Chris Coleman's Blog

Casting “Othello”

Posted by Chris Coleman | 19 February 2014



I recently had the chance to travel back East for several days. I left in the midst of the crazy snow/ice storm that shut Portland down for a weekend.


First stop on the trek was a visit to my folks up in the mountains of North Carolina. Annette and Wayne live in Highlands, about two and a half hours north of Atlanta (where I grew up), on 12 acres all by themselves. They bought the place back in 1988 with an old farmhouse on it and they subsequently renovated the house so they could retire there. My time there is always about vegetating, though this trip was also about doing homework for our opening musical for next season (which, ahem, shall remain nameless), and watching the Olympics.



This image of their dog, Collette, gives a pretty good indication of the mood while there.

Next stop was Atlanta, where I was scheduled to meet with the design team for Same Time Next Year the production I am slated to direct this Summer. The show is happening at True Colors, the theater founded and led by my old friend, Kenny Leon.



Kenny had recently been appointed Associate Artistic Director for the Alliance Theater, Atlanta's largest regional theater, when I founded my company, Actor's Express,  in 1988. Over the years we both saw a lot of each other's work; I directed shows for him, he acted for me, I acted for him.  After leaving the Alliance, he founded his own company in Atlanta, but has also built quite a successful career directing on Broadway (the most recent revivals of A Raisin in the Sun and Fences), as well as in television.

Starring opposite him in the the story about a couple who conduct an affair with each other one weekend a year over a 25 year period, will be Phylicia Rashad, who most of you remember from her years on The Cosby Show, or from her numerous appearances on Broadway.



I say that I was supposed to meet with the design team, except that the day my meeting was scheduled...



...a ginormous ice storm hit Atlanta.  After the horrific snow storm they had endured three weeks prior, the Governor and Mayor were taking no chances and basically shut the city down (schools, city governments, everything).  So delay was put on that design meeting, and it was becoming really iffy as to whether I was going to be able to get a flight out to New York for Othello auditions the next day. My initial flight was cancelled, and they bumped me into a flight into LaGuardia. Then that was delayed. There were about twelve people in the Atlanta airport, and lots of workers were sleeping on benches as they hadn't been able to make it home the night before. Then a miracle happened and we boarded the plane and headed out. One of about ten flights that actually made it out of Atlanta that evening.  Whew.

New York was cold and windy that evening.  And the next morning...



It was buried. You had to laugh. The snow was strong and aggressive. It took me back to my years in graduate school in Pittsburgh, where I trudged about a mile through the snow to get to campus. Fond memories. Luckily, it warmed up quickly, so between the aggressive snow plows, snow blowers and salters, the street corners had turned into great lakes of dirty slush water that the denizens of the city were trying a variety of ways to leap over or navigate around.  



A strong day of auditions for the roles left to cast (more than half of the cast is from Portland). It was fun to hear the language come to life with a variety of different nuances.  Then that evening I headed to the Schoenfeld Theater to see the new musical verson of The Bridges of Madison County.  You never know where a show like this is going to land:  adaptation of a famous romantic book and movie into a musical. But I really admire the work of the director, Bart Scher, who used to lead the Intiman Theater in Seattle. His revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center a few years ago was a personal favorite, and his leading lady from that show, Kelli O'Hara, is the star of Bridges; the composer, Jason Robert Brown, wrote The Last Five Years, which we are about to do - so many reasons to choose this one.

I have to say that I enjoyed a huge amount about the production. The score is just ravishing:  lush, romantic and sustained. Kelli O'Hara and her leading man, Stephen Pasquale, both act and sing with an effortless authenticity that is just gorgeous. Really interesting evening.



Then on Saturday to see All the Way, Robert Schenkkan’s play about Lyndon B. Johnson. I didn’t have a chance to see the production when it premiered in Ashland, but after hearing so much about it and reading all four volumes of Robert Caro’s riveting biography of the man, I was super curious to see the Broadway incarnation. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is superb as an outsized, overbearing LBJ, but he also finds great nuance and humor in the role.  The entire cast is strong, and Bill Rauch (who directed Body of An American for us last season) directs the play with vigor, artistry and depth.  I found it enormously engaging.



Sunday afternoon spent doing some staging work in preparation for Othello rehearsals.  The picture above is a piece of the set model, by Scott Fyfe from up in Seattle.  



The London Museum of Natural History was one of his inspirations.



Then later to see David Henry Hwang's (Chinglish) new play, at Kung Fu at the Signature Theater. Signature just moved into a beautiful new three-theater home on West 42nd Street. I remember hearing their Executive Director talk at the TCG (Theater Communications Group, the national service organization for theaters) Fall Forum about their strategy around ticket prices: they found a donor who underwrites their tickets to a significant amount, allowing them to keep prices at $20. For that reason, the matinee audience I watched with was not only fairly young, but also quite diverse. The play focuses on the life and fights of Bruce Lee, the famous martial artist. While watching, I couldn't help but think, "I wonder how many accident reports the Stage Manager is going to be filing on this one."

Finally home to find two hungry and very happy pups.

Othello runs April 5 — May 11.

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