Last Session. She had been to Freud several times and did a couple of the talk backs. I had not met her. Mark H. Dold and Martin Raynor who were playing in Freud met her and they kept saying “You have to meet her. She’s fascinating.” So I read her autobiography and it was really eye opening. The part of her life where we know her as Dr. Ruth is probably the last quarter of her life.
This play will take her from an orphan of the Holocaust, from her escaping Germany on the Kinderstansport, to her being a sharpshooter in the Israeli Army, to her marriages and establishing herself in New York, to her becoming Dr. Ruth.
I think it will be very funny. It should also, I hope, be very moving because she’s really a very courageous person. We’re very excited that we have a wonderful actress. First I want to mention that Martin Raynor said to her “Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a play about your life?” She said “Absolutely not. I won’t do it.” This is what happened with Freud. Three times I had to approach the man who wrote the book. I called her on the phone because she said something like “I can’t stop him from writing it. Because my life is public. But I wouldn’t be involved with it.”
So I called her and said “Don’t worry. I would never write anything unless you were completely involved with it.” We had a nice conversation and she said “Well, come over to my house.” I went to her house and there was a pile of 40 books she has written. Probably close to 40 now. Books that she’s written. There’s also books about her.
We started talking and I said “Does this mean the play is going ahead?” She said “Oh, yes, yes, yes.”
Thanks to Freud and a reading we did of Best of Enemies the two of them put it over the top. I immediately called Debra Jo Rupp whom I think a lot of you know from her work here and her work on The 70s show on TV. Debra jumped at it. Julie will direct so this will be the collaboration.
Julianne Boyd We will have so much fun with it. And Dr. Ruth will be here. You will not escape Dr. Ruth. She’s very loquacious.
MSG She’s 83 years old and I have never seen such energy. She has almost more energy than Julie. It’s a one woman show but there will be other people involved through media. She’s had an incredible career through radio shows and television. She was even on an album nominated for a Grammy. This from a woman who keeps saying “I can’t sing. I can’t sing.”
Charles Giuliano Will this be a one act play and if so what is the approximate running time?
JB Believe it or not Mark St.Germain is writing a play that’s two acts. We have to give Debra a break.
MSG I would say that the first act runs about 45 to 50 minutes. And probably 45 minutes for the second act.
Richard Houdek The multi media will be an important part of it as well.
JB It will be here on Stage 2 so we will have to decide what to do. We had to decide which venue was best. For Best of Enemies because those characters are larger than life the Main Stage seemed best. Also when we knew we had the gospel choir we wanted to do that there. Since we have decided to do Dr. Ruth on Stage 2 we will do what we can. With video we will tell the story the best that we can. Having Dr. Ruth here this summer and she is in her 80s, and Ragiv Joseph also here, and he is in his 30s, I think it is going to be an exciting season. I think that show (Dr. Ruth) opens June 19th here and runs for a month. I spoke to Debra Jo today and she is starting to work on the accent which is a German/ Israeli/ French accent. We are putting her with a dialogue coach, these things don’t happen over night, on Monday.
MSG Dr. Ruth thinks it’s hilarious because when she first came to this country she was told by everyone “You have to loose the accent” and she was working so hard. At that point she was a single mother raising her daughter. She had no time. She was working all these jobs. She credits the fact that she sounded like an inoffensive Freud as a part of her success. But she thinks it’s hilarious that somebody has to learn her accent.
JB If you listen to it it’s a very difficult accent. She had us over for lunch, there were five or six of us. It was great fun. She bought out Zabar’s. She looked over at Debra Jo and said “You will be very good. You have a twinkle in your eyes.” Debra Jo is 5’1” and she took off her heels right away.
MSG I got a call from her and she said “I have just seen Debra. She’s on television. I never saw The 70s Show someone put it on.”
CG Mark if I may just follow up with you. What wasn’t discussed today during the press conference is the status of Best of Enemies. After two runs here, last summer, and again in the fall, you went to New York with readings. The idea was to try to get producers to see it who wouldn’t make the visit to the Berkshires in the summer. How did that go?
MSG We are in the final negotiations for Broadway options. The producer involved is Darren Bagert. He will have a couple of partners. Nothing has been decided as far as the path. He would have the rights to do it on Broadway and he would have the option to do it Off Broadway. It now becomes a numbers crunching situation.
