Director Jennifer DeLia Responds to Criticism of the 'Not-So-Conventional' PHOENIX in New Essay
Scott Organ's dark romantic comedy Phoenix, directed by Jennifer DeLia and starring Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominee Julia Stiles and James Wirt is currently playing a limited engagement through Saturday, August 23 at the Cherry Lane Theatre - and DeLia has penned a new essay defending the unconventional piece and the creative team's artistic choices.
The full essay reads:
"Phoenix the play by Scott Organ is one that truly brings out the absurdity of life's interactions by opening the play with Sue meeting Bruce, per her request for a second date.
She tells him she had a great time with him on their first encounter four weeks earlier as they then engage in banter that's fun and flirtatious, to be followed by her "bearing in mind all that I said, I can't see you anymore." This could easily be perceived as incredibly manipulative, especially as she tries to run away before letting him know that she is carrying his baby as a result of their "bestest-not-quite-date-ever" aka one-night stand.
We, as the artists, decided not to run away from the off-the-bat absurd nature of the first scene. If the interaction between Sue and Bruce feels awkward, that's because it is. No one breaks up with someone after just one "not-even-date" unless they're extremely imbalanced. What we found lovely and endearing about this play is that there is real human emotion underneath the words and also a lightness that we can interpret as a way to say "let's not take ourselves so seriously all the time."
To me, art is about exploration and experience. I feel that all humans, whether they want to admit it or not, relate to saying one thing but then behaving the opposite. We all go through periods of uncertainty and unintentional emotional manipulation. We could have easily just had two people sitting and talking throughout our play but instead decided to create a sort of playground for these two highly-sensitive individuals to explore within. These individuals are Sue and Bruce, the characters, but also Julia and James, the actors. We made choices which were 1 - let's keep the show on its feet when and where we can so that when there's stillness, there's real impact (as nerves in life are true & we are not always still when we interact and if we are, we don't always want to be); 2 - let's allow the environment to be slightly abstract rather than spoon fed; and 3 - let's make it as emotionally authentic as possible. Audiences seem to love and to be grateful for those 3 choices given their realization that without those choices, it would be two people sitting at tables having extremely absurd conversations for 80 min.
There is actual art as the backdrop and the art is intentionally childlike because it's representative of the inner-child and a sort of innocence, as each piece reflects a symbol from the story whether it be the Grand Canyon (representing vastness and letting go of ego) or a portrait of Sue (representing her inner conflict), and so on. These panels tell their own story whether as individual pieces or together as a whole, and that story is what's underneath the words of the text. It's simple, though, it's just really about highlighting the emotions of the characters.
Other choices in question, 1 being 'why does Sue do yoga?' Simple answer: who in NYC doesn't? Very few, in fact. She is going through a stressful time and is hearing things on the phone with Bruce that make her uncomfortable. As a New Yorker, someone on-the go, a person managing intense emotion, this is what she does in stressful moments. Why does she do a cartwheel? Again, simple: because she wants to. She is feeling seduced by Bruce in the third scene and more open, less guarded, and is able to get out of her own head for a moment, and play.
The transitions in between scenes, are again an exploration. Julia and James never leave the stage, in essence like a movie, so hopefully one watching is learning more about the characters: how they move when they're quiet, what their intimacy feels like as you see them just before they have sex for the second time. We use color and music to support the cinematic nature of these additional scenes. We opted to not go with traditional blackouts and stagehands running around in between scenes: An experiment proven successful as our audiences have been thankful for the fresh and fluid nature of the transitions.
In essence, we have taken a piece of material that was a blank canvas for us to infuse with life, and let these characters live and breathe in a way that may make people uncomfortable or question certain choices, but that's exactly what should happen. We have created a piece in which time and place are not the most important elements to telling the story. If one listens to the sounds in between scenes, and in some cases even to explicit dialogue, there is no question about where Sue and Bruce are located in each scene but if one is looking for a sign that says "BAR" or "EXTERIOR" then no, this is not that.
We have thought through every decision made in this not-so-conventional piece and those of us involved couldn't be more proud of our embracing the existential quest these two characters are on - as Bruce learns some of the biggest news of his life on this journey - and as Sue opens up to a man for her first time after seeing how honest and humble he is. I love that art is subjective and "cheers" to those who are uncomfortable while watching our play. And and an even bigger "cheers" to the majority of our audiences who are quite sophisticated, have imagination, and appreciate the exploration of the many layers to Sue's and Bruce's psyches and, as well, to the production."
DeLia (Director) began directing in 2008 with her short film, I Am An Island. The short played in Cannes, London, New York, and Los Angeles, and then was expanded into her directorial debut feature film, Billy Bates. Jennifer wrote, directed, and produced Billy Bates. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012 amongstother festivals and showcases and will be released theatrically and digitally in November 2014. She also produced and acted in the short film, Abracadabra, directed by Julie Pacino. Jennifer has directed a range of music videos for renowned artists such as Amadou & Mariam, Kyp & Tunde of TV on the Radio, Ebony Bones, Esseri, Blinddog Smokin' and musical legends Dr. John and Bobby Rush. The collection of Jennifer's aforementioned experiences is what breathes life into her philosophy of creating projects with the utmost integrity and passion, as well as on the cutting edge of popular culture. Jennifer is a partner with Julie Pacino in their film production company Poverty Row Entertainment and the two are also partners in their creative branding company, Unofficially Unlimited. Poverty Row is currently producing the feature film The First starring Lily Rabe, Michael Pitt, Billy Magnussen, Louisa Krause, James Wirt and Julia Stiles, which Jennifer will direct. Jennifer studied acting intensively at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse in New York.