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The Lowdown on "Dinner at Home Between Deaths" - Remarks by Director Stuart Ross

By Elaine L. Mura

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Best known for his iconic and fabulously successful “Forever Plaid,” Stuart Ross has a long career in theater as a writer and director. His formal career as director began in 1976, and he has been directing shows since then, including “Breaking Up,” “Nasty Little Secrets,” “Conrack,” and many others. Writing has also spanned the years, and Ross authored a variety of plays including “Fun with Dick and Jane,” the Tony award-nominated “Starmites,” “Tea with Bea,” “The Boswell Sisters,” and - of course - “Forever Plaid” in 1990. “Forever Plaid” has been performed across the U.S. and internationally (England, Canada, and Japan) since it was first produced and has become a classic. 

At the beginning of April, 2016, Ross directs DINNER AT HOME BETWEEN DEATHS at the Odyssey Theatre in Los Angeles. Stuart Ross was interviewed on 3/28/16 for his impressions about this most recent directorial stint.

 

Diane Cary, Todd Waring, and Andrea Evans - Photo by Michael Lamont

“DINNER AT HOME BETWEEN DEATHS” IS AN UNUSUAL TITLE. HOW DOES IT RELATE TO THE PLAY? 

Cooking dinner at home is a rarity for really successful people; it’s something they rarely do. They love what they do, and everything has to do with their jobs. They never have time to be home for dinner. 

ACCORDING TO THE PRESS RELEASE, THE PLAYWRIGHT WAS INSPIRED BY THE BERNIE MADOFF SCANDAL. DID YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT MADOFF PRIOR TO TAKING ON THE SHOW? WAS THAT KNOWLEDGE OR LACK OF KNOWLEDGE A FACTOR IN THE WAY YOU DIRECTED THE SHOW? 

I was never interested in Madoff, but I was interested in the style of this writer’s writing. Bernie Madoff was just one of many who did something like this. I see this play more like “Billions” on Showtime. “Billions” is about how a husband and wife join forces to continue their lifestyle. The only thing I knew about Madoff happened to be about an old friend and my producer for “Forever Plaid.” He put all of his money with Madoff and lost it all. He got some of it back through insurance later. I was really shocked. At the time, I worked in theater a lot in New York. I was down the street from Madoff’s high-rise office. I used to see people going in and out all the time. Of course, I didn’t really know what was going on in there. 

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO DIRECT THIS PLAY? WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO IT? 

It’s about humanity mixed with incredible darkness. It’s about a moral compass that’s so far off that it threw me. Even though it’s a very dark comedy, there’s humanity underneath. It’s about his family, and it’s almost heartbreaking. I’m so honored that the playwright asked for me.

 

Todd Waring and Amielynn Abellera - Photo by Michael Lamont

THIS PLAY IS BEING BILLED AS A “PITCH BLACK COMEDY.” IN WHAT WAY DOES IT UPEND EXPECTATIONS? HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT PLUMBING THE HUMOR IN SEEMINGLY SERIOUS SITUATIONS? 

It’s all about personal behavior. It’s a new kind of writing, like “Dexter.” There are some incredibly funny lines. Sometimes people laugh, and sometimes only twisted people laugh. These characters in the play are so earnest in their duplicity that they don’t even know when they are being duplicitous. At the same time, they’re lovable. Even though people say they’re horrible, you almost understand why they’re so horrible. After all, you can like somebody even though they’ve done some awful things. 

DID THIS PLAY POSE ANY UNUSUAL DIRECTING CHALLENGES? 

For sure. There are four different locations, and sometimes things are happening at each place simultaneously. Even though the Odyssey is a small space, you have to accommodate that. The designer and I worked hard to make that happen. There’s a penthouse dining room, and you go to his office in a high-rise. Then you go to a sailboat; there’s a posh bathroom too. Sometimes you have to go back and forth. You also have to get the right tone. You need to work with the actors to make hair-pin turns. And yet it’s also a comedy of manners. They have to bounce back and forth. It’s very complicated as they discover things. They’ve got to operate on all cylinders. At one point, there’s a flashback; and there are two things going on at once. It’s a tricky play. We have to keep moving with the scenery, but it looks like one set. 

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE AUDIENCE TO TAKE AWAY AT THE END OF THE EVENING? 

I hope they think about what keeps happening in our world. They have to acknowledge that things like this can happen. Mostly, they take away the intrigue - and the surprise. This is fun entertainment, and I want the audience to feel better when they leave. This can be an incredibly entertaining play showing the humanity of the characters. I hope that the audience connects with that. I love working with this cast. Their dedication is not paralleled. It’s perfect. Now we’re working on the technical aspects. We’re trying to keep the tone of honesty, and yet keep the comedy too. There are so many big concepts and emotions in this play, and I hope that the audience experiences all of them. 

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON? WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

I’m writing a musical based on Carl Reiner’s book, “All Kinds of Love.” We met years ago, and I got to know Reiner. I think he forgot he wrote this book. I wrote a musical called “Radiant Baby,” and now it’s being produced in Japan. We did it a few times in English with an American cast. Last year, a tour group translated it into Japanese. We’ve been working on the humor so that it’ll be funny for the Japanese audience. I’ve also been asked to re-write “Radiant Baby” for a possible future production in New York. When it was there last time, we didn’t have a long run. We’re making the fixes it needs right now. 

 

Clearly, Stuart Ross remains constantly busy and ready to offer his lucky audiences the chance to enjoy his work.

Published on Mar 29, 2016

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