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Interview: Ben Randle Directs ‘Don’t Ask’ At New Conservatory Theatre Center

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'Don't Ask' plays now through 9/19

Upcoming and making its West Coast premier at The New Conservatory Theatre Center, ‘Don’t Ask’ is described as “A dangerous affair between a reckless U.S. Army Private and his superior grows truly perilous in this dark, sexually-charged, brutal drama set during the Iraq war.”  I sat down with director Ben Randle and asked him a few questions about his upcoming show.

Matthew Reiff: So tell me a bit about this play.

Ben Randle: It is about a career sergeant in Iraq and a private in the U.S. Army having a sexual affair and over the course of a confrontation a series of discoveries about possible soldier misdeeds and abuse that may have occurred while stationed in Iraq.

MR: What drew you to this play?

BR: It’s a very intense play, very provocative and  aggressive.  It kind of reminded me of the “In your face” theater in Britain in the 90s.  While not quite as ridiculously bloody or over the top, it was still very aggressive in its desire to make a point. Not necessarily  one opinion or one viewpoint but just to say, “Hey! Wake the fuck up!”

MR: So, it’s violent.

BR: Yes! It’s violent, agressive, provocative in its truest sense.

MR: So what vehicle does the violence in the play provide?

BR: I think it’s there to wake you up, to shake you into realizing that is something greater to being discussed here. Almost like the way in conversations we cuss to say, “Hey listen the fuck up, I’m saying something important!” And the themes of the play are also very violent, how we deal with violence, the violent nature of people.

MR:  I know your work a bit, this isn’t your first violent play.

BR: No it isn’t!  The violence in this is probably the most realistic in that there are several acts of violence and they have to get progressively worse.  It isn’t gory.  It isn’t a Grand Guignol.

MR: The title of the play is something a bit evocative, how closely is it related to “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy?

BR:  The Playwright, Bill Quigley, is clearly playing on the name and the policy and probably has many political opinions about it, but the play itself doesn’t really address that issue.  It’s not a political play.  It’s not a message play.  It isn’t two soldiers who fall in love in Iraq and go home together.  I joke that it’s not “Brokeback Iraq” you know?  It’s not military porn.  You could say that the atmosphere that the [don’t ask, dont tell] policy creates and the secrecy and the shame is certainly a context for the events in the play.  The title in the play speaks to a specific moment during the show. It questions how sometimes in life, we prefer to live in denial and where the reverberates personally and nationally.  Is it really better to not know? Or, do we really want to know what’s happening; because if you do, then you’ve got to live with it.

‘Don’t Ask’ by Bill Quigley, directed by Ben Randle is playing at The New Conservatory Theatre Center now thru September 19th.  For ticket information go to: www.nctcsf.org or call the box office (415) 861-8972