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Posts tagged War Horse

Q&A with War Horse’s Mat Hostetler

Mat HostetlerMat Hostetler is familiar to Denver audiences for for his work with the Denver Center Theatre Company, Creede Repertory Theatre, Colorado Shakespeare Festival and graduate productions at the National Theatre Conservatory. He returns in the national touring premiere of War Horse and took a break to tell us about life since Denver.

Q: So you spent some of your childhood in Glenwood Springs. This is a bit like coming home, right?

A: Absolutely! Perhaps, even more than being my physical home for many years, Colorado has always been my creative home. I started acting when I was in Glenwood and did a lot of community theatre in both Glenwood and Aspen. While in college at the University of Kansas, I came back to Colorado and worked at Creede Rep. Then, after many years away, I came back to Colorado to attend grad school at [National Theatre Conservatory] and had the privilege to work with both the Denver Center and Colorado Shakespeare Festival. So many tremendous teachers and mentors in Colorado have helped me along the way, I’m just so grateful.


Q: So we see that this is your first national Broadway show tour, what’s that like? Good at packing yet?

A: Yeah, I’ve got the packing down to a science! I was terrible for the first few cities, but you learn quickly! It’s been such a thrill, getting the chance to perform in some of the most beautiful and historic theaters in the country. Every week or two, we walk on stage and the house looks completely different. That’s a pretty unique experience.


The cast of War Horse. Photos © Brinkhoff/MögenburgQ: Tell us about your character, Veterinary Officer Martin.

A: Well, I can’t say much without giving too much away, but he has a pivotal role towards the end of the show. In doing a lot of research about World War I, and specifically about veterinary officers, it’s difficult to fathom what they saw from day to day. The estimated number of horses that were lost in WWI is truly staggering. 


Q: How does one person understudy 10 roles? I mean, really, ten?

A: It’s pretty crazy! Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to rehearse every role we understudy, and being in the show every night helps keep it all fresh in our minds. I’ve already gone on in about half those roles, and will likely have done them all before the tour ends. It’s fun to have that different energy on stage from time to time!


Q: You’ve done a lot of television since graduating the National Theatre Conservatory (NTC) and moving to New York. How does TV differ from the stage?

A: I actually really enjoy doing TV. I know, sometimes that’s not the case with stage actors — of course, we all love the paycheck in television – but I really do feel comfortable in that world. Of course, it’s a totally different animal from theatre. As much as I enjoy TV, I’m not certain it could ever hold up to the energy and joy of being on stage every night. There’s nothing like live theatre. I’m very fortunate to get to do both.


Q: And you’ve gotten married since you left Denver, to fellow NTC alum January LaVoy. What’s she up to? How is married life when you’re on the road?

A: January is great! Thanks for asking. When we got married in September of 2011, she made me the happiest and luckiest guy in the world. She’s been doing quite well, just finished a production of Good People at the Pittsburgh Public, and before that was at the Alliance in Atlanta doing the world premiere of What I Learned in Paris by Pearl CleageShe has also become quite a force in the audiobook world. If you haven’t listened to any of her stuff yet, you should do yourself a favor and pick up The Diviners by Libba Bray. January’s work on it is simply stunning. I know, I’m biased, but still…

And as for married life on the road, it certainly isn’t easy, but we’ve managed it pretty well. We try to see each other once every four to five weeks. We’re racking up tons of airline miles! In the most difficult weeks, we try to remember how lucky we are to be two working actors. It’s a rare thing in this business.


Mat Hostetler stars as the title role in the 2009 National Theatre Conservatory production of Macbeth. Photo: eric lauritsQ: The Colorado audiences miss seeing you. You were certainly a favorite at Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Three Musketeers, Macbeth, Hamlet) and our Theatre Company (Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard III, Christmas Carol, Trip to Bountiful), plus roles at Creede Repertory Theatre. Miss Denver? Fondest memories?

