(Courtesy of Thin Duke Productions/SparkPlug Productions)
In an exclusive interview with Villain Media, actress Alyssa Simon discusses Dean Haspiel’s The Last Bar at the End of the World, the existential tragicomedy from Thin Duke Productions/SparkPlug Productions. Through cartoonist/playwright Dean Haspiel’s latest work, Simon reveals what happens when a play asks the universal question, “Why are we here?”
As we previously mentioned, The Last Bar at the End of the World follows a dying graphic novelist, his best friend, and the sages, teachers, lovers, and losers. These are the people that fill up this novelist’s cityscape. This is a play that asks the universal questions, “Why are we here and what do we have to do to move on?”
Before The Last Bar at the End of the World opens on April 10th 2018 at Urban Stages, Alyssa Simon discusses playing the role of Judith, delivering Haspiel’s dialogue, and working with the ensemble cast.
Clip from Anniversary Dinner, written by Jessi Gotta and Brian Silliman
Villan Media: Without spoiling too much, tell me about your role in The Last Bar at the End of the World.
Alyssa Simon: I play Judith, the ex-wife of Buford, who is the lead character we follow through the play. Buford can’t let go or move on from their relationship. Yet he is unable to find his way to happiness with or without her. Judith is a real person in his life, but she also represents his struggle to find joy despite his deep emotional ambivalence.
VM: Tell me how being a part of Dean Haspiel’s Harakiri Kane influenced you in joining The Last Bar at the End of the World?
AS: Performing in Harakiri Kane was a gift! First of all, I got to play Orlagh, one of the most emotionally complex female roles I’ve ever done. All of Dean’s characters ask the “big questions,” i.e.; “Why are we here?” “What is our purpose?”
And the answer is almost always, to love, be loved and to be good to each other — unless you have to take revenge on a cannibalistic serial killer, but that’s another story! — Too often, female characters are written to just be the answer; the-one-who-loves is endlessly forgiving and who provides redemption. They are not often asking the questions themselves in order to make sense of their own lives, like Orlagh does and on a mountaintop no less.
Having had that great experience, I eagerly accepted the role of Judith before even reading the script.
VM: What role would you say Philip Cruise plays as a director?
AS: Phil has a crystal clear vision for this play, which he uses to shape the script’s action and events. That’s a pretty generic description for what any director should be, but Phil is also a fellow artist who trusts his actors’ voices, intelligence, and talent. He thoroughly knows the themes and messages in Dean’s work. He gets what Dean is trying to say and he creates a cohesive world of the play on stage.
VM: Not only is Cruise the director, he’s also playing a role in the cast. Tell me about working with someone who jumps between hats, as a director and as a cast member.
AS: It depends on the director and rehearsal process. There have been times when working with a director who is also in the cast has posed challenges. But there are always challenges, especially in independent theatre, with time constraints, performance spaces, and money. Because of that, we all wear many hats. I’ve costumed myself, helped paint sets, etc. It’s just something you do.
And if someone has a truly deep knowledge of the play and its themes, like Phil does, the transition from director to actor and back is seamless. Plus, we have the greatest stage manager of all time, Ms. Becky Spurr, who keeps it all together, no matter who is on the stage!
VM: You have also done film work, such as Blooming Road and They Will Outlive Us All. How would you compare performing in front of a camera to performing on stage?
AS: I think acting is acting. There are different technical requirements for film and stage, but the basic truth you need to find as an actor is your job; whether you are in front of a camera or in the theatre.
VM: The cast includes Tarik Davis, Lex Friedman, Seth Gilliam, Christopher Lee, Edward Miller, Anna Stefanic, and Stoya. What do you feel the ensemble brings out of each other? Is it more about bringing your A-game or pushing yourself to stand out?
AS: I’m definitely team ensemble! My job is to tell Dean’s story through Phil’s direction to the audience by creating an experience with my fellow cast mates. I can’t do that alone and I don’t want to. But working with such stellar performers really does make me want to elevate my work to a higher level.
VM: How has The Last Bar at the End of the World changed you as an artist?
AS: I think every play I do, see, and read changes me as an artist because it gives me an experience, something to think about, and something to learn. Because of The Last Bar at the End of the World, I now know who Max Beckmann is. I’ve learned more about Jack Kirby and I know how to pronounce Montmartre!
VM: What are you working on now?
I’m a company member of the NYIT award-winning Gemini CollisionWorks, headed by our technical directors, Ian W. Hill and Berit Johnson. Ian also directed and performed in Harakiri Kane! We have a lot of great new developments coming this season and next, which you can read about at www.geminicollisionworks.com and my website, www.alyssasimon.com.
The Last Bar at the End of the World will premiere at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street in New York. Performance begin on Tuesday April 10th. 2018 and will run through Sunday April 15th, 2018. To order tickets, click here: https://lastbar.brownpapertickets.com/
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By Jorge Solis