CG Is there a time line on the contract?
MSG Yes. There will be. That’s the last part of the negotiation and I can’t discuss it with you.
CG I’ve asked you this before but with the great success of Freud is that changing the reception and credibility you have with potential producers?
MSG Here’s it’s always been great. I got a commission from the Contemporary American Theatre Festival (At Shepherd University in West Virginia). They commission a new play every year. I will be doing a new play in two seasons. It’s about the last meeting between Hemingway and Fitzgerald. They met in Hollywood for the last time.
CG That seems to be your thing. You do a lot of bios and historical figures in conflict.
MSG I guess I just like the company.
CG What do you mean by the company?
MSG Just being in the company of really good minds. Interesting thinkers.
CG You describe that in such an intimate way. As though you are in the same room with them. You’re trying to put yourself into their minds.
MSG There is another thing I’m doing with a guy I used to write the Cosby Show with, John Marcus, we’re doing a musical comedy down in Atlanta. It’s called The Fabulous Lippitones. It’s a group of four barbershop quartet singers. So it’s a barbershop quartet musical. One of them drops dead in the first scene and they have to replace him.
CG Is this the same person you wrote the musical Jack the Ripper with?
MSG No. That was Randy Courts the composer.
CG That was very dark.
MSG This is a very light musical.
CG Is this a change of life issue? Are you coming out of the dark side?
MSG No John and I have just always wanted to work together on a musical. I’m coming out of the dark side for that and then going in again for Fitzgerald. (laughs) What we would like to do this summer if the time works out is to get a first draft of the John Brown/ Frederick Douglass play.
CG Hemingway and Fitzgerald seem to be paradigms as opposites. I have read them both in depth including the biography Zelda. I also read her novel Save Me the Waltz.
MSG Which I thought was pretty good.
CG It was kind of like The Bell Jar in that it devolved by the middle. It also addressed the issue of those who say that Fitzgerald stole from her and that she was an unacknowledged source and inspiration for his work.
MSG That’s true.
CG It was fascinating about a middle aged woman who aspired to dance.
MSG It was better than I thought it would be.
CG Are you deep into Hemingway and Fitzgerald?
MSG Not at the moment. I’m trying to finish the Dr. Ruth play. Then I want to start the John Brown/ Frederick Douglass. The research is done. Now I want to start writing the play.
CG In an e mail I asked if Truman Nelson is a part of the research.
MSG No. I didn’t get that. No I am not reading novels only biographies. I’d be afraid to do that.
CG Why is that?
MSG If I somehow took a way of their thinking and incorporated it. Unless I was adapting a novel. I would rather stick with primary sources. I would be afraid. You know how people find a sentence in a book which is similar to someone else’s. I don’t want that happening. I’m sure in many cases it’s subconscious. You remember a good phrase.
CG When we spoke before you described the work day as divided between writing and research. That you have piles of books for different projects in varying states of development. Can you give me a sense of how the Dr. Ruth project evolved. When did it start? Can we get a quantitative sense of how much material you dealt with?
MSG End of October, November, December researched. In January I started writing. Just finished Act One. I hope to have it done by the end of February.
CG This doesn’t sound like you. It seems like a fast forwarded project compared to the usual longer time line.
MSG The difference is that with this. Well. Two. I’m in a strange place with John Brown. I’m not going to start researching something else. It’s very intensive. And writing a one person play is very difficult. The conflict has to be within the person. Unless you want to rely on off stage devices. (Deus ex machina) They aren’t really right and I want this to be an entertainment.
CG Are you taking any of her tips? (laughs)
MSG Hmm. Let me say one is just that one has been rebuffed. That’s all I will say. I’ve been too busy writing to take many tips.
CG How much face time did you have?
MSG A lot. Maybe five times sitting down with her. Then a lot on the phone. Every day I will have at least a couple of questions. She has been very cooperative. Her children. Son and daughter have been very cooperative. The person who is her right hand person has been very cooperative.
CG Give us a sense of your enthusiasm for doing this project.
MSG It’s been fun. Not like doing Best of Enemies because I wasn’t in constant contact with everybody. It was very emotional for me. But when this touches on the Holocaust.
CG A sharpshooter in Israel!
MSG She was a soldier.