Alex Neher paces about the Paramount rehearsal room, tense and filled with energy, dropping and holding stances as he stares intently ahead like a courtside NBA coach watching a free throw.
“Get out of there! Get out of there!” the sophomore shouts at his actor as he attempts to exit a scene, blocked by another character. The pair of actors perform the scene again, and Neher reacts to it like a game-winning three-pointer.
“Hold. That’s that moment. That’s that moment, right there. Everything leads up to that ‘pow!’” Neher says, clapping his hands together.
Watching Neher, a performing arts major, direct a rehearsal of student theater troupe Mercutio’s upcoming Fool For Love, illustrates what it means to “coach” actors. The play driving Neher’s manic energy was originally written by American actor and playwright Sam Shepard, and first performed in 1983 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco.
Neher rests his elbows on a plastic table in the third floor Paramount lounge, stuck on the question of what made him choose to direct Fool For Love. He runs his hands through brown curls as he searches for the answer. “When I read it, I just thought it was one of the most truthful pieces of theater I had ever read.”
The action takes place entirely in a Mojave Desert motel room and centers on the conflict between former lovers Eddie and May, played by junior Benjamin Kabialis, the Beacon’s theater columnist, and sophomore performing arts major Kelly Voke, respectively.
Eddie finds May holed up in the motel and tries to convince her to return to his life, but she has moved on and fears of falling back into a self-destructive relationship.
“The play is about getting to understand that you love that person, but they can also kill or destroy you,” Kabialis said.
Also performing is associate theater professor Craig Mathers, who portrays the “old man,” a background character that provides a running commentary heard only by Eddie and May, adding a surreal touch to the play.
“It’s just been a blessing,” Neher said of working with his company. “I’ve been blessed with so many good designers, and my actors are willing to throw themselves into some pretty crazy —” he uttered an expletive for emphasis “— some really dark material.”
Neher employs unorthodox methods to get results from the actors at rehearsals.
“I’ve been up on pianos, pretending they were horses,” Kabialis says.
Other warm-ups included sculpture construction, in which the cast built objects based on things in the room and photographed and discussed the constructions afterward. Another exercise, “Kiss or Slap,” positioned two actors together and gave one the option of delivering either action to the other.
Kabialis says that the method to Neher’s madness instills an element of danger in his company. “A lot of the play rests on both of us thinking that the other person could destroy us. We love each other, but we’re also very scared of each other.”
“[Neher is] really focused on each of us meaning what we say. And that’s a huge challenge as an actor,” Kabialis said.
Fool for Love is the first production Neher has directed at Emerson. Neher joined Mercutio in his first semester freshman year.
“I just think going in and trying to have as much fun as possible is the main thing,” he said. “Rehearsals that I had the most fun at were the most beneficial. I try my best to get the actors what they want.”
Fool for Love will be playing in the Little Building Cabaret at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 2 p.m. on Dec. 11.
Andrew Doerfler, arts and entertainment editor of the Beacon, did not edit this article due to close relationships with those involved.