Three of a kind, but different: Authors direct authors

L to R: Neil LaBute, Marta Buchaca and Marco Calvani do double duty, as playwrights and directors. Photo by Theo Cote.

L to R: Neil LaBute, Marta Buchaca and Marco Calvani do double duty, as playwrights and directors. Photo by Theo Cote.

BY TRAV S.D. | As a wise old saying tells us, “Everything comes in threes.” On the third week of this month, La MaMa will open the third edition of “AdA: Author Directing Author,” which will showcase three one-act plays by three playwrights from three different countries, each of whom is directing one of the other’s works. On the bill will be works by Marco Calvani (Italy), Marta Buchaca (Spain) and Neil LaBute (US). The cast members are Gabby Beans, Margaret Colin, Gia Crovatin, Dalia Davi, Richard Kind and Victor Slezak.

According to LaBute, the seeds of this theatrical series were first sown when he overheard workshops Calvani was leading at the Obrador Internacional de Dramaturgia at the Sala Beckett in Barcelona. “I heard these sounds coming from the actors in their workshop and I grew curious,” said LaBute. “I got to talking with Marco about theatre and realized that we were similar animals, in that we were both playwrights and directors and actors, although Marco has done much more acting than I have. We realized that though we are directors, we usually only get to direct our own plays. We rarely get asked to direct other people’s stuff. So we said, ‘Let’s do something where we each create some work and then direct each other’s plays.’ ”

The first fruits of their collaboration were presented at the Spoleto Festival in Italy in 2012, not far from La MaMa Umbria International, the writers’ retreat and workshop facility long operated by the historic Off-Off Broadway company. At Calvani’s suggestion, they workshopped and rehearsed their plays at La MaMa Umbria. Then they were invited by the company to transfer the show to New York. This went so well, a second edition followed in 2014.

Said Calvani, “When we decided to do a third edition it was clear to us that we had to open the doors of the project to a third playwright/director, and it should be a female voice. Since we ourselves had met at Sala Beckett in 2010, we said, ‘Let’s close the circle.’ So we got in touch with Sala Beckett to see if they had a suggestion for a Spanish playwright, and they suggested Marta [Buchaca], who happens to be an award winning playwright herself.”

“Like Neil and Marco, I am also a director as well as a playwright,” said Buchaca, “and I loved the project when they brought it to me. I was so excited. It’s always the same, that playwrights direct their own plays — but it’s atypical that other playwrights ask you to direct their own work.”

Richard Kind and Gia Crovatin perform the Neil LaBute play “I don’t know what I can save you from.” Photo by Theo Cote.

Richard Kind and Gia Crovatin perform the Neil LaBute play “I don’t know what I can save you from.” Photo by Theo Cote.

Each iteration of “Author Directing Author” has had a theme. The first two were “Home” and “Desire.” This year’s is “Power.” The offerings in the current production are: LaBute’s “I don’t know what I can save you from,” directed by Calvani; Calvani’s “After the dark,” directed by Buchaca; and Buchaca’s “Summit,” directed by LaBute. Each depicts a power struggle between warring parties — in the first, a father and daughter; in the second, a woman and her boss; in the third, a defeated (male), politician and his female successor. Class, gender, age, money, and sex percolate throughout.

“For better or worse, ‘power’ is always the theme if you’re a playwright,” said Calvani. “It happens to be perfect this year, but it was also perfect five years ago. We were led to ‘Power’ from ‘Home’ and ‘Desire’ spontaneously, but let me tell you, if you took any of the plays that we put on in the first installations and put them under ‘Power,’ it would probably still work!”

LaBute concurs on the evergreen nature of this particular theme and insists that its applicability in the age of our incoming President is coincidental. “These works were written before this decided crossroads [i.e., the last election]. Although it features two wealthy white males, one with a long red tie and the other with a bowler hat, any resemblance to Trump is coincidental. We’ve refrained from writing any urine scenes into it. We’ve decided to keep it classy in that way!” 

And, despite his heavy schedule of writing and directing for film, television, and productions at much larger theaters, LaBute is enthusiastic about the possibility of future incarnations of this project. “I’ve learned that you need to make time for projects like this that matter to you. I’d like to see these [“Author Directing Author” productions] happen about as often as Phil Collins and Genesis get back together. You know, I’ll go off and do a few ‘solo albums,’ and then we’ll all get back in the studio together. And maybe next time we’ll do it with four playwrights.”

Through Feb. 5: Thurs., Fri. & Sat. at 7pm and Sun. at 4 pm; additional performance Mon., Jan. 23 at 7pm. At La MaMa (66 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). For tickets ($18 general, $13 students/seniors), visit lamama.org or call 212-352-3101.

L to R: Cast members Dalia Davi and Victor Slezak (Marta Buchaca’s “Summit”) and Gabby Beans and Margaret Colin (Marco Calvani’s “After the dark”). Photo by Theo Cote.

L to R: Cast members Dalia Davi and Victor Slezak (Marta Buchaca’s “Summit”) and Gabby Beans and Margaret Colin (Marco Calvani’s “After the dark”). Photo by Theo Cote.

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