Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Internationalist (part 1)

Play: The Internationalist
Written By: Anne Washburn
Directed By: Jonathan Spector
Company: Just Theater
Where: The Ashby Stage in Berkeley, CA
When: November 4-20

This play is a must-see, whether you prefer funny plays, deeply insightful plays, or plays that make you want to pull your hair out in frustration and scream at the characters onstage. (A review focusing on the plot can be found here).

The Internationalist touches on complex, dangerous, and frightening themes, including class, power, and gender politics. Sarah, the secretary, is alternately ridiculed, screamed at, confided in, and objectified. My favorite moment in the show was when one of the men in the office corners Sarah, accuses her of being schizophrenic, comes on to her, gets turned down, and then screams: “You are so beautiful. So I care about you... Men would be less violent towards women if they had more violence to rescue them from. That’s my theory [long pause] Ok.” He then exits, slamming the door behind him.

The Internationalist beautifully and effortlessly illuminates societal problems without dryly telling us about them. We are left pondering the hard truths of what power does to your mind and how Americans today think of themselves and their place in the world. It’s also hilarious and beautifully written.

I had the opportunity to interview Molly Aaronson-Gelb, the co-founder of Just Theater, and four of the actors in the show. Molly’s interview is below, and the other interviews will be posted separately.

Up Next (UP): Can you tell me briefly about Just Theater and what makes it unique?

Molly Aaronson-Gelb (MAG): Oh, that’s a great question. I think every theater company has something that it brings to the community. Cutting Ball has beautiful set design, and that’s where their focus goes. Aurora: everyone loves working there. They pay all their actors the same, so there’s a lot about the ensemble. Just Theater puts its focus on playwrights and getting new voices heard and doing plays that put some demands on the audience in terms of following the story telling; not to mention relating to the characters.

UP: What do you think it is that makes this play really special? What’s your favorite part about it?

MAG: I love the specificity of Anne Washburn’s writing and the way in which she so easily blends utterly hilarious turns of phrase with greater themes. I think a lot of people leave this play with little quips and then other people are thinking about America’s role as an occupying entity. I like that it plays both ways.

UP: Briefly, how did you get involved in theater and why is it important to you?

MAG: I didn’t really get involved in theater until after college. I always thought I’d be a civil rights and anti-poverty lawyer, and I realized late in the game that maybe I wanted to reach more people and have more discussions than being a lawyer would allow me to do. Education and theater spark dialogue.

UP: Why do you think it’s important for teenagers to be involved in theater and to see theater?

MAG: Well, when I was in high school I started a group called Advocacy for the Arts, where I became a granting body in my high school for people who wanted to go to museums or symphonies, and I would use the money to take my friends to go see plays. I think that in spite of how much information we can get on the internet, it’s narratives that drive how we think about the world and the schemas that we make. I think that theater, as a very visceral story teller, has a lot of potential to help people organize other thoughts. It also has the potential to be messy, and to give people the opportunity to think about what is conflicting in life. And most importantly, when you’re watching a play you suddenly understand the world from someone else’s perspective. And I believe that that empathy is key to social justice.

UP: What’s your favorite play?

MAG: Oh my gosh. Well, how about this. When I was a teenager, the play that blew my mind was Pentecost, by David Edgar, put on by OSF and Berkeley Rep, and that is what made me realize that theater is political. And then one of the first shows I wanted to direct was Far Away by Caryl Churchill. And I still don’t understand it. And I love that one. And then last year with my students I directed The Visit, [by Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt,] which is a 1950s German expressionistic play that really questions the way in which we feel the influence of others in society and the compromises we make with our own morality.

UP: Thanks so much.

You can find more information on the Internationalist and Just Theater at

-Saskia Levy-Sheon

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