BWW Interviews: Linda Phenix Talks Regional Premiere of SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE
Theater LaB Houston, known as Houston's premiere Off-Broadway Theater, is continuing its residency at Obsidian Art Space with with an exciting 2014 season. From March 26 - 30, the company is presenting the Regional Premiere of Dan LeFranc's SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE, from April 2 - 6, the company is presenting the World Premiere of Julia Kay Laskowski and Patti Rabazza's HUSBAND FIXIN' 101, and from April 11 - 12, the company is presenting the Regional Premiere of Steven Fales' much-anticipated PRODIGAL DAD. In anticipation of this new season, I recently spoke with director Linda Phenix about SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE.
BWW: How did you first get involved in theatre?
Linda Phenix: My background was dance and choreography. Years ago, I guess, my way into theatre was choreographing musicals. I did quite a few. Then, I would stage things. I would say I picked up things by osmosis. About 10 years, Jimmy Phillips at Theater LaB Houston-he's one of the mainstay directors and a well-known actor in town-asked me to come over and choreograph a production that he was doing called THE BIG BANG. It was kind of a romp and a wonderful musical. It was one song after the other. I was choreographing all the pieces, and pretty soon I was blocking everything. Then, one night, I said, "Does anyone realize there is no identified director in the room?" They all laughed, so essentially I directed that production. I eased into it, and they put my name on the Playbill! I was like, "Oh my God! Now, I've really done it." After that, Gerry LaBita at Theater LaB kept inviting me to direct a play or musical every year. I've been doing it for about 10 years, and I love it.
BWW: What drew you to SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE?
Linda Phenix: Actually, it is just incredible writing. Gerry LaBita always goes to fringe festivals and things in the summer to try to find pieces for Theater LaB to produce. He saw this play. I think he saw the LA production, and he said, "You've got to read this play. It's just fantastic." I loved it. It's just such fine writing, and it's very, very psychological. I guess everything is psychological. It's kind of ridiculous to say it isn't, but some things are much more thick than others.
This is particularly mysterious. It's authentic. It is really a very, very interesting, beautiful, and, at times, difficult relationship between a father and his son. Everything is not spelled out. You have the ability to bring your own imagination to wonder what really happened or to wonder what's really going on. Dan LeFranc has this incredible writing style, and the dialogue is just so beautifully conversational in a very imaginative way. This piece is full or surprises, twists, and you don't really know where it is going.
BWW: What unique challenge does directing SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE present?
Linda Phenix: This particular piece-without me trying to give away too much of its twist-is not linear. It's not one long ride. So, it is the challenge of figuring it out. For example, the actor who plays the son, plays different ages, and the stage directions don't say that Denny is this age now or that Denny is that age at this point or whatever. It's really challenging in that you have to scrub it out yourself and figure it out, which was wonderful. I mean, we had so many read-throughs with the actors and myself. I kind of thought I knew where things were changing, but it was very collaborative in having everyone participate. Boy, did we talk a lot about where these different changes and alterations in the script were. It just evolves into something so unexpected in terms of the writing style and etcetera that it's, oh my God, so much FUN!
I'd also like to say that the actors are so outstanding, Jacob Perkel and John Dunn. John Dunn has been in so many pieces in Houston. He's a very, very well known actor. I've worked with him before, and he is just so fine in the role of Kye. He is so intelligent and brings so many different, wonderful layers to it. Jacob Perkel is a sophomore at the University of Houston, in their theatre department, and an HSPVA graduate. He is just doing an outstanding job playing Denny. He brings his creativity, and he is making wonderful, interesting choices. He is just so wonderful. Together, they have an incredible chemistry.
BWW: What is your favorite aspect of SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE?
Linda Phenix: As a piece of theatre, my favorite aspect is the writing. [Pauses] The writing uses the psychological aspect and the emotional aspect. It runs the spectrum from hilarious to poignant, from gritty to hard, and sometimes it breaks your heart. Aren't all of those the things that are a part of life? I would say it's beautiful. It's beautiful in a real, authentic, and gritty way.
BWW: Without giving away too much, what can Houston audiences expect from this show?
Linda Phenix: Well, if I put myself into the place of an audience member, I would say they can expect to wonder about things. They can expect to maybe think about it on the way home. They can expect to really enjoy the performance of these two actors. I just feel like it's the gift that keeps on giving. We're even saying, "Oh my God, I just realized." We say those things in rehearsals. It's just so nuanced and dense with a lot of really beautiful information. Again, there is a lot of mystery. You don't really know the back-story. We never really do with anybody.
I think the biggest thing they're going to walk away with is that this playwright managed to do the impossible. He set a play in a car. They're in the car the whole time. And to have it not just be interesting, but to be fascinating, moving, and again really beautiful. It's just really beautiful writing and performing.
BWW: Are there any dream projects you'd like to direct?
Linda Phenix: I can't believe you're asking that. You know, what I've always wanted to direct is TWELVE ANGRY MEN. That's the piece about the jurists in a room. I really love directing men. I like to direct women too. I don't want to say that I don't, but there's just something about that piece. Again, it's in one location, and it just really reveals so much about people's preconceived notions about things, how we're not always correct about things, and our prejudices. I just think that'd be a really cool piece.
Also, I'd love to direct more by Dan LeFranc. I'm going to read more of his plays. Oh my gosh. He's so good! I haven't read THE BIG MEAL, but I bet you that would be a wonderful piece to direct. That's his play that had its world premiere at the American Theatre Company in Chicago. It received "#1 Play of 2011" from Time Out Chicago.
BWW: What advice do you offer to others hoping to make a career in theatre?
Linda Phenix: That's a fabulous question, and we've actually been talking about that in rehearsals. I think you have to have, and by the nature of the work, a big bag of tricks and a lot of different skills. For example, the rehearsal director Scott Lupton, who is also an actor in town, is doing the sound design for this production because he's really excellent at it. In my own career, in addition to choreographing and teaching dance, I was a grant writer. That's what I'm doing now. I'm actually a freelance grant writer. If you want to be able to make most of your living in your craft, particularly in a place like Houston, you need a number of skills and things that interest you too. You can't just dance; you're going to have to teach. You can't just direct; you're going to have to teach. You can't just direct; you may do costumes. You may do sound design. You may do other kinds of things. I had a friend who did translations. So, be versatile and diverse.
SIXTY MILES TO SILVER LAKE, produced by Theater LaB Houston, plays at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Boulevard, Houston, 77007 from March 26 - 30, 2014. Performance are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 5:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.theaterlabhouston.com or call (713) 868-7516.
Photo courtesy of Theater LaB Houston.