Fiasco Theater’s ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’ and ‘Cymbeline’ at Folger Theatre-Part 1: Director Ben Steinfeld

In Part 1 of “A Look at Fiasco Theater‘s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Cymbeline’ at Folger Theatre”-meet Director Ben Steinfeld.

Steinfeld, Ben 2013

Joel: Why is the Folger’s performing space a perfect fit for Fiasco Theater’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Cymbeline

Ben: Well, this will be the first time we’ve gotten to do one of our Shakespeare productions in a replica of a Shakespearean theater, so we’re very much looking forward to seeing what that experience is like. My guess is that the Folger would be a perfect space for any Shakespeare play.

Will you be making any changes to Cymbeline (which I saw in NYC and adored) for the Folger production and who will be in the cast and directing? 

the cast of 'Cymbeline.' Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
the cast of ‘Cymbeline.’ Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

We’re not planning any changes, but since we haven’t performed Cymbeline since 2012, I’m sure we’ll be discovering new things as actors, and perhaps deepening old choices. The original cast and co-directors will be doing the show. 

Have any of you performed in DC or at The Folger before, and if yes where, and how would you describe DC area audiences? And if you haven’t, what have you heard about the DC theatre community and DC audiences?

I’ve never worked in DC before, but have heard terrific things from friends who have. It sounds like a supportive theater community, and a city with a very sophisticated and intelligent audience.

 Jessie Austrian, Emily Young, Andy Grotelueschen, and Noah Brody. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Jessie Austrian, Emily Young, Andy Grotelueschen, and Noah Brody in ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona.’ Photo by Carol Rosegg.

What did you learn about The Two Gentlemen of Verona that you didn’t know about before you workshopped it, and what will make this production unique and/or special for DC audiences?

One of the big things I’ve learned about the play is that it has much deeper ideas and philosophy in it then at first (or seventh) glance. I think what will make this production unique is that we are going to let the play speak as much for itself as possible. All of the events in this play really live in the layered relationships, in the language that gets exchanged and rearranged by the people in the play, in the fascinating and funny debates about love, and in the very real quest to figure out how to define one’s “self.” And we want to bring all of that out, rather than covering it up with lots of unnecessary stuff. So Two Gents is much more than just “love and a bit with a dog” as Geoffrey Rush’s character in Shakespeare in Love refers to it.

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Your artwork/poster has a cute dog lying on top of a script or notes. What does it symbolize?

I’m not sure (since it was chosen by the Folger). But my guess is that it’s getting at one of the great things in the play: while we all take .our own emotional and romantic lives very seriously, and our attempt at making art out of our experience very seriously, in the end, it’s also something that a dog might decide to pee on.

Which character in The Two Gentlemen of Verona is most like you and why? 

I’m just co-directing this time so I’ll take the 5th on that one.

How many actors are in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and how many characters do they play?

We’ll have 6 actors playing 13 characters.

The cast of 'Into The Woods.' Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
The cast of ‘Into The Woods.’ Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Your production of Into the Woods is coming to Roundabout next season. What makes this production so ‘Fiasco-like?’ Is there another Sondheim musical you would like get your hands on? And why?

I think what makes our production of Into the Woods a Fiasco show is that we brought our artistic values to it. So rather than beginning with a series of assumptions about musical theater conventions, we just began exploring the show as if it were a play by Shakespeare and asked ourselves how we might be able to tell this amazing story in an open, honest, actor-led, intimate, and exciting way. And the way the production has been received has been extraordinary, especially the encouragement we’ve gotten from the authors. We’d be honored and thrilled to work on any Sondheim show. Hope to be able to do so in the near future.

How can audiences in 2014 relate to Two Gentlemen of Verona and what do you want audiences to take with them after seeing your production at The Folger?

It’s always been my feeling that every play by Shakespeare is relevant at all times. And when the plays are done well, the way that the audience relates to it becomes self-evident.

What advice would you have for a group of friends who went to school together, admired each other, and worked together who wanted to start a new theatre company?

My advice would be to let the work lead.  Start by doing a project you want to do, and let the forming of the company come later.

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona plays from April 17-May 25, 2014 at The Folger Theatre-201 East Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 554-7077, or purchase them online.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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