This Tuesday, Keegan Theatre’s New Islands Project opens the American debut of There Are Little Kingdoms. Cast member Suzanne Watts sat down after dry tech Friday to tell CultureMob what audiences can expect.
What are you drinking?
You have impeccable taste.
As do you.
A woman after my own heart. What do you love about There Are Little Kingdoms?
It is the goings on in one day in a small, contemporary Irish town, and it touches on the dichotomy between the old and young generations in Ireland. It’s not a normal play in the sense of mainline beginning, middle, and end. The play was written from a book of short stories, by Kevin Barry, who then adapted it into a play. So it’s very much all the different stories that are happening at one time in this town. Not unlike Our Town, it starts in the morning and ends in the evening.
Each story is separate and freestanding, but he’s woven them together so they interlock. Not every story interlocks with every other, but every one is connected to another. There is no isolated story.
They’re all sort of like, patches in a quilt?
Mhm. And it’s a small town. Everyone has secrets everybody knows.
This production has a cast of eight actors and 27 characters. How does that function on stage?
We each play between two and six characters. Design wise it’s minimalistic, in that there aren’t a lot of props. There aren’t a lot of costumes. The shifts in character are made more by the actor than by a shift in hair or costume.
Is that challenging for you, as actors, to play different characters and avoid confusing the audience solely through delivery and mannerism?
That’s also what makes it very exciting though. So much is left up to you as an actor. You’re not hiding behind huge design elements. We have beautiful lights, and beautiful sound, and a beautiful stage, but the character shifts are made by the actors. And, that’s something you want as an actor. You want that challenge. Stretching yourself is scary and fun.
The show is part of the New Island Project, which runs simultaneously with Keegan’s main stage show. That’s part of their mission statement: to perform theater in a minimalist setting, without needing giant sets and giant costumes and all. Making it all about the story, and the acting.
How many characters do you play?
Four. My one main role is Donna, one of two girls in their late teens, sort of hellions of the town roaming around trying to get someone, anyone to loan them their car, so that they can get out of town.
You studied theater abroad.
I did. I went to grad school at Drama Center London, where I studied European classical acting. The focuses were Shakespeare and Chekhov.
Did those studies give you enough experience playing characters culturally different from yourself? Or was it still challenging to work on a play of entirely Irish characters?
For me personally, I’ve never done an Irish production before. So there were basic questions. Like, â€œCan you do a brogue?â€
So, this is something completely out of my wheelhouse. We were taught about Shakespeare: reading this, the average person won’t understand; you need to deliver it as a storyteller in a way that gets the information across, despite the words. There’s more than literal translation to communication.
Though, I found I could use that in Kingdoms, being able to use delivery to express a line someone in the audience might not understand if they read it on the page. That’s our responsibility as storytellers: to pull people into the world enough.
To use performance to decipher foreign slang, and such.
Exactly. This is my first Irish show, but Keegan, they do that. There are people there who have spent extensive time in Ireland. My directors Eric and Kerry are very knowledgeable about the culture and the history. You always want to find what’s relatable in a show you see, the similarities. But they’ve been great about helping us understand the differences.
What’s in Kingdoms for someone completely unfamiliar with contemporary Ireland?
It’s comedy. It’s dark, open, brazen comedy. The Church Street theater is such an intimate space, it’s just great for this play, because you feel like you’re sitting on the street corner, too. You’re over-hearing these conversations. You’re overhearing the two guys at the bar who are always there with the bartender. You get brought into a little world.
Catch Suzanne Watts make her Washington debut in There Are Little Kingdoms, opening Tuesday, June 15 at the Church Street Theater. 8 PM performances Sunday through Wednesday, Saturday matinees at 3. Get tickets here.