A glimpse into married life through California Suite

by Jason Madanjian / Beacon Staff • April 18, 2013

Collaborative art is the future of theater, according to sophomore Ben Cutler, an actor whose directorial debut was performed Monday. Culling friends from various majors, Cutler transformed the Piano Row multi-purpose room into “The Golden State” with Neil Simon’s play California Suite.

The almost two-hour show featured four vignettes chronicling various married couples who stay in the same hotel room at different times of the year. The show featured the funny, fast, and acid-tongued banter that’s commonplace in Simon’s work as each couple dealt with their various trappings, whether it be infidelity or divorce. 

After selecting the show, Cutler said he realized the actors’ performances were key to successfully bringing Simon’s world to life. And as an actor turned first-time director, he knew just how to hone those performances.

“Sometimes directors are too forward, and it’s not a great performance by the actor because you’re limiting them,” said Cutler, a performing arts major. “You get more out of people when you let them know you want to hear their ideas.”

Unlike most plays at Emerson, California Suite was not a fully-realized production, only a workshop. No campus organization funded the project, and therefore the set and lighting design were minimal, emphasizing on the actors’ performances. Workshops allow the cast to call for lines, and a script is kept nearby. The workshop is not for a class but simply for the experience of putting up a show.

According to Adaire Robinson, a sophomore performing arts major who assistant-directed the play, the workshop style has both its advantages and disadvantages. Without a troupe running the production, Cutler and company are allowed more artistic freedom. However, he said, the rehearsal space was sparse and there was a lack of funds. But Robinson suggests all those hurdles provided for a more unified experience among the cast and crew. 

“It was a learning process for all of us,” said Robinson of the more intimately scaled production. “It’s about the process, not the product.”

Sophomore Michael Chancellor played Stu, a competitive and abrasive man who still cares for his wife. Calling the show a coming of age story for middle-aged characters, Chancellor said he enjoyed the challenge of expansively delving into his character.

“I had to do a lot more thinking about my character than a 30-page script would normally have you do,” he said. “[Cutler] really wanted the characters and actions to be ours, not his.”

The show had a second performance at 3 p.m. that was cut short after persistent text messages made the students in the audience aware of the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Upon receiving the news of the incident, Cutler said he decided to call the show.

 “It was a little disappointing. I felt bad for the actors,” said Cutler of the cancellation. “But in the moment, it felt more inappropriate to keep it going. We needed to put the audience and the cast before the show.”

But even with the unexpected interruption of the second performance, Cutler found his first-time directing endeavor well worth the time and effort.

“It’s a delicate balance between being assertive or being too commanding,” said Cutler. “But I learned pretty much everything that goes into making a play.”