Paul Millet

Paul Millet

Directing Jump/Cut Is Terrifying and Exhilarating

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Paul Millet Photo by Michele Young

In late spring 2010, I received a call from John T. Cogan, a friend I had directed in a play the previous year. He had given my number to a friend who was searching for a director for Neena Beber’s play Jump/Cut. Shortly thereafter, Michael Perl and I talked over the phone. Mike sent me a copy of the script and, upon first read, my reaction was “How on earth would I ever stage this?”

I’m not accustomed to being at a loss after reading something for the first time. I read it again and was still confounded. I knew Mike wanted to have a coherent conversation soon, so I kept reading it and gradually ideas began to emerge. When we spoke again we realized we were on the same page regarding both staging and concept. However, a confluence of events precluded me from actually taking on the challenge. Mike was busy producing a web-series and I was prepping for the 2010 production of Wicked Lit at Mountain View Mausoleum. An early fall 2010 opening was not going to work, at least for me.

In September, Mike and I spoke again. This time I was casting Wicked Lit 2010 and I called to ask if he would like to audition. He did, was wonderful and I cast him in the production. Mike also informed me Jump/Cut was not happening in 2010 but had been postponed to February 2011.  Near the end of the run of Wicked Lit, Mike again approached me about directing Jump/Cut.  I was still interested.

This production of Jump/Cut will be the West Coast premiere. Jump/Cut was first produced in Washington in 2003. Think about that. This play is eight years old and has never been produced on this coast. Why? Well, the challenges and pitfalls of this play are plentiful and confounding.

The material is not light fare. There is a lot of levity, but the subject matter can get under your skin. The devastating effects of bipolar disorder are dealt with in an honest and often painful manner. Somehow it all makes sense, and that is the beauty of the piece.

It becomes easy to identify with the character Dave, despite the fact he remains enslaved by his disorder. But the play is not about Dave; it’s about the choices people in his life make because of him. His best friend Paul gradually comes to realize the opportunity he has to “document” Dave’s experience, in order to propel his filmmaking career. Paul’s girlfriend Karen finds Dave to be both a muse for her work as well as a fun distraction. The prices they pay for their treatment of Dave and his illness are devastating. The nature of exploitation hovers over the action on stage and makes one wonder if the perfectly willing can be exploited.

Film as a medium permeates every aspect of this play. On first read it can be easy to say this was a screenplay that never got off the ground and was conveniently converted to a stage play. But that’s a lame idea. Neena Beber never uses conventional stage directions in her play. She uses film transition techniques instead. That’s only the beginning. Her dialogue also incorporates film terminology to direct the action on stage. She very consciously wrote a play that demands finding ways to “recreate” filmed elements of movement on stage.

L.R. Brett Mack, Melissa Lugo and Michael Perl

After delving into this play, I can understand why it would scare people off from producing it. It’s terrifying. But it’s also exhilarating! Finding a way to tell this story that engages and serves the text has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in recent years.

I have had the privilege of working with some of the finest theater artists on this play. Melissa Lugo and Michael have proven to be not just savvy producers but also tremendous actors who have risen to the challenge of embodying the characters of Dave and Karen. The fabulous Brett Mack has found beautiful humanity in the role of Paul. My crack design team has made telling this story an absolute joy. And they have all risen to the many challenges inherent in both the script and concept of this production. I could not ask for a better production stage manager than Rachel Manheimer.

This play pushed me when I first read it. It pushed me to examine it more closely. It pushed me to embrace the provocation of the staging. And it pushed me to think differently. We open Jump/Cut on Saturday, February 19 at the Arena Stage in Hollywood. And if our audiences have a similar experience, then I know we will have done our jobs.

Jump/Cut, produced by Michael Perl and Melissa Lugo, opens Feb. 19; plays Thur.-Sat., 8 pm; through March 26. Tickets: $25. The Arena Stage at Theatre of Arts, 1625 Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood; for tickets go to jumpcut2011.tix.com.

For the weekend of Feb. 24-26, a part of the box office will be donated to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. On Sat., Feb. 26 there will be a talk-back after the show of panelists from the cast with Jeff Fox, the DBSA Chapter Leader of Northridge, and others. For further information, go to www.DBSAlliance.org.

For the weekend of March 10-12, part of the box office will be donated to National Alliance on Mental Illness. On Sat., March 12 there will be a post-show panel discussion with cast members and NAMI representatives. For more information go to www.nami.org.

Paul Millet is the Artistic Director of the Nom de Guerre Theatre Guild and the creator of Wicked Literature. His directorial credits include The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Fall of the House of Usher (also playwright) for the 2009 production of Wicked Lit at Greystone Mansion; Incorruptible and Southern Comforts at Theatre 40; Driving Miss Daisy, The Curious Savage and The Prisoner of Second Avenue at the High Street Arts Center in Moorpark. Recently he directed the original play A Song for Me for the New Voices Playwrights Theatre in Santa Ana.

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