BY CARY GINELL
For Arryck Adams, who directs Conejo Players’ current production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, the production is proving as cathartic as the storyline is for its troubled characters. Adams, a CP mainstay for many years, made his debut with the company playing a small role in Follies some 21 years ago. Our review of the show is in the November 19 issue of The Acorn (http://www.toacorn.com/news/2015-11-19/On_the_Town/Musical_offers_nostalgia_glamour.html), but for now, we spent some time chatting with Arryck about his experience and, specifically, about the characters and his vision of how they have been portrayed.
VCOS: When did you realize that you wanted to direct Follies and that you were ready to do it?
ARRYCK: Shawn Lanz had talked to me about the probability that Conejo Players was going to do the show again so I thought that was great and he asked me if that was something that I’d be interested in directing. Since it was the first show that I did at Conejo, it kind of held a special place in my heart, so I thought it would be fantastic to direct this show. So I jumped on it. It took me quite a long time to prepare for this show. There’s a lot going on. It’s kind of a big show, in general.
VCOS: What makes it so difficult?
ARRYCK: You know, there are a lot of emotions going on and it can become very confusing if it’s not done smoothly with all of the memories that pop in and out of their lives. You’ll have a memory of two characters on stage so it can get very confusing if it’s not laid out very specifically.
VCOS: Other than story and character, technically speaking, is it a difficult show?
ARRYCK: It doesn’t have to be. It can get very complicated if you let it. I had a few tricks that I wanted to use. At the end of the show, I wanted the theatre to restore itself to help lend to the confusion of the ending, to realize that we have gone into a surreal place. So, we’re not looking at the old, dilapidated theater anymore, we’re looking at a previous version in its glory. So I made some simple choices so that we could get that across.
VCOS: Are you talking about the whole Loveland sequence?
VCOS: I thought that was supposed to be a dream of Sally’s.
ARRYCK: It represents each of the four main characters’ personal crisis, laid out in a Follies number. Each number is that person’s point of view.
VCOS: Why do you suppose Sondheim chose to end the show that way?
ARRYCK: You know, it’s hard to say because it doesn’t end in an uplifting way. The whole Loveland sequence is bright and colorful and fun, and then it takes a very drastic turn at the end of the last number and brings the harsh reality back in. So I guess that’s kind of a Sondheim thing, to glamorize a life and then hit you with reality at the end.
VCOS: I know that there have been courses taught on this show as well as books written about it, but can you encapsulate how Follies changed Broadway and how cataclysmic it was for the theater? It was, after all, 1971.
ARRYCK: Broadway had been suffering for quite a few years at the time. It was looking for something new and different. So it was less about spending three hours of carefree time getting away from what’s happening in the world. The climates in history had been changing and people were looking for more dramatic art. And I think that kind of lent itself to Follies. It also doesn’t have a real storyline, it just kind of jumps into the middle of these people’s lives. And it doesn’t really end; there’s no resolution. You have to come up with your own resolution.
VCOS: It’s a plot without a story.
VCOS: Were there any pre-conceived ideas you had that you wanted to implement? And what elements ended up being spontaneously added?
ARRYCK: I remember the difficulty of the set the first time I did the show. So I wanted to see how to simplify that. I really wanted to create an all-encompassing experience for the patron as soon as he/she walks in the door. That was my first impression of the show that I wanted to put on for our audience, so that they would be instantly immersed into the life of Follies when they walk in the door. But the aerialist act was something I wanted to incorporate. I wasn’t sure where to place it; we went through a few different numbers until we finally decided on “One More Kiss.” And I think it works beautifully in that particular number.
VCOS: Julie Auxier did a fantastic job on that number. Did it matter whether or not the aerial routine was relevant to the song?
ARRYCK: It doesn’t, actually. I think that once everyone goes into these moments when a character relives a part of their life and their alter ego from the past comes out to join them, it opens itself up to all kinds of interpretations.
VCOS: Regarding the casting, was their latitude in your mind as to how far your actors could go?
ARRYCK: No, I don’t think so. I think they should push their limits as to what they can give to an audience. These characters are struggling and they’re very difficult to play. There are lots of emotions that are all happening at the same time. Sally, for example, runs the gamut.
VCOS: What role did you play?
ARRYCK: I was a dancing chorus boy in the ensemble.
VCOS: And you haven’t done the show since then?
ARRYCK: I have not. No.
VCOS: If you were able to place yourself in this cast, who would you play and why?
ARRYCK: I think I would play Buddy. Personally, I love his two numbers. I think that they’re great numbers and challenging. On “The Right Girl,” the arc that he has to go through, and dance along with it, makes it a triple threat performance piece. That would have been appealing to me. Andy Brasted, who plays Buddy in our show, is not a dancer, so we tried to work on the acting and decided that it was less about getting the steps perfect and more about acting the number and getting what Buddy is feeling when he’s thinking about Sally and Margie.
VCOS: In watching the show, I don’t think it was necessary for him to be Fred Astaire in that number. It works more for his character to be just a little bit clumsy and I think Andy was a great choice to play him in that regard.
ARRYCK: You’re right. It shouldn’t be smooth, it should come from a more organic place. The bigger dance sections are done out of anger so you don’t want something very lyrical and graceful anyway. You want some grist in there.
VCOS: With Sondheim, is there more or less room for interpretation than other composers?
ARRYCK: I found that there was a lot of room for interpretation, especially in Follies, much more so than Oklahoma! or some of the other classics. When I was first working with Autumn, who plays Sally, she did not read Sally as lapsing into this kind of crazy mental state. She thought she was just depressed about the love that she never had with Ben. Well, I thought that she had lost her mind, so you can play her like she hasn’t gone into the crazy spectrum. You just play her as she pines for this unrequited love for Ben for all these decades.
VCOS: What about Ben? Is there anyone there?
ARRYCK: Ben is a difficult role to play. He can be very unlikable if you let him go too far. But you want people to sympathize with him, you want a little bit of understanding for his character, so if you let him become too much of a jerk, it can go badly for him and the audience just won’t like him.
VCOS: I kind of saw in Richard Osborn’s performance a little bit of the old actor Richard Conte. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him or not. He played a guy who was always troubled – whether he was a bad guy, like he was in old film noir movies or in The Twilight Zone. But you always felt for him a little, no matter what kind of horrible thing he did.
ARRYCK: That’s where Richard is with Ben. You’ve got to sympathize with him a little bit.
VCOS: Tell me about the choreography. That’s been your strong suit, hasn’t it?
ARRYCK: I suppose so. I just listened to the music over and over and over again and as snippets came to me, I just started piecing them together. I was trying to find out what the song was trying to convey, what story it was trying to tell and make the steps lend themselves to that.
VCOS: Do you have stocks-in-trade steps or did you customize moves for this show?
ARRYCK: Not being a decades-trained dancer, I don’t really have a so-called bag of tricks that I draw from, I have to work out everything. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse.
VCOS: Is it more or less difficult than the directing part?
ARRYCK: You know, I don’t find one more difficult than the other. They were both complicated enough in their own ways.
VCOS: Are you happy with how the show turned out?
ARRYCK: I’m extremely happy with the show. I’m pleased with how well the actors relied on me to allow them to be these people, because they are difficult characters and are very vulnerable. To be able to express that on stage is really a great thing.
Follies concludes its run this weekend at the Conejo Players Theatre. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.