Verité director Moritz von Stuelpnagel answers our questions about the play.
You’ve worked with author Nick Jones before. What makes you guys such a great team?
We have! We did a play called Trevor last year, about an aging chimp trying to break back into showbiz. That one was a lampoon of the industry. And my company, Studio 42, produced a play he wrote with Rachel Shukert entitled The Sporting Life, set in a turn-of-the-century brothel that served as a device to satirize the unionization movement of the early part of the last century. And next Fall, we're doing his play Important Hats of the Twentieth Century, about rival fashion designers of the 1930s one of whom upends the industry after traveling through time and returning with articles of clothing from 1998 Albany. So obviously, Nick's in touch with his absurdist side.
I think what makes both of us laugh is how seriously we approach ludicrous ideas. The more I invest in the actual experience of a chimp restless to catch a break, or a haute couture designer baffled by a sweatshirt, the more I laugh. Anyone who saw his last LCT3 show, The Coward, knows that Nick has a twisted sense of theatricality. He takes our simple human flaws and blows them up to a grotesque proportion. And what's exciting for our whole team is that he challenges us to live in a very bizarre world with him. But really it's one we all know, because like it or not, many of us carry the flaws he exposes. It's a delight because everything we're working on in rehearsal has to start from a naturalistic place, but grow to a point of hyperbole.
Jo (played by Anna Camp) goes on quite a journey in this play. How are you making her loss of control funny?
Well, for people who don't know much about the play, it's about a woman who receives an offer to write a memoir. The problem is she's not sure her life is interesting enough to read about, so she begins making a series of more and more extreme choices to create fodder for her narrative. But really, it becomes clear that she's acting out a kind of wish fulfillment for the dissatisfaction she feels in her life.
Maybe it's because I'm sick, but I already find that premise hysterical. We, all of us, spin a kind of mythology about ourselves. When that mythology diverges too far from the real world, we find ourselves doing a lot of compensating to maintain denial about who we actually are. I think that's a lot of where Jo's hysteria comes from. She starts to play a role of who she would want to be, but the world isn't necessarily supportive of how she's cast herself. The dichotomy of that is really, actually tragic. But the mental gymnastics she performs to justify her actions is thrilling.
And also, it helps to cast Anna Camp, who is the best kind of whirling dervish. It takes an invested, buoyant, quick-witted actor to sell Jo's narcissistic desperation, and that's Anna.
You’ve mentioned that Verité is reminiscent of late 1950s/early 1960s movie thrillers. Can you explain how?
It reminds me of films like Vertigo or Charade... You know, one of those thrillers where you're never quite sure if the characters are who they claim to be. In the same way, there are characters in Verité, played by the fantastic Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Robbie Sella, and Damian Young, that may or may not be falsifying themselves to fit who Jo wants them to be. We get this horrible sense that they may be frauds, and that Jo is putting herself in terrifying circumstances by associating with them. You see that line between horror and comedy blurred all the time. They play off the audience's expectations and misconceptions in the same way.