Zack Russell, a young gay director and playwright, stages Ajax (Por Nobody)
, written by Alice Tuan, at SummerWorks 2012. In an interview with fab
, he answers questions about his play, which unravels the tale of a booze-and-drug-fuelled night of sex that spins out of control,and the tragedy of modern society and its destructive nature.
Brian Bantugan: What pushed you to stage this play?
Zack Russell: It was more like a theatre dare, since it has never been done before. One of the things that really attracted me to it was just the challenge and difficulty of staging something that was so out there – so explicit sexually.
What did you find most challenging in the material?
Sex. I think that just the sex of it – being physically comfortable. Getting the actors to a place where they are physically comfortable with each other and willing to perform – not actual sex, to be sexual around each other – is one of the biggest difficulties on the physical level. And then I think on the emotional and intellectual level, the biggest challenge for me is not to judge the characters, not to judge what we’re doing, and think that it’s amoral or bad or wrong to try to approach it every day as though it just is what it is – there’s no right and there’s no wrong.
Tell us something about the characters.
The characters are totally . . . l don’t know if the word is bisexual . . . but the characters are just sexual – there’s a lot of gay and straight content. I think what is interesting in the play is that with the women, the way that they relate to each other sexually feels a lot less dangerous than the men (because they’re both “straight guys” there’s a danger to that homosexuality). In our culture, two women getting together, especially if you think of it in pornography land, is really easy and fun and very acceptable. While men getting together, there’s a danger there. Here, the characters have sexual urges for each other – men, women - and the gender doesn’t really matter.
You were a resident director at The Flea in New York when you found the script. What were the initial reactions of gay New Yorkers when it was first staged?
In New York, where they did it, the gay audiences just found it really hilarious. If it were mostly a gay audience, they would laugh and laugh. There’s a lot of straight sex in it, but there’s a distance between gay men and straight sex that they can see the comedy and the irony in a lot of the gender dynamics. The straight audiences thought it was a very serious tragedy.
What reactions do you hope to get from Toronto audiences?
What I’m hoping is that we really do get a mixed audience – that there is that push and pull. I wanted to do something for SummerWorks because I think the audiences are really great, and the history of the festival is one where it pushes boundaries. People go there expecting to see works that will challenge them and expand their idea of what one can do on a stage with an audience.
How does this play resonate with your previous productions?
Big spectacular scenes. There’s a lot of physicality. In every play that I do I always have a big party thing where there’s water and alcohol and things are getting nasty. Like my other works, it is less interested in making a point than it is in providing an experience for the audience. It’s not didactic; it’s not trying to teach something.
How different is this from your other works?
It’s the first time in several years that I’ve done something that I didn’t write, so that has been a big shift. It’s a testament to how great the play is and how exciting its ideas are and the dialogue is.
How will this play shape people’s perception of you as a theatre director?
I’m a little worried. It’s a very intense play. When Alice (Tuan) wrote it, she put it away for two years. I know I have to be fearless about it, but I am definitely concerned about how people think about it. If I think about it that way, then I will definitely freak out. Hopefully, they will think of me as very honest. I value honesty and being straight-up about things and being blunt about things. The play is very blunt. It’s to the point and very in your face.
What do you hope the audience will bring with them after watching it?
I want it to sit with them for a while. Everybody really needs to have their own personal reactions to it. I am hoping to create a piece that would elicit a hundred different reactions, and the hope is that it is not something that is easily forgotten – that the experience doesn't weigh on them but (creates) an aftertaste that doesn’t go away quickly. I want it to simmer and cook with them for a while.
Ajax (Por Nobody) runs from Thurs, Aug 9 to Sun, Aug 19 at the Theatre Centre, 1087 Queen St W. $15. summerworks.ca