A: Too many to name, really. Three Musketeers was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. Truly. Merry Wives at the Denver Center was a blast as well. Getting to work with that amazing cast — with David Ivers directing. What a treat! And there’s no experience quite like a summer in Creede. But, all in all, I’d have to say the National Theatre Conservatory will always be my fondest memory of my time in Colorado. I’m just so grateful for every minute I spent there.


Q: How long will you be in the first national tour of War Horse? Where will we see you next? 

A: I’ll be with War Horse through June. Then it’s back to New York to see what’s next. I’ll keep you posted!

War Horse plays Denver’s Buell Theatre Jan 8-20, 2013. Tickets: 303.893.4100.


Q&A with War Horse’s Angela Reed

Angela ReedAngela Reed is familiar to Denver audiences from her work with the Denver Center Theatre Company. She returns to town in the national tour of War Horse, playing Denver’s Buell Theatre Jan 8-20. Angela graciously took a moment out of her hectic schedule to answer a few of our questions.

Tom Alan Robbins and Angela Reed in the Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Sam Hunter's The WhaleQ: Denver audiences last saw you in the Denver Center Theatre Company’s world premiere hit,
The Whale, which has since been produced by Playwrights Horizons. Did you have a chance to see it in New York? What was your experience being on the other side of the curtain?

A: Unfortunately I was not able to see the show in NY because I’ve been on tour with War Horse and have not been in NY since we hit the road in May.  I know that NY audiences loved it and I’m so proud to have been a part of the production in Denver.  I’d love to get the opportunity to work with the playwright, Sam Hunter, again.  He’s a joy to be around in and out of the rehearsal room.  And all of us who worked on The Whale in Denver have remained good friends.  I miss them!


Q: You have a lot of “firsts” on your resume — first national tours of War Horse and Spring Awakening plus the world premieres of The Whale and Map of Heaven and we know you’ve been a past participant in our Colorado New Play Summit. Are you particularly drawn to newer works? If so, why?

A:I’d say I probably do prefer working on new plays because I really enjoy the process of having the writer in the room and helping in some small way to develop the piece.  I think it’s a luxury for an actor to be able to talk directly to the person who created the character for clarification or insight.  Overall, however, I’m “drawn” to great material.  And there are a lot of playwrights writing rich, complex plays today that are exciting to work on.


Andrew Veenstra and Angela Reed. Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Q: What can you tell us about your character, Rose Narracott, in War Horse?

A:Rose is resourceful, resilient and determined to keep her family together.  She loves her son, Albert, and her husband, Ted, and it devastates her to see them fighting.   I think Rose has a huge heart and a good sense of humor, which probably helps her again and again in the face of adversity.

Q: Why should our typical Denver Center Theatre Company audience “cross the Galleria” to see War Horse in our Broadway house?

A:Shows like War Horse come around so rarely — if at all.  It’s a theatrical experience like no other to date.  The craftsmanship of the puppets, and the skill of the puppeteer, will have you believing that there are living, breathing horses on the stage before you.  And the story is beautiful.  Michael Morpurgo, the author of the book, has called War Horse “an anthem for peace”.  What a great way to start the New Year — reinvesting in messages of hope, faith, sacrifice and love.

Q: Do you enjoy national tours? A lot of packing but a lot of sightseeing too, right?

A:I love seeing the country and getting the opportunity to explore so many cities.  And because my husband, Todd Cerveris, is also in the show (playing my husband, Ted!), we get to travel together.  With our dog.  In a car.  And this is the second time we’ve done this, having been on the road together for Spring Awakening as well.  We’ve racked up thousands of miles and our dog has stayed in more hotels than the average person.

Q: It’s early in the tour, but probably not too early to be thinking about your next opportunity. Will we see you back in Denver anytime soon?

A:I still have another six months to go on the War Horse tour, so I can’t predict what will come after that.  And because I really need to be in NY to audition for upcoming projects, being on the road makes getting the next job more difficult.  That said, I would LOVE to come back to Denver.  This marks my fourth winter in a row that I have been in Denver at some point to work.  I only hope that next time I have the opportunity to be here in the spring, summer, or fall!

