Playwright Ann Noble Brings Magic to the Road

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Sidhe, presented by The Road Theatre Company, opens Jan. 29; plays Fri.-Sat., 8 pm; Sun., 2 pm; through March 20. Tickets: $30. Previews: $12 on Sun., Jan. 24 at 2 pm; Wed.-Thur., Jan. 27-28 at 8 pm. The Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; 866.811.4111 or talks with the Road Theatre’s playwright-in-residence Ann Noble about the world premiere of her new play Sidhe, helmed by Darin Anthony. Featuring the talents of Patrick Rieger, Jeanne Syquia, Rob Nagle and Noble herself, the play draws on Irish folklore combined with seedy south side Chicago in a story about letting go of the past.

LA Stage: The title, Sidhe (a Gaelic word, pronounced “shee”), comes from Irish folklore. Will you explain what it means and how it influences the play?

Ann Noble: The best definition for Sidhe I’ve come across is: “The fallen angels, not good enough to be saved, not bad enough to be lost.” In other words, they are the faery folk that live in between worlds. They are not dead but they are not alive. They are also responsible for all the happenings in the world, from simple things like losing your car keys to grand things like an earthquake or a great storm. Within my play, the Sidhe are not only an actual force all the characters must reckon with but they are also a metaphor for the play. They represent all those things that happen to us, that devastate us, that damage us, that hurt us. They are those forces working in our lives we have no control over, that make us feel so very vulnerable and powerless. They are our darkest secrets from the past and our greatest fears for the future. And these forces are constantly at work on the characters in the play both in very conscious and unconscious ways.

LAS: Was there a specific inspiration to write the play?

AN: I had come across the Sidhe while I was doing research for another Irish play of mine and became intrigued. I was also working with a couple of lovely actors at the time on that other Irish play and was thinking about how very much I would like to work with them again. So, it was the combination of the discovery of what the Sidhe were to the Irish, and the desire to work with some of my favorite actors again, that gave a very real birth to the play.

LAS: Would you say most of your writing comes from personal experience or research?

AN: A little of both. I never know what’s going to “spark” me. Sometimes it’s someone’s name I hear and I’ll think, “That’s a great name for a character.” Or sometimes I’ll read something that will get me thinking. Or sometimes I’ll hear someone say something about something they’re going through and I’ll just start to elaborate in my head. Anything that gets my brain going on its storytelling level is always a good beginning. Of course, no matter where a play idea comes from, there is always, inevitably, a large amount of research that has to go into it. Research can be anything from reading books, to surfing the net, to watching movies, or sometimes it’s just riding a train or a bus and listening and watching what people do in their everyday lives. You have to make sure the setting is real and true and the characters are real and true.

LAS: The play seems to center on two separate relationships with all characters at the crux of a crisis. How do the characters complement or challenge each other?

Patrick Rieger and Jeanne Syquia in Sidhe
Patrick Rieger and Jeanne Syquia in Sidhe

AN: It’s actually six relationships. It is four people, so it’s each person and how they interact with the other three. In terms of all the characters being in a place of crisis, well, if you don’t have that, you don’t have a story. In the case of Sidhe, it is the Northern Irish couples’ current crisis that forces the Chicago sister/brother-in-law to deal with a crisis that is in their past. And this is indeed how the characters then complement and also challenge each other. Both Louise and Vernon, the Chicago pair, have gone through something horribly violent but it is not nearly as horrible as what Jackie and Conall, the Northern Irish couple, have gone through/are going through. The recognition between the characters of a similar past allows them to tie themselves to each other, to feel compassion for, even obligation to each other. But the differences also give the characters a certain invaluable perspective that shows them what could happen if they continue down a certain path; in other words, it shows them what they do not wish to become. Whether or not they do indeed become that is, of course, always the million dollar question.

LAS: What made you put this group in a room together?

AN: I don’t feel I put these characters in a room together. I feel as though they each told me they needed to be there. Good stories are always about balance and rhythm. And structure. In a good play, if you pull out one of the pieces, the whole thing would collapse. Same thing if you add too many pieces. You also always want the pieces that are going to create the most conflict. It’s sort of like you’re a sadistic parent, being a playwright, you want to put your children, your characters, in the most difficult situations as possible so they will learn the most, and thereby show their true character.

