“Dutch Masters” Director Guillermo Cienfuegos Interview – Thrilling, Frightening Ride to The Bronx One Summer Afternoon

Rogue Machine is on a roll. By serving mostly “straight from the headlines” relevancy and talking points to audiences in Los Angeles, they are offering some of the most compelling entertainment in the city this season. Their previous production, HONKY by Greg Kalleres, was extended three times and hit a home run with the press for its comedic take on political correctness. Even RMT’s participation in the Hollywood Fringe Festival took on issues of bullying and some of the latest trends in “sex” parties, in a uniquely palatable and entertaining way.




Next up, “Dutch Masters,”by Greg Keller, pushes the hot button topic of racial problems. It is a piercingly insightful comedy-drama that illuminates the continuing issues with race relations in America. Multi-award-winning director Guillermo Cienfuegos couldn’t resist the challenge saying, "I ‘needed' to direct this piece.”

Playwright Keller explains the inspiration for creating the play, “Essentially, the first half is based on a true story. I went to a progressive public school that, for the most part, was the literal manifestation of Dr. King's dream, with kids of all colors, playing and learning together. But, we were right on a socio-economic border, which revealed our oasis to be a beautiful aberration. These stark divides were all over the city, and felt like chasms. Walking uptown in the late eighties (by me, a white teen), would invariably come with stares and the occasional ‘You lost?’ That was my first encounter with the kind of alienation described (in reverse, and with much, much direr consequences), by Black writers I had read in school, from W.E.B. DuBois to James Baldwin. The consequence for me was a feeling of loss; of an entire other city I felt I didn't and couldn't know, and the accompanying desire to bridge that gap. I think this play is about that chasm, coming up against the history of America, and the true stories of our lives.”



Rogue Machine’s Artistic Director Flynn chose the play because, “in an intimate, very personal way, it evokes the devastation of the politics of Race in America. These are real people, and as their story unfolds it becomes humorous, then frightening, and then heartbreaking.” Finding a director, like Guillermo Cienfuegos, seems to be a perfect fit. He understands the complexities and the nuances of this piece.

Ester: What exactly was it that grabbed your attention as a director? How did you get connected with it?

Guillermo: John Flynn, Rogue Machine’s Artistic Director, sent me Greg Keller’s play. Once I began reading, I immediately started an emotional affair with it. I love art that on the surface seems like it’s one thing, but is revealed to be something completely different. In this case, two young guys - one black, one white - meet on the D train going to the Bronx one afternoon in the summer of 1992. After the first thirty minutes or so you think you know what you’re watching. But you’d be wrong. What follows is unexpected - and inevitable. It’s a play that deals with race, and even more so with economics, but it’s not about race - it’s a deeply personal story about primal needs that I'm profoundly moved by. I knew instantly that I wanted to direct it. However, the deeper I investigated it, and the more I related to what the characters are searching for and the ideas it dramatizes, the more I realized - I needed to direct it. I only hope I’m doing it justice.



Ester: Is this your first gig at Rogue Machine? What do you like, and not like about working there?

Guillermo: Well, that’s a little complicated... It’s the first gig for Guillermo Cienfuegos at Rogue Machine, but I acted in a play here last season called Luka’s Room under my other name Alex Fernandez. Alex is the actor and Guillermo is the director - it’s a long story. At this point I can’t remember which is my real name. I’m a fan of Rogue Machine, and as far as LA Theatre is concerned, working at Rogue is a feather in the cap, so I’ve wanted to direct a play here for some time. What I like about working here is that this theatre is utterly dedicated to delivering top shelf productions of interesting, difficult plays. And the theatre’s well-earned reputation attracts some of the best talent in town, so I’m lucky to have a tremendous team of designers and a terrific cast assembled for Dutch Masters.

Ester: Did you know exactly what you were looking for when going into the casting process? If so, what was it?

Guillermo: Yes. I actually felt from the beginning that the hardest and most important part of this process would be casting. The characters are young, so I knew that I needed two guys who could be believably 18 or 19 years old. But they’re also quite complicated people, with strong needs that aren’t readily apparent. They’re dealing with some pretty high stakes events, so I also needed them to be strong, experienced actors. That’s a tall order. Luckily, Corey Dorris and Josh Zuckerman walked in.



Ester: Because it opens in a subway car, did you find the staging to be more challenging?

Guillermo: Not really. This play has 5 very different locations that the characters move through in more or less real time, so in that sense it’s kind of like a movie. As a director I’ve often used film-editing concepts in my staging, so here I wanted to find a way to present the play’s cinematic elements in a theatrical way. The real challenge of staging Dutch Masters was to keep the tension between the characters constant and ever increasing.

Ester: What do you think are the most interesting aspects of these characters?

Guillermo: I’m hesitant to answer that, as I’m not sure I could do it without giving too much away. I will say that I’m fascinated by the fact that each character is pursuing a secret objective. 



Ester: Describe the biggest surprise that struck you from this experience?

Guillermo: Honestly, the biggest surprise was that I thought it would be a lot harder. The play is essentially one highly charged extended scene between two people, with dozens of difficult transitions and complicated subtexts and agendas, so the idea of tearing into all of that work was pretty daunting. But the play is so well put together and my two thoroughbred actors are so good that it all started to fall into place pretty quickly.

Ester: Will audiences see something unexpected?

Guillermo: Greg Keller wrote a play that is a tight, cat and mouse thriller…until it isn't. If the audience isn’t surprised by what ultimately happens it means I haven’t done my job.

Ester: What else do you have going now?

Guillermo: I just opened another play at my home theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice. It’s a wonderful, anarchic comedy written by Neil McGowan called “My Girlfriend is an Alien!” by Keith Defacto. It’s sort of a cross between “Noises Off” and “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” I’ve actually been directing these two shows simultaneously for a couple of months now, so I’m looking forward to this “sleep” thing I’ve heard so much about. It's been a grueling but ultimately very exciting and fulfilling experience.

Photos by: John Perrin Flynn

Dutch Masters opens at 8:30pm on Friday, August 26th and runs at 8:30pm Saturdays and Mondays, 3pm on Sundays through October 3, 2016 (“Pay What You Can” on Monday, September 5th).

Rogue Machine is located at The Met, 1089 N Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets are $34.99.

Reservations: 855-585-5185 or at Rogue Machine



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