Monday, February 29, 2016

Spotlight On...Ellen Adair

Name: Ellen Adair

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Education: BA in English and Theatre, Boston University

Select Credits: Since I have my bio for this show at my fingertips, here it is. Off-Broadway: Cymbeline (Fiasco Theater/Barrow St./TFANA), What the Public Wants (Mint Theatre), Playboy of the Western World (Pearl Theatre), Romeo and Hamlet (GayfestNYC) and special events for Sleep No More (Punchdrunk). Off-Off: As You Like It (Happy Few, NYIT nom.), The Importance of Being Earnest (Titan). Regional: Huntington, Shakespeare Theatre DC, St. Louis Repertory, Baltimore Centerstage, Pioneer Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre NJ, Folger Theatre, Commonwealth Shakespeare, Portland Stage, Kitchen, Pennsylvania Shakespeare, American Shakespeare Center, Lyric Stage, SpeakEasy, New Repertory, Publick Theatre. TV/Film: recurring roles on “The Slap,” “Veep,” “As the World Turns,” and the currently-airing ABC drama “The Family,” along with “The Blacklist,” “Nurse Jackie,” “I Love You But I Lied,” “Codes of Conduct,” “Brotherhood,” “God in America,” and PBS films about Louisa May Alcott, Louis Brandeis, John Audubon.

Why theater?: This question can be interpreted in a number of ways, so I’ll give a quick answer to two of them. I think theater is important, and irreplaceable, because it’s an art form that’s actually built around community, sharing, and the alchemy of relationships—between theatre artists, and between the actors and the audience. And I think this is increasingly crucial in an increasingly isolating age. And I personally love acting because of a basic, unquenchable fascination with an other, with what’s outside: I enjoy it because I love playing with other actors, and I thirst for it because I long to get to be the parts of myself I’m not on a daily basis. I know that’s a lot of ideas I’ve crammed in to a paragraph, but I am talking about my favorite thing in the world, so I admit I’ve given it some prior thought! If you didn’t already know, now you know: I’m a nerd.

Who do you play in the goodbye room?: Bex, she is the elder of the two sisters in the play.

Tell us about the goodbye room: To me, the play is about the relationship between the two sisters. Bex is returning home after their mother died, somewhat suddenly, and so the play does deal with the way all four of the characters process the grief of that event. But it’s not, I think, a downer of a play—it’s funny sometimes, it’s delightfully awkward, and ultimately about something that is found. Essentially, I think the play is beautifully true to life, and I think there’s nothing more fascinating or compelling than real human behavior. I think our audiences will enjoy the evening.

What is it like being a part of the goodbye room?: It’s actually been amazingly fun to work on this play, and I use the ‘actually’ because that might not have been my guess working on a play whose inciting incident is such a huge loss. But there’s so much that is wonderful to work with—both the script and the cast. The other three actors in the show—Sarah Killough, Michael Selkirk and Craig Wesley Divino—are just so brilliant, truthful, present, and inspiring in their thoughtfulness and inventiveness, which are two of the qualities we value most as a company. And the script is just so good: there’s so much going on, there are so many layers to play with, so many secrets all the characters have (some of which are revealed, others just guessed at). The dialogue is so natural and true to life that what we’ve been working on is really about sculpting events and what we’re doing, but leaving a certain amount of it free for spontaneity, which is my favorite way to work.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I am inspired by literally all kinds of theatre. I absolutely love classical work, but I love new plays, and I love everything in between, from period pieces, which I’ve done a lot of, to the classics of modern and 20th century theatre. I love things that push the envelope. I love things that are delicate and smartly-observed. I do really love language, so specificity in the language—even if that’s a very particular natural, contemporary way of speaking that’s clearly about the way that person speaks, really activates my brain. I can be inspired by plays in which I recognize my own experience, or which bring a whole new perspective—the most important thing is telling the story, not getting in the way of the story with anything extraneous and making that channel to the audience clear. Also, I’ve often said, my favorite kind of play is one that has me laughing at times throughout, but leaves me thoughtful, melancholic or mildly depressed at the end. But I think that’s my Irish heritage at work.

