interview by MANDI MOSS
++ You’re an Antaeus company member, Jill. Elyse, you’re newer, so what brought you here?
Elyse Mirto: Well, the reputation of A Noise Within. I’d been doing the generals years ago and then I moved to New York for a few years. And when I came back, I heard that they were in this new space and I got called in for The Guardsman, which Michael Michetti directed. Michael didn’t know me — no one knew me — and I luckily booked it —
Jill Hill: She was so amazing in that!
Mirto: And when I booked it, uh, [laughing] I was having major pain in my hip… and what turned out was that I needed a hip replacement. So I booked it, had the hip replacement, and three weeks after the surgery started rehearsals and didn’t tell anyone —
Hill: Isn’t that crazy?
Mirto: Because I was so excited to get on stage at A Noise Within. And then in the Spring of 2015, Michael asked me to come to the callbacks of Figaro, and I played the Countess in Figaro, and after that, Julia and Jeff asked me to be in A Flea in Her Ear. So the first time to not have to audition, it was like, “What you’re offering me the role? Come on there has to be something, some kind of hoop I have to jump through!” So it’s a huge honor and this is my first show working with Jeff and Julia.
++ Farce is always its own special challenge, so for Flea in Her Ear… what did you feel was the biggest challenge in bringing the show to life?
Hill: Hm, maybe being very real as well as having the farce timing — the marriage of the real and the technical, which you always have but is really evident. What did you think, Elyse?
Mirto: I guess for me with this show… I mean in Figaro, the Countess is much more a caricature, and this show Raymonde is somewhat like… I sort of compare it to Marilyn in The Munsters. Do you know that TV show, The Munsters?
++ Ha, yes.
Mirto: You know, there’s all these sort of creepy people around her but she’s sort of… normal. Now that being said, Raymonde is the one who starts this whole mess. Because she’s so in her head, and is thinking that her husband is having an affair because they are having sexual issues. And instead of talking to one another, all of the mayhem ensues. A sort of commentary on what happens when very wealthy women have a lot of time on their hands.
Hill: Well that’s Feydeau, yeah!
Mirto: You know, it’s what these women do with leisure time. They create these scenarios, these “flea in her ear” sort of things, so for me it was trying to keep her grounded and real and that this was, you know, life and death — that she thinks her husband is having this affair, but then there’s all this physical mayhem and all these crazy characters to deal with. So yeah, I suppose the reality… and then the physicality of it; I have to do a lot of physical stuff in high heels!
Hill: Julia would always say, “These are real people in real situations. So don’t spend all day and night just thinking, ‘Ok, how many laughs am I getting?’ Make sure that you guys are real people talking to each other.” And sometimes, in the form of a farce, you gotta keep reminding yourself that. Because otherwise, the audience gets very tired, like, “When’s the next funny thing? When’s the next funny thing?” instead of laughing at who the people are and seeing themselves in the people. And then that’s when a farce can be really boring. It’s not just a bunch of schticks, you know.
++ So obviously a farce is quite an ensemble feat. Was that something that you guys fell into very quickly? Obviously it’s a lot of company members, so maybe you had a shorthand going in.
Hill: Let’s put it this way… Elyse and I hit it off the first day!!
Mirto: I have to say – our relationship easy.
Hill: Well, we were lucky! I have admired Elyse from afar and loved her in all these shows, and met her and said hello, and I knew who she was. But this is the first time we worked together, and I just felt so lucky.
Mirto: Yeah, our relationship felt instantaneous. I had to build some of the other ones, and some of that’s just getting to know people. Everyone is lovely and kind but you know, the man playing Tournel, “Hi, I’m going to be making out with you!” you know, he’s married, I’m in a relationship — “I’m going to be mounting you!” “Oh yeah, okay!” So yeah, that takes a little while…
++ What do you think it is about farces that still speak to us in this century?
Hill: Just look in the news! There’s a lot of farce going!
Mirto: I mean Donald Trump is running for President! You look at the Republican stage, that’s a farce right there. The thing about farce that people sometimes don’t understand, is that farce is very real.
Hill: Very real!
Mirto: Just in really crazy circumstances.
Hill: It’s all at once.
Mirto: It’s just very heightened.
Hill: Yeah, heightened!
Mirto: There’s things where you think, “this couldn’t possibly be real.” And we have those moments in our lives. But also, you know, Feydeau is the father of modern farce and they say farce is where all sitcoms come from.
Hill: Yeah — doors opening and closing, they’re taking a look, they’re going, they’re going…
Mirto: It’s still part of TV world. Sitcoms are really half-hour farces.
Hill: You think, “What are the chances of that happening?” And everybody looks at their own life — you can pick a day or two in your life where like 50 things happen that you’re like, “My car crashed, then my cat died, and then the phone rang, and it was my agent, and then they dropped me, and then I slipped.”
Mirto: There are these crazy weird circumstances that happen in everyday life it’s just that in farce these insane things are happening to people but they have to react to them, I believe, on a very real human level it’s just the circumstances that are funny. …Farce is definitely a dance. It’s all about timing.
Hill: Yeah, you can’t afford too many hiccups. People’s minds will start to wander, and they won’t know why, but it’s because the clock isn’t ticking.
Mirto: For me, I hear it like music. I was a musical theatre major, so to me I can hear when the funny isn’t working. Some of it I just fell into very naturally, so maybe I’m just a farcical person? [laughs]
Hill: You are, it’s amazing. [laughing]
Mirto: The hard thing about doing farce here at A Noise Within is that it’s a rep company. So you rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, a week of tech, a week of previews, you open and you go dead for three weeks before you come back. With a drama it wouldn’t matter so much, but with a farce it’s hard because you’ve built up this timing, and then you guys don’t see each other for three weeks. You basically go on vacation, so you have to come back and pull it all together and that, to me, that’s the biggest challenge.