Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: First and foremost, congratulations on the upcoming West Coast premiere of Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally! Kevin, what was this inspiration behind this play?
Kevin Armento: The play started as an exploration of how this dynamic between female teachers and their male students arises and plays out — not why, or whether it should, but just how. I'd seen a lot of moralizing on the subject, but not much analysis into how it happens, and what insight that might give us into why these kinds of relationships seem rampant.
BD: The play features a very unique and unconventional narrator in the form of a cell phone. What can you tell us about your approach to the storytelling, as well as any playwright(s) who may have influenced your writing style?
KA: It came out of failure. The first several attempts at a draft felt staid, and tired, and predictable...and as sometimes happens with me, I hadn't been thinking about a form for the story that might match the thematic exploration — as in, not just "What story should I tell?" but "What is the most interesting way to tell this story I think I should tell?" And that birthed the perspective of the boy's cell phone. It started unspooling quickly, because I suddenly had a protagonist who could be truly objective in telling this provocative story — which is what I had wanted, but hadn't been able to find in a traditional storytelling form. As for influence... I hope that my writing style is very different for each play — that's my intention. So, my influences for this style were primarily Mark Ravenhill and Erin Courtney. Mark, for his blank prose, and Erin for her incredible ability to find unexpected perspective.
BD: How did you first become aware of Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, and what initially attracted you to wanting to direct the production?
Peter Richards: I first read the script when I was working as a panelist for an organization that supports new American plays, and I was immediately struck by the riveting story, the lyrical language, and the unique narrative voice. I then went to see the wonderful world premiere production in New York, which featured five actors, and I began to get excited about trying to find a way to do the play in a way that embraces the singular narrative voice of the phone. It’s not often you come across a text that supports such a broad range of interpretations. You can do this play with five actors, one actor, or fifty.
BD: You have quite a talented cast and crew working on the production. What can you tell us about your shared creative process in bringing the show to life?
PR: Tommy Piper, who plays the phone, is a long-time collaborator of mine going back ten years or more, so this type of collaboration is old hat for us. It’s my first time working with these designers, and they have done a truly remarkable job. The concept of the show places the audience and the actors inside a cell phone. Imagining what that world looks like, how the theatricalized inner workings of a phone might function — using sound, lights, video, and a set--has been a great opportunity to flex our collective creative muscles.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the play?
PR: I hope the audience takes away a new understanding of their personal relationship with their ever-present companion, their cell phone.
KA: Their belongings. And hopefully none of the set.
BD: What makes Working Barn Productions and The Odyssey Theatre the perfect home for the show?
PR: I grew up on the west side of Los Angeles, so the Odyssey Theatre feels like home to me. It’s a great space, and a perfect location, with a dedicated audience. I can’t think of a better place to host the show.
KA: I'm excited to find out, because I've never been to the Odyssey, and this is my first time working with Working Barn. But I can speak to Peter's approach, which has been thoughtful and inquisitive, and I love what care he's taken with this text (which offers no instructions on how many actors to use, or what kind of visual world the production ought to be).
BD: Are there any additional projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?
PR: Next year, I’ll be directing an outdoor, site-specific production of The Tempest on an island in Maine. I’m crossing my fingers for good weather.
KA: My play, Balls, is premiering at Stages Repertory Theatre in Houston in October, and in New York in January/February. It's for the same company Aunt Sally was written for, One Year Lease, and this one I've co-written with one of my favorite writers, Bryony Lavery.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information regarding Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally?
KA: The published script is available from Dramatists Play Service.
PR: To purchase tickets, call 323-960-4429 or go to www.plays411.com/PEMDAS. See you there!
*Pictured in photo (above): Thomas Piper / Photo by Ed Krieger