Any roles you’re dying to play?: Number one is Eliza in The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence by Madeleine George. I love everything of hers I’ve read, but I didn’t get to see the production at Playwrights because I was out of town. And Deirdre in Deirdre of the Sorrows by John Millington Synge, a play no one ever does. Gilda in Design for Living. JoAnne in A Few Good Men. Tracy in The Philadelphia Story. I could go on forever, but I won’t. This time.

What’s your favorite showtune?: Do I get to pick Hamilton? In that case “My Shot,” or “Wait for It.” “Washington On Your Side” is pretty great, too. I have not gotten a chance to see the show, so I know that might change my mind as to which song is my favorite.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Hands down, Mark Rylance. When I was studying abroad in 2003, I saw his Olivia in Twelfth Night, and it changed my life. Everything I have seen him in subsequently has also changed my life. It just keeps changing. Thanks, Mark Rylance.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Parker Posey. I think it would be called “Verbosity and Baseball.” Just because those are two of my favorite things.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: So, for sheer historical curiosity, it HAS to be going back to see Shakespeare actually perform in one of his plays (yes, I’m a firm Stratfordian), say, Hamlet. I feel like that’s the theatre version of saying I’d have dinner with Jesus, but it’s the truth. If we’re talking about something in my lifetime, I’d love to time-travel my current brain to get to see Kenneth Branagh in his stage production of Henry V. My parents took me to see the film version when I was six or seven and I loved it so much I made them take me back five times. I look back on it as one of the earliest events that turned me into the nerd I am today. I would also like to get to go back and see some of the shows my husband was in before I knew him. There are some colorful ones from grad school that he has related to me that would be fun to see.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I haven’t seen much recently, because I’ve been so busy with this show, and working on off-nights. But the things I am most excited to see as soon as we close are my friend Anna O’Donoghue in The Way West at Labyrinth, Nice Fish at St. Anne’s Warehouse (see love of Mark Rylance, above) and Women Without Men at the Mint. I love the Mint, I try to make every one of their shows that I can. In terms of things I saw last year, it was such an amazing year for theatre, and I think I recommended so many things that I saw—The Humans, The Flick, The Qualms, Wolf Hall, The Way We Get By, Fiasco’s Into the Woods and Two Gents, Faultline’s At the Table, even though I didn’t see Hand to God last year I definitely recommended it to friends—but nothing, nothing did/could I recommend so highly as An Octoroon. I hadn’t seen the Soho Rep run, so I saw it for the first time at TFANA. I’ve also seen Gloria and Appropriate and I think, along with the rest of the world, that Branden Jacob-Jenkins is on a different level of genius pretty much all the time, but I thought An Octoroon was maybe the most amazing theatrical experience of a new play I’ve had in this decade. Maybe century.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: I don’t really feel guilty about things I take pleasure in, maybe I need to rethink my life. But I do love single malt scotch, probably on a list of things that are not specifically good for me. Other addictions include Top Chef, the Rachel Maddow Show, laughing about animals--both online youtube superstars and my own sweet puppy Mabel—and, as aforesaid, baseball. Baseball is my favorite thing that is not explicitly an art.

What’s up next?: I’m not sure what I’ll be working on next, but I can be seen next on a couple of episodes of the ABC show “The Family”—the first episode actually airs the same night we open “the goodbye room!” And I shot an episode of “I Love You But I Lied” a couple of weeks ago that will be airing in the future. Last fall, I filmed an indie pilot that had plans to pick back up filming in the spring—we’ll see if that’s next! What’s next for Happy Few Theatre Company, though, we know. We’ll be going back to Shakespeare (our last production was a seven-person As You Like It), but this time with a nine-person adaptation of Troilus and Cressida. We’re hoping to find the right space for it for summer or early fall of 2017 and then we can have time to really try to figure out that knotty play—which we love!—as best we can.

For more on the goodbye room, visit