When you run a theater company, your radar is always on.
Dan Foster’s radar found British playwright Caryl Churchill’s play “A Number” a while back. One of his Hudson Stage co-founders, Denise Bessette, had her radar set to “A Kind of Alaska,” by the minimalist Harold Pinter. The problem was that each was too short to make an evening of theater.
That problem finds a solution this weekend, with “Family Reunion,” a pairing of the two under one rather twisted title that runs through May 17.
Yes, the plays deal with family. But not in any conventional way.
“They both have a scientific element to them,” says Foster, hitching a ride to rehearsal with the third Hudson Stage founder, Olivia Sklar.
If you know the 1990 Robin Williams-Robert DeNiro film “Awakenings,” based on the work of Oliver Sacks, you know the groundwork for Pinter’s “A Kind of Alaska.” Deborah wakes up after 29 years asleep and thinks she’s still 16.
Says Foster: “One of the people she meets is her sister. It’s Pinter’s curiosity about what did or could people have remembered from those 29 years. Where were they? What does she remember? So much has passed. What did I miss?”
Playwright Pinter, who died in 2008, is famous for writing “pause” and “silence” into his scripts, specifying moments where the actors should breathe.
“It’s like math,” Foster says. “The more you work on them, the more you understand. Sometimes, I’ll be listening, without watching the script, and I will say to the actors ‘You missed a pause.’ You can rhythmically feel it.”
Having a play on your radar doesn’t guarantee you can stage it. When Hudson Stage approached the Pinter estate to see performance rights, they knew they might have a tough time. But it turns out that Churchill was one of Pinter’s favorite playwrights, thus bringing both plays into the same orbit of the same evening.
Churchill’s “A Number,” is set in the future, when a son learns that he is a clone of his father. And that there are other clones out there.
“It’s written from the point of view that the problem isn’t that they’re cloning,” says Foster. “That’s taken for granted. It get more to nature vs. nurture, and what results.”
Foster says Churchill gives the actors next to nothing to go on in the script.
“Sometimes, there are no capital letters, no punctuation. I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago, I was reading on the beach and I saw a comma and freaked out, thinking ‘This must really mean something.’”
The next big decision is the order of the shows, a decision fraught with peril, Foster says, wondering if they should be staged chronologically or with the idea of leaving the audience with a particular takeaway. Find out which they chose, with a visit to Woodward Hall.
“A Family Reunion” marks Hudson Stage’s last show at Pace’s Woodward Hall Theater, which they converted from a lecture hall into a theater. Pace, which is trying to sell the Briarcliff campus, will convert Woodward Hall back to classroom. Next fall, Hudson Stage will move to Whippoorwill Hall in Armonk.
“We were on their radar and they were on our radar,” says Foster of the new relationship.
There goes that radar again.
At Woodward Hall Theatre, Pace University, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor. 914-271-2811. www.hudsonstage.com
Top photo by Peter D. Kramer: Dan Foster in Woodward Hall Theater on the Pace Briarcliff campus. This month’s production of “Family Reunion” will be the last at the theater. Next fall, Hudson Stage will move to Whippoorwill Hall in Armonk.
Second photo by Rana Faure: The cast of the two-part “Family Reunion” at Hudson Stage is, from left: Denise Bessette, Michael Bryan French, Jane Beller and Eric Sheffer Stevens.