War Horse plays Denver’s Buell Theatre Jan 8-20, 2013. Tickets: 303.893.4100.



War Horse’s Spectacular Journey

War Horse logoTony-Award winning stage spectacle moves families, audience members to tears

By David Freeland

War Horse, the astounding theatrical experience opening this week at The Buell Theatre, exerts its pull from the moment the title character, Joey, first trots on stage as a foal, petted by his owner and best friend, 15-year old Albert.  The audience gasps, aware that Joey is a puppet, not a real horse, but captivated by the way he shudders and whinnies at Albert’s loving touch.  Joey’s lifelike eyes, shining and reflective, draw us into the soul of his journey; as the evening progresses, and Albert sets out to rescue Joey after he has been sold to the English cavalry, we find ourselves carried along and hoping for Joey to make it home.

Andrew Veenstra, Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, Rob Laqui_smIt’s that kind of emotional power that has made War Horse an international phenomenon, sweeping up audiences and awards on both sides of the Atlantic and even inspiring an Oscar®-nominated film directed by Steven Spielberg.  War Horse won five 2011 Tony® Awards (including Best Play) for its New York premiere plus a Special Tony® Award for Handspring Puppet Company for creating the 11 puppets at the heart of the show.

“One of the things we like to imagine,” observes Basil Jones, who runs Handspring with co-founder Adrian Kohler, “is people in the audience nudging the person next to them, saying, ‘did you see that?’” 

Catherine Gowl, Nick LaMedica, Laurabeth BreyaSet during the First World War, War Horse combines a powerful story with thrilling stagecraft and music.  In addition, it showcases what may be the most inventive use of puppetry ever seen on stage.  Soon after meeting him as a young horse, we watch in amazement as an adult Joey, seven feet tall, materializes before our eyes.  Two puppet masters working inside Joey’s frame (built of light, malleable cane) raise and lower his torso, letting out forceful breaths, while a third manipulates his ears, lifting and pulling them back to register tender shades of emotion.  Spielberg’s film version of War Horse employed real horses, but these onstage creations fully personalize equine ideals of courage, strength and loyalty in ways that reinforce the themes of the story.   

“Spielberg made a terrific film,” enthuses Michael Morpurgo, upon whose beloved novel War Horse is based, “but cinema has its limitations.  It isn’t live, and that’s the difference.  What’s amazing about the stage show is that, whether it’s the music, design, or lighting, the puppets, the quality of acting or direction, it’s ingenious and unique.  It’s a theatrical event.”

Grayson DeJesus and Michael Wyatt CoxDuring World War I, more than one million horses were conscripted by the British military alone; of these, only 62,000 returned.  As Joey is forced into battle, serving in both the British and German armies, we are moved by his bravery and the trust he places in those who exploit his strength.  His innocence makes him seem above the fighting: in War Horse, animals behave with a dignity that humans do not always achieve.  Still, Joey is unprepared for the true brutality of 20th century warfare.  In a brilliant scene that defines the excitement of Act Two, he faces a new kind of foe: a massive tank rolling his way, prepared to flatten everything in its path.  The scenic design is so visceral that we are rushed into battle alongside Joey, enveloped in the sound and smell of combat.  Joey rears on his hind legs as the tank pitches toward him and the stage goes black. 

“The First World War is emblematic,” suggests Mervyn Millar, War Horse’s puppetry director, “in the way the possibilities of destruction changed.  You see Joey standing, looking at the tank, which advances without logic, without thought.  Joey tries to work out what it means, what it wants, and it doesn’t want or mean anything.  It just destroys.”

Joey’s plight resonates with anyone who has ever loved an animal or taken a pet into the family.  As Albert continues his search, we are reminded of the ways in which animals remain with us through many stages of our lives, giving much and asking for little.

“People emotionally invest in animals,” Millar believes.  “I think everyone can empathize with Joey.”

