March 11, 2004

Before Gibson, There Was Allen

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This weekend, Woody Allen’s classic 1975 play, God, will be produced by Risley Theatre. daze sat down with director Anthony Hogrebe ’04.

DAZE: This is of one of Woody Allen’s least-seen pieces. Give us an idea of what it basically deals with.

Anthony Hogrebe: Fundamentally, it’s about stretching the limits of theatricality.

DAZE: Because it’s Woody Allen, is it actually stretching those limits or is it poking fun at writers who stretch those limits?

Hogrebe: I tend to distrust anything an artist says about their work, but, yes, this play is clearly ironic on a lot of levels. The play opens with two Greeks: Hepatitis (Craig Divino), a writer, and Diabetes (Matt Volner), an actor, trying to think of an ending for the writer’s play. The play is basically their attempt to create that ending.

DAZE: That sounds a lot like some of the more formal and solemn modern plays.

Hogrebe: It has aspects that could be compared to something like [Samuel Beckett’s] Waiting for Godot. There’s a certain sparsity of space, two isolated characters with a great task before them. But this is above all a comedy, not some grave meditation on life.

DAZE: What were some of the challenges in maintaining that classic Woody Allen mood?

Hogrebe: As with all Woody Allen, most of the comedy is verbal. It’s very witty, very satirical. So it’s easy to worry about the jokes. But as a director, I have to keep these characters real. And during the process of making them real, the characters discover the comedy. It’s particularly difficult when we have a number of actors having to jump through other realities. We have characters playing actors or actors playing characters playing actors. So it’s a challenge to make sure everything is clear for the audience.

DAZE: We’ve heard rumors the play is a bit misogynistic. Care to comment?

Hogrebe: Well, there’s no violence or anything. It’s misogynistic in a Woody Allen fashion. Like all his works, the men have the good lines and the female roles are dominated by the male counterparts. As actors, we had to find a way to keep the structure of the play from creating caricatures out of some of the roles. This was a large concern, and I think we’ve made every character real, necessary, and funny.

DAZE: How is the playwright Woody Allen different from the filmmaker Woody Allen?

Hogrebe: Allen had three collections of prose published throughout the ’70s. God is from Without Feathers. Like the movies, there’s always some sort of semi-absurd link contract between the actor and the audience. It’s a whole relationship where he can wink at us and we can wink at him. The play is an extension of that in that the style of audience address can be expanded upon even more with greater subtlety. The actors in the play don’t need to speak directly to the audience, which gets sort of vaudevillian. But in all his films, stories, and plays, there’s that style of nonsequiter verbal comedy. What’s going on in the play, the actual plot, becomes the backdrop for the patter, and the patter becomes the focus.

DAZE: How did you first come to the play? What first interested you in it?

Hogrebe: I read this play as a freshman in high school and laughed harder than I ever have. I’m an actor, and I always wanted to do this, but no one else ever tried to do it here. Now that I’m a senior and I’ve been involved with this work for so long, I wanted to share it with people. There’s a lot in it — existential leanings, religious questions, honest stuff about human interaction. But it’s all intertwined with and veiled as comedy. When I really started looking at it as a director, all I needed to worry about was how to make the characters and the comedy real, and any message the play has will emerge out of that.

DAZE: How has the cast reacted to the play as they worked with it?

Hogrebe: I’ve only worked with three of the people in the cast before. We have 17 actors, and I went into it worried about keeping a cast this large. It’s a testament to the actors that everyone has been this dedicated. At the same time, we’ve realized that the material is so funny, it’s easy to make this enjoyable. As cheasy and contrived as it sounds, I think this play truly appeals to people of all ages. If people go away from it thinking about their lives, that’s great. But really all we want is for people to have a wonderful time.

God will be performed at Risley Theatre on Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and midnight, and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets, call the Risley Box Office at (607) 255-9521

Archived article by Alex Linhardt