Newly formed J&J Productions will present the Southeastern premiere of Love Drunk, the last play by Philadelphia, PA-born dramatist and college professor Romulus Linney (1930-2011), on Dec. 1-4, 8-11, and 15-17 at 213 Fayetteville St., home of Raleigh Ensemble Players. Love Drunk is loosely based on Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama The Master Builder (Bygmester Solness) (1892),
J&J stands for Triangle theater veterans John Honeycutt and Jess Jones, who will star as Wilbur and Karen, under the direction of Joshua K. Benjamin, who directed Limbo by Irish dramatist Declan Feenan for Burning Coal Theatre Company in March 2010.
“We are producing the play [as J&J Productions], because when we bought the rights, Dramatists Play Service, Inc. insisted on the name of the production company,” reveals John Honeycutt. “I had about 10 seconds to think of a company name, and J&J Productions is the first thing that came to mind.”
He adds, “After Jess and I decided to do a play together, we searched for two-character scripts with characters close to our respective ages. One of the reasons we liked this script is that the characters are both habitual liars, and it is interesting to try to discern when Wilbur or Karen is lying and when they are not.
“In the first scene,” Honeycutt says, “Karen and Wilbur deceive each other as they delve into each other’s past and present motivations. Much of the lying is an effort to trick each other into revealing things about themselves.”
He adds, “Early in the second scene, some of the lies, but not all of them, are revealed as Karen and Wilbur reach a tentative accommodation, which is then shaken up by more lies amid a mountain wind storm. We never really know what is true, and what is false.”
Director Josh Benjamin confesses, “I knew a little about Romulus Linney, but had never heard of the show until they gave me a copy of the script…. The thing that I kept coming back to was the relationship between the two characters. They obviously both have pretty serious issues, but there is something between them that makes them stay together for a while, even though they find it very difficult to be nice to one another. I wanted to explore that big question with the two actors — what attracts the characters to each other in spite of the way they treat each other?”
He adds, “The show opens with the two characters, Wilbur and Karen, coming back to Wilbur’s Appalachian log home after meeting at a restaurant. Wilbur is much older than Karen, but has had a long series of love affairs with women of all ages. Karen is a sort of ragtag loner, carrying her backpack all across the country when she stumbles across Wilbur. He has given up a normal family life for his drive to build — log homes, orphanages — and acquire property and wealth. She has fled her home and her troubled upbringing, only to get in much more trouble in her travels.
“They come together for a brief time and attempt some sort of relationship, but can’t really connect as they wade through their past failures and litter Wilbur’s tower room with lies,” reports Benjamin.
Josh Benjamin declares, “I think the biggest directorial challenge is one that is shared with the actors — figuring out what is actually true in what the two characters say to each other, and why they choose to present themselves the way they do. As far as for the actors — I can’t really speak for them, but there are a couple things that seem challenging to me in acting the show. First of all, it is a very conversation-heavy show, so it’s a good amount of work just to keep everything in your head. It also deals with some pretty heavy psychological stuff, so being able to create a complex mental life for the character is really important.”
In addition to director Josh Benjamin and producer/performers John Honeycutt and Jess Jones, the J&J Productions creative team for Love Drunk includes technical director Josh Benjamin, costume designer and fight coordinator Jess Jones, lighting designer Avery Dubuque, and stage managers Noelle Barnard, Avery Dubuque, and Sheryl Scott.
“Josh, Jess, and I collaborated on the set design, using cues from the script,” says John Honeycutt.
Director Josh Benjamin notes, “The play takes place in a room at the top of a tower in Wilbur’s log home, so it’s a small office/living area — a desk, bookshelves, a loveseat, a trunk, and various knick-knacks — including Wilbur’s collection of vinyl albums and home-made folk song cassettes.”
John Honeycutt adds, “Theatergoers familiar with REP’s theater (generously rented to us by [REP managing director] Gary Williams and [artistic director] Glen Matthews) know that the set and the audience are in close proximity to each other. In some parts of the play, the actors are only two or three feet from the audience, which enhances the intimacy of the piece.”
He adds, “Since the play is set inside a tower room near sunset of one day and in the morning of the next, the lighting is very simple. It washes the set, gradually fading in the first scene as night approaches. In the second scene (of two), the morning starts cloudy and dark.
“During the play’s climax,” Honeycutt says, “there is a strong wind storm. The lighting grows darker as the clouds thicken….
“Karen wears torn jeans, sneakers, and a unique hoodie sweat shirt with hand-appliquéd designs on it, and Wilbur wears business casual khakis with a flannel shirt,” says John Honeycutt.
He notes, “As with much drama, the characters Karen and Wilbur are both damaged, in similar but different ways. They don’t know from the outset what they want from each other. They spend the play trying to figure out what they want from each other, and they lead each other in a kind of liar’s poker, bluffing, each trying to figure the other out.”
J&J Productions presents LOVE DRUNK at 8 p.m. Dec. 1-3, 7 p.m. Dec. 4, 8 p.m. Dec. 8-10, 7 p.m. Dec. 11, and 8 p.m. Dec. 15-17 at 213 Fayetteville St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27600, the home of Raleigh Ensemble Players.
BOX OFFICE: 919/417-2477 or https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/210573.
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_Linney_(playwright) (Wikipedia).
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