Andrew Veenstra, Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, Rob LaquiDetermined to save his friend, Albert runs away from home with the hope of getting close to the front.  But in trying to rescue one family member, he hurts another, leaving behind a mother anxious with worry.  War Horse’s relevance comes from our awareness that, nearly a century after the start of the First World War, families are still being separated by armed conflict.        

“We talk a lot about the history of the war,” remarks Chris Harper, producer for the National Theatre of Great Britain (which first staged War Horse in London), “but at the heart of the show it’s just a family, struggling to deal with life.  The thing that’s exciting about War Horse is that it appeals to lots of generations.  We see grandparents bringing their kids, wanting to explain the history from their own personal journeys with World War II or more recent conflicts.  It’s a production that brings the family together.”

Will Albert find Joey in time?  As War Horse reaches its beautiful climax, the hopes of parents, children, and beloved friends – both onstage and off – merge into a shared experience, as tissues are drawn from pockets and eyes glisten with tears.       

“We get people coming back again and again,” Harper explains, “and they always have the same reaction.  It awakens something in you.  War Horse makes grown people cry.”


War Horse plays Denver’s Buell Theatre Jan 8-20. Tickets: 303.893.4100 or 800.641.1222.

War Horse: Joey Facts & Figures

Andrew Veenstra, John Riddleberger, Patrick Osteen, Jessica Krueger1. The puppet (Joey), which weighs 120lbs, is handmade by 14 people. Its frame is mostly cane, soaked, bent and stained.

 2. An aluminum frame along the spine, lined partly with leather for comfort, allows the horse to be ridden.

3. Stretched, hosiery-like Georgette fabric makes up the “skin” beneath the frame.

Joey and the US National Tour of WAR HORSE4. A puppeteer at the head controls the ears and head; one in the heart controls breathing and front legs; a third in the hind controls the tail and back legs.

5. A harness connects the puppet’s and puppeteer’s spines so his or her movements become the breathing of the horse.

6. The tail and ears are moveable instead of the lips or eyelids, because that’s how horses usually express themselves.

Andrew Veenstra, Nick LaMedica, Laurabeth Breya, Catherine Gowl7. Two levers connected with bicycle brake cables control the leather ears.

8. The puppet, just under 10ft long and about 8ft tall, has about 20 major joints. Vertical levers curl the knees and lift the hooves.

9. The neck is made of carbon fiber glass for flexibility.

10. The eyes are black color behind clear resin so light refracts through them.

Christopher Mai, Derek Stratton, Rob Laqui11. The right hind lever moves the tail up and down; the left hind lever, left to right; moved together, it spirals.

 12. The hair in the mane and tail is made of Tyvek, a plastic-like paper. 

Denver Center Attractions Announces 2013/14 Broadway Subscription Series

2013/14 Denver Center Attractions Season

Denver Center Attractions announces an extended season featuring hits straight from Broadway for 2013/14.  New this year, the season includes increased payment plan options. For as low as eight payments of $35.63, subscribers will see all 11 shows featuring Tony Award-winning shows such as the 2012 Best Musical ONCE, War Horse, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, EVITA, Million Dollar Quartet and, launching the national tour in Denver, Peter and the Starcatcher – winner of five Tony Awards, the most of any play in 2012. 

War HorseKicking off the season January 8 20, 2013 is War horse in The Buell Theatre. Winner offive 2011 Tony Awards, WAR HORSE is a remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship. As World War I begins, Joey, young Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped from England to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary journey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.At its heart are astonishing life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, that bring to life breathing, galloping, charging horses strong enough for men to ride. 

