The Hill Town Women

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


An Interview with the Five Leads from The Hill Town Playshiltown3

The Hill Town Plays marks the debut of Theatre: Village, produced by Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, spotlighting the work of downtown mainstay Lucy Thurber. Comprised of five distinct plays (Scarcity, Ashville, Where We’re Born, Killers and Other Family, Stay), each play charts the growth of a central female character who links the works, sometimes thematically, and in two cases literally. New York Press spoke with the quintet of actresses – Hani Furstenberg, Betty Gilpin, Izzy Hanson-JohnsTon, Samantha Soule, Mia Vallet – carrying The Hill Town Plays about their involvement with the plays.

NYP: How long have each of you been attached to your respective plays?

MV: A few months. I was cast right before I graduated college in May.

SS: I have been attached to Killers and Other Family since 2009. I did a closed reading in January and we went into rehearsals in August of that year for a production at Rattlestick.

BG: I’ve spent a year itching to sink my teeth into this beautiful play. I assumed I was pretty familiar with the arc of the play and what Lucy was saying, but it wasn’t until rehearsing and watching the cast find all of Lucy’s little hidden turns.

NYP: Aside from Ashville (which has its world premiere with Theatre: Village), how familiar were you with your plays and with Lucy?hilltown2

MV: I knew very little about her work. I initially auditioned for Where We’re Born. Lucy was at the audition and asked me afterwards to audition for Ashville instead.

SS: Lucy is one my dearest friends in the world. I can barely recall now when it was that I met her exactly but if memory serves I would say we met through Stephen Willems from MCC’s Playwrights Coalition. I was just finishing school and he brought me in to read an earlier draft of Stay… I think that’s right… oh dear.

IH: I was not familiar with any of The Hill Town Plays, or of Lucy before the reading. Lucy saw me perform in another production at the New Dramatists, and called my agent to ask if I was willing to be a part of her production.

SS: I do recall vividly seeing the 2003 production of Where We’re Born at Rattlestick and having the most intense feeling that this playwright understood and was talking about stuff that I have wrestled with privately for much of my own life. She has an incredible way of doing that.

BG: Lucy’s language can trick the actor into thinking that everyone is relaxed and satisfied- lots of reminiscing, storytelling, scenes on the porch, sharing a joint; but there is a constant undercurrent of forward motion in every single character. Yes, it is difficult to tell your body every night that although you’re laughing and drinking fake beer, you’re hurting, you’re about to explode, and could at any moment. I think we all have some weird subway rides home with ourselves.

NYP: Though laced with sometimes biting humor, all of Thurber’s plays take emotional – and sometimes violent – turns. What kind of toll have these roles taken on you?

SS: The plays are taxing. Particularly, Killers is a really non-stop roller coaster of fear and release and it’s debatable which is more frightening. The release can be as, if not more, damaging that the tension.

But I think that’s actually the way good theater should be. It’s an athletic endeavor both physically and mentally. Lucy has put herself very nakedly on the page and those stories deserve to be done with no safety nets. How can we possibly ask an audience to have an experience which we do not give ourselves over to as well? So yes, there is cost, but there is also great reward in that attempt to give. It’s not a safe world she is writing so there are times in which we are not “safe” on stage… (there is a running competition for best bruise in our cast for sure!) and the emotional ride that we are asking both audience and cast to undertake nightly is exhausting. More so the closer we get to getting it right.

hilltown1IH: I really enjoy having such a challenging role with such overwhelming emotions. I think it really makes me work for an organic emotional response, and I like that it makes me dig into my own personal experiences to do so. It has made me a stronger actress.

HF: I feel a great responsibility to bring my character to life in the most authentic way possible. It’s such a profound character with so many layers that really pushes me to live on stage in ways I never have before.

MV: Working on this play is challenging, thrilling, fun, scary, exhausting, and humbling, often all at the same time. My awe and respect for Celia continues to deepen and deepen as I spend more and more time with her. In spite of devastating, dehumanizing circumstances she is able to begin an astoundingly courageous journey towards self-actualization and fulfillment. I see her story as a beautiful testament to the resilience of the human spirit. This has been an amazing and inspiring learning experience for me.

NYP: What do you think the overall message of The Hill Town Plays is?

SS: Playing this role is also the most rewarding one I have ever gotten to play. It pushes me past where I think I can go and then asks more. It makes me a better actor to work like this. It takes so much trust in the team. You are nothing without each other. Which is also what Lucy’s plays are all about right?

IH: I think the overall message is to do whatever you can to acheive your goals and reach your dreams. Through all of the problems the characters face, they push through and find a way to keep going, which I think is what many people need to be reminded to do.

BG: Since I continue to discover the intricacies of Lucy’s writing, I don’t pretend to know what her overall message is. But I do know that she writes about people who feel invisible in one way or another. Some of her characters have an exact map for their lives and some try to pretend there’s a map until they can’t pretend anymore, and then they explode. Whether related or not, she writes about families; people who know just who you are and at the same time do not know you at all. Everyone is asking, do you see me? Who is home to me?

SS: Though Lucy’s plays are very specific about her own life and experiences, her writing translates so searingly into many of us. Loneliness, homesick for a place in which makes you feel divided. That desperate longing to feel whole. The way in which love and rage and fear can all go hand in hand. The ability to fragment oneself in an attempt to blend in… and in the end, the truth that it is only in accepting and embracing all these dichotomies that we will be able to find home.

HF: I feel a great responsibility to bring my character to life in the most authentic way possible. It’s such a profound character with so many layers that really pushes me to live on stage in ways I never have before.

Further information about The Hill Town Plays can be found at http://theatervillage.com/all.htm

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