Q: How did Barefoot Theatre Company get involved with Teeth Of The Sons?
A: Will Allen, who was in my BFA Acting program, was in Barefoot's production of Steven Gracia's play Next!. I had been writing the part of Sam for Will and the part of Jacob for myself.
Tailoring the two brother roles, adding as much specificity as possible, so that it would be exciting for the audience to see two actors who know each other as well as brothers, bring that kind of history, chemistry, and familiarity onto the stage. So Will handed an early draft of the play to Barefoot one night after a Next! rehearsal. I think it took almost a year for me to hear back that Frank Solorzano, the Artistic Director of Barefoot, had read the play, and wanted to meet with me. I think at that point, I had nearly given up on the play. We had performed it at Brooklyn College's New Workshop Theater, and we had a staged reading at the 78th Street Theater Lab, run by Brooklyn College Alumni Eric Nightengale, but I was at an impasse with the story. It being my first play I couldn't figure out an effective ending, and needed some strong guidance in order to finish it.
Q: Were you able to receive that guidance?
A: Yes. Frank told me he really enjoyed the draft. He agreed the story could go deeper, and encouraged a new draft. I wrote another draft, feeling an immense pressure to impress Frank and the Barefoot Company, and of course, I failed. But in a good way. Frank felt this new draft was sensationalized and was avoiding some of the more challenging themes that the original draft was beginning to tackle. He gave me fantastic notes, and I was able to move forward and develop the complex story of Faith and Family I had originally set out to write.
Q: What happened after that?
A: Barefoot decided to make Teeth Of The Sons their inaugural bareNaked Reading Series play. Barefoot company member Michael Loporto did a fantastic job directing the staged reading at The 45 Bleecker Street Theater. The cast included Chris Whalen reading Jacob, Anna Chlumsky as Maddy, Will Allen as Sam and Jessica Langer as Evelyn.
Q: Why decided to not read the role you had created for yourself?
A: At that point, the play and process was so much about the writing, that I wanted to experience the result of the work primarily as a playwright.
Q: How did that feel?
A: Incredible. I thought acting in front of an audience was nerve racking, but it's nothing compared to sitting in the back of a packed 400 seat theater, hanging on every line, hoping the audience enjoyed the story. As an actor, you are there supporting the text, bringing it to life. Good stories can survive mediocre acting, but Great acting can't compel an audience if the story is weak. So that night, I had nothing to hide behind. Every time a joke didn't land I felt it in my stomach. But also, every time it did, I felt a greater sense of connecting with the audience than if I was the actor delivering the line in front of them. At the end, as Chris delivered the final lines of the show, and the audience began applauding, I felt the greatest sense of connection with an audience that I've ever felt in my life.
Q: How did that change you as a performer?
A: I began this process as an actor trying to create acting work for myself. By the end of that night, I had become a playwright first and foremost.
Q: How did the show go from a bareNaked play to a full scale Barefoot Theatre production at the Cherry Lane Theatre?
A: That night of the reading at Bleecker Street, Jason Zimbler (also a Barefoot Ensemble Member), a fellow Brooklyn College alum, who ran a theater company in Portland, Oregon, expressed his interest in taking the play to Portland, and giving it a full production. Frank Solorzano flew out to see that production, and a year and a half later, Barefoot Theatre is producing it.
Q: Was the Portland production a success?
A: Very much so. We had a very limited budget, and the space was a warehouse that had not been used as a theater, and was very hard to find. Nonetheless the show went on to receive unanimous critical acclaim, and we won Portland's Drammy Award for Best New Play, and I was also fortunate enough to receive a Drammy for Leading Actor in a Role.
Q: What did the critics mostly respond to?
A: The overall story and production. And the beatboxing. Also the connection between Will and myself. I think the desire to put two actors who are great and old friends, playing brothers on the brink of walking away from each other, but who ultimately possess a lot of love for one another, really paid off for the audience.