Jekyll and Hyde“American Idol” star and Tony Award-nominee Constantine Maroulis joins with Grammy Award-nominee and R&B superstar Deborah Cox to inject new life into the classic tale of good and evil with Jekyll & Hyde January 29 – February 10, 2013 in The Buell Theatre. After four thrilling, chilling years on Broadway and multiple world-wide tours, this dark and dangerous love story from Tony and Grammy Award-nominee Frank Wildhorn and Oscar and Grammy-winner Leslie Bricusse returns in a newly-reimagined pre-Broadway production that includes all the classic songs like “This is the Moment,” “A New Life” and “Someone Like You” that first grabbed audiences by the throat and transformed JEKYLL & HYDE into a theatrical phenomenon.

Catch Me if You CanCatch Me if You Can, based on the hit DreamWorks film and the incredible true story that inspired it, plays The Buell Theatre February 26 – March 10, 2013. This high-flying, splashy new Broadway musical tells the story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., a teenager who runs away from home in search of the glamorous life. With nothing more than his boyish charm, a big imagination and millions of dollars in forged checks, Frank successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer — living the high life and winning the girl of his dreams. But when Frank’s lies catch the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, Carl chases Frank to the end…and finds something he never expected. Don’t miss this big-hearted musical adventure based on an astonishing real-life story of being young, in love…and in deep, deep trouble.

The Doyle and Debbie ShowSpring of 2013, The Doyle & Debbie SHOW plays The Garner Galleria Theatre. This new hit musical featuring all-original songs is sublime homage and parody, simultaneously idolizing and lampooning country music’s tradition of iconic duos and the battle of the sexes that accompany them. Doyle Mayfield, an old-guard country star with a handful of hits back in the 70s and 80s, is reviving his career thirty years, four wives, and three Debbies later. The new Debbie, a single mother with three children, sees this lovable lothario as her last chance to make it big in Nashville – but she also questions hitching her star to this loose cannon. Fresh off an eight month stop in Chicago, Nashville’s perennial favorites Doyle and Debbie venture west to take Denver audiences on a wickedly funny and freewheeling joyride. The Doyle & Debbie SHOW is sponsored by MolsonCoors.

Sense & Sensibility The Musical. Photo: Brenda Withers and Steven Cole Hughes. Photo by Terry Shapiro.Denver audiences will see a big beautiful musical make its world premiere when SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL plays The Stage Theatre April 5 – May 26, 2013. With book and lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow, music by Neal Hampton and based on the novel by Jane Austen, this sparkling new musical is full of passion and wit.  Sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, opposites in temperament, struggle to find love and happiness in one of literature’s most beloved romances. When half-brother John inherits their father’s estate, the sisters, now virtually penniless, move to a rural cottage to make do as best they can … but not even desperate financial circumstances can keep love at bay. An all-star team of Broadway champions has been assembled for this thrilling new production, including Director/Choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, whose recent Broadway revival of Ragtime received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Direction of a Musical; Costume Designer Emilio Sosa, “Project Runway”, 2012 Tony nominee for The Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess;Set Designer Allan Moyer, Tony nominee for Grey Gardens, and acclaimed Broadway/London Lighting Designer James F. Ingalls. Producing Partners include: The Anschutz Foundation, Joy S. Burns, Daniel L. Ritchie, June Travis. SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL is sponsored by U.S. Bank and The Ritz-Carlton.

Peter and the StarcatcherPeter and the Starcatcher, the most mayhem-filled evening of madcap fun on Broadway, will launch the national tour here in Denver at The Ellie Caulkins Opera House August 15 – September 1, 2013.  Hailed by The New York Times as “The most exhilarating storytelling on Broadway in decades,” this hilarious romp through the Neverland you never knew won five Tony Awards – the most of any play in 2012 – and’s Audience Choice Award as Favorite New Play.  Based on the best-selling Disney-Hyperion novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher is the thrilling passage to a time when the world’s most important battle was being fought by a glum orphan boy and his exuberant leader. A dozen brilliant actors play more than 100 unforgettable characters using their enormous talent, ingenious stagecraft and the limitless possibilities of imagination to tell the story of a nameless boy who becomes Peter Pan. Peter and the Starcatcher is sponsored by  The Ritz-Carlton.

