Identity Crisis

Apr 17 • ARTSY SMARTSY, TheaterNo Comments on Identity Crisis

Margo Veil
4/19-22, 4/26-29
Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
UNCW Cultural Arts Building
$10-12 •

Tori Keaton, Ashley Burton and Haley Alber are just part of the ensemble in ‘Margo Veil,’ presented by UNCW’s Department of Theatre. Courtesy photo

The works of playwright Len Jenkin stimulate audiences with lives that intertwine and connect together in fascinating, unexpected ways. Popular films utilize the same effects, such as 2004’s “Crash” or 2006’s “Babel,” when people cross paths and are never the same. Jenkin’s “Margo Veil” is no different. The recent recipient of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for best production, “Margo Veil” begins with an actress who’s quit her brief theatre-life in New York, and ends with an intricate web of cleverly devised stories. Margo and Arthur, who will be played in the upcoming UNCW production by Tori Keaton and Matt Styers respectively, employ the services of a translation parlor, allowing them to inhabit the bodies of other people. From a magician to a blind Lithuanian girl, the audience encounters quite a clever arrangement, and the cast members play multiple parts throughout the show.

Director Paul Castagno spilled the details with encore in anticipation of the department’s last theatre performance for the school year, which will open on Thursday, April 19th, on the main stage of the Cultural Arts Building.

encore: When did you first encounter “Margo Veil,” and what were your thoughts of it?
Paul Castagno: I’ve known Jenkin, who has won multiple Obie awards, since the early ‘90s. I used to bring him down to the University of Alabama to work on his plays, and we became friends. I have just published a major book, “New Playwriting Strategies: Language and Media in the 21st Century” (Routledge, 2012), which goes into all his work in detail. “Margo Veil” is a very well crafted play, and with a student body that has grown up with the films of David Lynch, its identity switches and shifts will be accessible.

e: It’s an interesting premise: a gal gives up on New York after a failing role. Seemingly, many actors have felt this. What would you say resonates most about this show to others in the profession?
PC: The play has deeper resonances that demonstrate how quickly and irrevocably one’s fate can change, although anyone in theatre or film will appreciate the multiple styles and craftsmanship of the writing and hopefully the production in making this all work.

It places great demands on the actors to instantly establish a character, and then a few scenes later become someone totally different. The play celebrates that aspect of noir where random events or encounters, which happen on trains or in cars, suddenly have this huge impact on a character’s life. Jenkin is a master of showing us the marginalized character, yet always imbuing his eccentric characters with heart.

e: Why did you choose this as the final student performance of the year?
PC: This is a play with a large cast, most of whom are unfamiliar with the various styles demanded to execute the play properly. Because of the various breaks in the spring semester, the final slot allows the actors more maturation time to get the style under their belt.

We are also working with integrating filmic elements into the production (a first for us), and this requires more lead time. I really think this is a play Wilmington audiences can relate to, and, while Jenkin is widely known in national theatre circles, this will be his debut for a local audience.

e: How are the cast members molding their roles? Are you seeing surprising characteristics you may not have realized before?
PC: There is a great camaraderie in the ensemble. Part of this is the construction of these gospel numbers, led by the preacher, Cletus Ford (Quentin Johnson). There are also these big show numbers like Dwayne (Chris Cantrell) lip-synching Bo Diddley’s “A Gunslinger” with a cowboy chorus behind him. These add an element in production you don’t get with reading the script.

e: The play works its way through lots of genres: sci-fi, noir thrillers, melodramas. How do you approach directing such a mash-up?
PC: I want to thank Scott Nice, our movement and voice faculty professor, who has worked with me a lot in terms of the physical comedy, setting some of the choreography, and the various gestures that distinguish these genres. Every actor and director choice has to be very specific, every monologue broken down for not only sense but how it can be shaped theatrically. Often, these turn on a dime, even within a given monologue. It all happens so fast that you have to be patient, and make sure to be detailed. I told Jenkin in an e-mail [that] the play is unrelenting in its demands.

Gregg Buck, the scene designer, is integrating film noir projections with the help of two students from film studies. The set is constructed as multiple screens that will provide all the background. This is totally unique. Max Lydy, our technical director and sound designer, has devised this moving platform that will allow for the quick transitions and accommodate the car and train scenes that are so much a part of the noir genre.

e: Why is “Margo Veil” a good “learning production” for students?
PC: It’s excellent because actors have to immediately establish their characters. They have to be totally “in the moment” and precise, or the production sags. It teaches many principles of style, use of dialect, comic timing, playing multiple roles, and working together as an ensemble. It truly is an ensemble piece of theatre.

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