K. Brian Neel and Aimee Bruneau (photo by John Ulman).
K. Brian Neel and Aimee Bruneau (photo by John Ulman).

A funny new play, 99 Layoffs, by sharp, talented Vincent Delaney, about the very topical subject of jobs – losing them, working crappy ones, looking for them – is going to premiere August 2. It’s housed at ACT Theatre and co-produced with Radial Theater Project, created by David Gassner almost by accident, when he wanted to direct a solo show with local actor, Terri Weagant.

That show, Karaoke Suicide Is Painless, had Terri portray a DJ on her last nerve as she lampooned stereotypical karaoke singing characters that were driving her crazy. But before they recruited Celene Ramadan to write it, they weren’t sure what they were going to work on.

David describes how he and Terri began work on the project. “The first project was about karaoke because Celene and Terri Weagant love karaoke. Celene also worked on the video sequence, which was another important aspect of the production.”

An idea of how work could be created was born. Also, it was partly from personal frustrations. “The reason we wanted to create work from scratch was because we’d had bad experiences where we devoted significant time to creating productions of existing plays thinking we’d tour them and then ran into problems with rights. The playwrights didn’t have a stake in what we were doing. If we’re going to invest in touring, we need to have created the work ourselves,” David says.

Indeed, touring was on Terri’s mind, too. Though her solo show hasn’t yet booked more gigs, it’s still an open possibility, and one that was talked about from the beginning.

Their new show also has touring on its mind. David wanted to work with Aimee Bruneau and K. Brian Neel. David explains about actors, “When they go to see theater, one of the ways they experience it is hearing lines and thinking, ‘I would love to say those lines.’” They all felt that way about Vincent Delaney’s plays.

Vincent has had a number of plays done locally, at least two at Seattle Public Theater, also closely connected to David. David asked him to consider creating a two-person touring show. David describes, “We bring the playwright in, invite him/her into the process, talk about what we’re interested in, not so much a theater conversation as a life conversation. We talked about what we were interested in – job search, unemployment, finding a job and the crazy stuff that happens when you’re in a job you don’t like.”

Vincent describes that he was already writing a play that had a work focus, but it wasn’t going very well. “I was trying to write a comedy about what it’s like to survive in the world of work. How do we survive the recession? What does it mean to have a job? I’d been struggling with an idea and I had 60 or 70 pages, but I couldn’t write it. It was six or seven actors and it wasn’t clicking and I wasn’t getting anywhere.

“The moment David said two actors, I thought, ‘There you go!’ and it became so easy to write it. In ten days, I had a really good draft of it and I’d spent four months getting nowhere.

“He told me the company would commission new plays and tour them in smaller towns; could go on the road. I got excited about something that was portable, could go around the country, fringe festivals. I thought that was unique and cool. Production aspects had to be portable: the kind of thing that two or three actors can pile in a van and set it up and break it down and go again. Also, thematic criteria. It had to be a comedy, somewhat topical, timely, something the host theater could quickly market and there could be instant buzz about it.”

David says that what makes Radial different is the way the work is generated. There are companies that work improvisationally and create new work, and there are generative ensembles. They often lack both a playwright and a clear director. “The process we’re working on with Radial is one where the actor, director, and playwright are all equally important,” he says.

The process for each play differs slightly. After 99 Layoffs, the next work, as yet untitled, is by Wayne Rawley, whose hysterical hit, Live From the Last Night of My Life, was produced at Theater Schmeater and impressed David and members of Bash Theatre, who are working together on it. David says, “The question I asked was, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ and a number of them said ‘crazy family stuff’ and we got onto a conversation about how everyone’s family has dysfunction and how hysterically funny it can become.

“We started doing some improvisation around the characters and now Wayne is taking away the results of that process and developing a play with the (seven) specific actors in mind who took part in the improvs. That will open in January.”

Vincent tells about 99 Layoffs. “Basically you have these two characters who meet in a waiting room about to go into a job interview and they’re both falling to pieces. And they get and lose jobs in more and more horrific ways, and keep meeting each other in waiting rooms.

“Because of facilities at ACT Theatre, they’re doing great things with projections in this show. Central Heating Lab (ACT’s new model of allowing small companies to take advantage of “big theater” infrastructure) is co-producing the play.

“Rehearsal process has been playwright’s dream, the way it should be. Not only was I invited, I was expected to be there. The cool thing is that we all really see the thing the same way. I’ve been doing a lot of shaping and changes and getting notes, and giving the director notes and he’s totally willing to hear it and it’s been a dream.

“Aimee and Brian are ideal for this play, they both have chameleon-like gifts, are so good at transformation. Even the minor characters, none of them are simple, and a few are quite extreme. They are really good at the complexity of multiple roles.

“They play two main characters, Orson and Louella, that have been brought in for other people that were just fired from an HR department. There are so many ways to lose your job. The ax falls many times in unexpected ways. The minor characters’ situations are kind of fraught. They bring a lot of pain on their own. I think that makes an interesting acting challenge and gives the play more depth.

“I like things that are funny and dark. This play is fundamentally sweet and I like that a lot. The pain in this play is about the heartache of trying to survive. It’s not a ‘wicked comedy.’ I have others that are more wicked. No bludgeoning of house pets in this play [another Delany play]. I’m taking my eight year old daughter, so there can’t be.”

David says, cautiously, “We’re hoping that 99 Layoffs will be really successful and we’ll be able to consider doing some tours. Before talking about touring, you should know you have a successful play, see if people like it.” So, now it’s up to you to go see it and let David know if your friends in Bellingham or at Central ought to bring it in, so they can share your fun.

For more information, go to http://www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/OnStage/99Layoffs or call their box office at 206-292-7676. The show runs through August 25.

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