Priscilla Queen of the DesertAn international hit with more than 500 dazzling 2011 Tony Award-winning costumes, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, plays The Buell Theatre September 3 – 15, 2013. Priscilla features a hit parade of dance-floor favorites including “It’s Raining Men,” “Finally” and “I Will Survive.” This spectacular show tells the uplifting story of a trio of friends on a road trip of a lifetime, who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship in the middle of the Australian outback and end up finding more than they could ever have dreamed.

Sister ActRaise your voice; SISTER ACT plays The Buell Theatre September 24 – October 6, 2013. SISTER ACT is Broadway’s feel-amazing musical comedy smash. Featuring original music by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors), Sister Act tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a wannabe diva whose life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a crime and the cops hide her in the last place anyone would think to look—a convent. Under the suspicious watch of Mother Superior, Deloris helps her fellow sisters find their voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own. A sparkling tribute to the universal power of friendship, Sister Act is reason to rejoice!

EvitaTim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical returns at last! EVITA plays The Buell Theatre January 2014. Eva Perón used her beauty and charisma to rise meteorically from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion as First Lady. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, she became one of the most powerful women in the world — while her greed, outsized ambition and fragile health made her one of the most tragic. EVITA tells Eva’s passionate and unforgettable true story, and features some of theater’s most beautiful songs, including “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and “High Flying, Adored.”  Don’t miss the stunning new production, directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford.

Million Dollar QuartetMillion Dollar Quartet, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, inspired by the electrifying true story of the famed recording session that brought together rock ’n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time, plays The Buell Theatre February 25– March 9, 2014. On December 4, 1956, these four young musicians were gathered together by Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ’n’ Roll” at Sun Records in Memphis for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions of all time. Million Dollar Quartet brings that legendary night to life with an irresistible tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal and celebrations featuring timeless hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Matchbox,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more. This thrilling musical brings you inside the recording studio with four major talents who came together as a red-hot rock ’n’ roll band for one unforgettable night. Don’t miss your chance to be a fly on the wall of fame… at Million Dollar Quartet!

onceONCE, Broadway’s 2012 Tony Award-winning best musical plays The Buell Theatre April/May 2014. Based on the Academy Award-winning film, it tells the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Over the course of one fateful week, their unexpected friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful but complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together. Brought to the stage by an award-winning team of visionary artists and featuring an ensemble cast of gifted actor/musicians, once is a musical celebration of life and love: thrilling in its originality, daring in its honesty…and unforgettable in every way.

DCA subscribers receive priority access to added attractions in 2013/14 prior to the general public.  Additional subscriber benefits include preferred seating, free ticket exchanges and various special offers throughout the season.  Season subscribers can purchase tickets to these added attractions NOW: White Christmas (Nov 23-Dec 24, 2012), Chicago (March 19-24, 2013), Spamalot (March 28-30, 2013), Blue Man Group (April 12-21, 2013), Mary Poppins (May 1-5, 2013)and Les MisÉrables (May 22-26, 2013).

Denver Center Attractions 2013/14 subscription packages start at just eight easy payments of $35.63. Restrictions apply. To purchase a subscription, please call Denver Center Ticket Services: 303.893.4100 or 800.641.1222, or visit the ticket office located in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at Speer & Arapahoe.  Subscription packages also can be purchased online at  Single tickets are not available at this time.

The Denver Center Attractions 2013/14 season is generously sponsored by United Airlines and Vectra Bank.  Media sponsorship for Denver Center Attractions is provided by The Denver Post and CBS4.  Denver Center Attractions is supported in part by the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.  

Profile: Bruce Sevy, Director of Heartbreak House

 Bruce SevyBruce Sevy, Associate Artistic Director of the Denver Center Theatre Company, is tackling one of George Bernard Shaw’s most unusual plays, the mysterious HEARTBREAK HOUSE. The brittle wit and clever ripostes are there, but there is also an air of rue about this piece. With World War I on the horizon, it is, on some levels, somber. See what Bruce has to say…

Denver Center: In what way does this play differ from Shaw’s other work?