LAS: What effect would you say the Chicago setting has on the play?

AN: I am from Chicago. I grew up there. And there is something about the people. For all the fun the rest of the country makes of the Midwest, there is something about Chicago in particular that is unique. Where the close-minded meets the open-minded in this really fantastic way. It’s also a place where people deal very steadfastly and privately with their problems. They tend to just “keep on going” in times of strife, which is both admirable and potentially quite damaging. There’s lots of fodder for a writer. Great setting, lots of colloquialisms, lots of culture, combined with a wonderful earnestness. And, I know it so less research!

LAS: How is performing in a play you wrote different than performing in a play by another playwright?

Ann Noble and Rob Nagle
Ann Noble and Rob Nagle

AN: Performing in my own play is like getting a two-week head start. I don’t have to worry about memorization and I know what the playwright is looking for. However, I still have to do all the “homework” I would have to do in any other play. All the really tiny details that make up an individual. When you write the play, you don’t have to know what the character had for breakfast. When you’re acting in the play, you do. Also, my body still has to “practice” being the character. That is something you can’t just “think” your way into, meaning just because I know in my head what the character has to do, doesn’t mean I can actually, physically do it. Like, Louise is a bartender. I’ve tended bar and I know intellectually how to do it but I have not done it every day for years like Louise. So…now…and for the past several weeks, I’m practicing. A lot.

It’s also a bit frustrating being in my own play because I have to constantly keep the “playwright hat” off in rehearsals. It seems so convenient, if one of the other actors has a question about the script, to just ask me. I mean, I’m right there. But it really messes up the process. All actors have to find their own way to a character or it’s just not real. The same goes for me “telling” an actor about a moment. Once I’ve said those evil words “it means THIS!” then any possibility for the actor to bring something of their own to the moment is gone. I always try to keep myself in an acting place during rehearsals. When somebody asks me about the play, I say something like “I don’t know who wrote this thing!”

This is why it’s so incredibly important to have a strong director you trust. You have to have someone in the room who is the final word, and also who can allow all the artists involved the freedom to explore their process while constantly nudging them towards making the play the best, most cohesive piece it can be. If you don’t have a truly gifted person doing that, as the writer, you are sunk.

LAS: And is this the experience with Sidhe‘s director Darin Anthony?

AN: Darin Anthony is a spectacular director and a good friend. He and I have been working on this play for six years so he knows all the intricacies of the script and of my process; he also has an incredibly good sense for the visual, for design which, for this play, is crucial because of its supernatural element. Also, he is just a great director for actors. He is patient, inspiring, thoughtful, engaging, smart and funny which always helps in those long hours of tech. The process so far has been an absolute delight, a challenging delight.

Jeanne Syquia

LAS: What about your experiences with your co-stars?

AN: The actors are tremendous. Jeanne Syquia, who I’ve worked with before at The Road, in Big Death & Little Death by Mickey Birnbaum, I just adore. She has an other-worldly quality to her that is just perfect for Jackie. Rob Nagle is an old friend from Northwestern, and I adore him as well, he is a very dear friend. He is perfect for Vernon. Not only because he has an immense capacity for earnestness but he has a great command of the stage and has the remarkable ability to dance between comedy and tragedy with the dexterity of Mercury. Patrick Rieger is new to me as an actor but I couldn’t imagine a more perfect Conall. Patrick has a boyish innocence that is both endearing and charming but there is a sexy dangerousness to him that just bursts onto the stage that makes his work both magnetic and surprising.

LAS: And the Road Theatre? How has it been premiering your play with them?

AN: The Road Theatre is just the perfect place for this piece. Their dedication to the quality of the production is most remarkable. From the talent of the ensemble, to the skill and creativity of the designers, to the theater space itself, which is so wonderfully intimate, you just can’t escape the drama. And for this play, it is a necessity to be completely thrust into the world of these characters and their hopes and fears. I feel so blessed to have the trusted resources of this vibrant, talented group of artists.

LAS: So what’s the one thing you’d like an audience member to take away from Sidhe?

AN: When the audience leaves the theater after having just seen Sidhe, I want them to say, “There’s nothing better than a good story!”

Feature image of Ann Noble and story images of cast courtesy of The Road Theatre

Article by Janet Thielke

Janet Thielke

Janet Thielke