Bruce Sevy: Heartbreak House is a sort of culmination of Shaw’s earlier work. Traces of Misalliance and Man And Superman (and other early pieces) are easily seen here. But I also detect Shaw breaking out of the usual structure and tone and  exploring some new theatrical ground.

DCPA: Set as it is in pre-World War I England, how is this play relevant  today?

BS: I’m not updating the play. I feel it is tied to the Edwardian period and the place in which it is set. However, I’ve chosen to move it up to 1916, with the war underway. As for relevance, we’re almost a century later, and still wondering—as the characters in the play do—what this new century will bring.

   The American Empire has supplanted the British Empire. Are we now in “decline”? The question is certainly discussed; war is still with us, as is anxiety for the future and an apocalyptic fear rumbling under a compulsively trivial and intellectually impoverished popular culture. The play does speak to us; that’s what excites me.

DCPA: What do you make, if anything, about the parallels between Heartbreak House and Masterpiece Theatre’s currently popular Downton Abbey?

BS: I think it’s great—and fortuitous for us—that Downton Abbey and War Horse are capturing the imagination of the American public. Heartbreak House gains resonance and depth when viewed in the context of England before, during and after World War I. I hope the audience has those images in mind as it watches this production, It’s an important lens through which to view the play.

    Of course, the manor house in Downton Abbey is much more formal and regimented than Shaw’s Shotover-Hushabye house. This household is looser, more imaginative and impulsive. All of the guests are thrown by the apparent lack of rules and schedules. Even the burglars don’t behave as expected! There are no plans for meals and not much of a plan for where invited guests will stay. The effect is disorienting—or delightful, depending on your point of view—and the source of quite a bit of comedy.

DCPA: Many parallels have been drawn between this play and Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Do you buy that analogy?

BS: Shaw was a big fan of Chekhov and of The Cherry Orchard, and he did subtitle his play A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes. Some parallels can be found between Shaw’s burglar, Billy Dunn, and the tramp who shows up in The Cherry Orchard. Certainly the outdoor evening ruminations of Shaw’s characters in Act III have a Chekhovian feel.

   But the play remains pure—and wonderful—Shaw. Even he conceded the point after a successful performance in England in 1923, when he humorously addressed the audience at the curtain call: “This has been one of the most depressing evenings I have spent in the theatre. I imagined I had written a quiet, thoughtful, semi-tragic play after the manner of Chekhov. From your empty-headed laughter, I appear to have written a bedroom farce!” The audience applauded.

DCPA: Some people have called it an allegory. What do you call it?

BS: I like Shaw’s term, “Fantasia,” with all that the word implies musically and in terms of the compositional approach. I love the almost surreal aspects of some of the episodes and I hope to highlight them as a counterpoint to the seemingly realistic tone and nearly Feydeau-like, bedroom-comedy spirit of the early part of the script.

DCPA: Is this a play about the beginnings of the decomposition of society as Shaw knew it and almost certainly as we know it today?

BS: I think so. And while Shaw certainly reveals the businessman, Mangan, to be without ethics and hardly the bulwark of the country that he initially presents himself to be, Shaw spends the bulk of the play exposing the vacuous and wasted lives of the Bloomsbury-esque liberals at its center.

   Parallels really can be drawn between the state of our contemporary American public life and the state of England’s as represented here. The Mangans and the Utterwords are ascendant; the educated, creative, leisure class is infantilized and marginalized (or have they marginalized themselves?), while the ship of state sails into decline and pointless war. Familiar? What begins as nearly romantic comedy ends with a threat of apocalypse. Shaw wrote to a friend about this play: “All truly sacred truths are rich in comedy!”

DCPA: How prophetic would you say it was?

BS: I think it was incredibly prophetic for England. I hope it remains only a cautionary tale for our country.


HEARTBREAK HOUSE plays The Space Theatre March 30 - April 29. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact us at 303.893.4100.