A Q & A with the Company of HELLCAB at American Repertory Theater

A Q & A with the Company of HELLCAB at American Repertory TheaterAmerican Repertory Theater of WNY is teaming up with independent theater producers Pollyanna Productions to bring Will Kern's HELLCAB to the 330 Performance Space November 30th to December 16th for a three-week, Thursday through Saturday run.

Described as a dark comedy, HELLCAB is a series of vignettes surrounding a cab driver on a cold Christmas Eve evening. Pollyanna Productions producer and director for the piece, John Kennedy has another take on the gritty work. "It's a slice of life play about a cab driver in Chicago during Christmas. It is a collection of fares that were drawn from his own experience as a cab driver put into a play during the Christmas season." Kennedy sees Kern's play as more of a story taking place during Christmas instead of a play about Christmas in the sense of the Die Hard debate. "The Die Hard reference is that it's not your standard Christmas theme, this is not one for the kids."

Apart from the story during Christmas versus a Christmas story debate, Kern's HELLCAB offers a deeper, plebeian psychological take on society in early part of the 21st Century. "It is a hard look at society, which delves into relationships, weaknesses, selfishness, vice, and overall quality of life." Director Kennedy on Kern's insight. "The general consensus is that Kern' s play is about eroded Christmas spirit...the eroding of society as a whole."

Taking time from a busy rehearsal schedule actors from HELLCAB, Rich Kraemer, Catherine Burkhart and Thorin Vallentine offered their take on the production and insight into this engaging series of stories from a taxi-cab.

1.) For Folks who don't know what Will Kern's Hellcab is about, can you give some insight into this production?

Rich: HellCab is basically a look at one Chicago cab driver's day as it approaches Christmas.. and in the course of that day it gets harder and harder for him to maintain any sort of Christmas spirit -whether it be the people that get in and out of his taxi all day or the circumstances he finds himself in, he's finding it hard to see any of the Christmas hope around him.

Thorin: HellCab follows, in a series of vignettes, a day in the life of a Chicago cab driver. It is fast paced, often dark, often comedic, often heartwarming(often all of these at once). We see everyday people from all walks of life enter and exit the cab on their own journey which in turn guides the personal journey of the cab driver as he struggles with both his own sense of meaning and the simple struggle to just make it through life and make a living. It's a snapshot of humanity bought from a sketchy guy on the corner.

2.) Is this a Christmas play or is it like Die Hard?

Rich: It's definitely not your average Christmas play at all.. which I guess puts it closer to the Die Hard category of Christmas tales.. but it certainly doesn't share too many qualities with Die Hard either... This is sort of... a Love Actually kind of Christmas tale? Although I guess I only say that terms of the vignette style of story telling which isn't completely what Love Actually is either... yeah alright... It's a Die Hard type... Definitely falls outside the standard Hallmark channel Christmas guidelines..
Thorin: Honestly I think it's both. It's a piece that can be viewed through multiple lenses. HellCab could easily work without being set against the backdrop of Christmastime, but the inherent themes of humanity and how one views, treats and interacts with their fellow man, themselves, and the world they live in that we associate with the holidays certainly serve to make it a more powerfully introspective experience for the main character and the audience.

3.) What do you find is the deeper meaning of Kern's work?

Catherine: The meaning of Kern's work: it's a study of humanity on both the part of the cab driver and his passengers. Some scenes being meaning or insight into relationships and others well, don't, but nevertheless make you laugh.

Rich: The meaning... In a nutshell I suppose that even when life, and a crappy day and a lot of kinda crappy people are getting you down and sapping of you of the feeling that there are good people in the world it's important to remember that there are, and that hopefully humanity isn't really as cruel and messed up as it can seem.
Thorin: The absolute complexity of Humanity is the meaning. This play does a fantastic job of holding true to the notion that life is full of gray areas. While all we get is brief insights into each character, I would not say that any one of them is truly one-note. We are all the cab driver and each passenger in some way. We all search for meaning and are driven by so many different forces and influences in our lives and respond to them in different ways, both "right" and "wrong".

4.) What's your favorite character? Why?

Rich: Favorite character... Well the 'Cab Driver' is the one we get to know the best so perhaps him, but that feels a little like cheating.. jeepers, that's a big list to choose from... 'The Architect' obviously seems like a nice guy, but a lot of them seem like ok people.. so maybe the 'Drunk Woman' or 'Intense Man'.. they're the most fun.

Thorin: I'm torn between 'The Russian Man' (Pakistani in the script) that I play and 'The Architect' played by Shabar. They to me, are the two who most clearly exist on the same spectrum and together encapsulate the internal journey of the 'Cab Driver'. In a way they give him opposite advice; one influencing him to steel himself against the chaos surrounding him in order to keep pushing through, the other to face the chaos and it's unavoidability, to acknowledge one's own humanity and accept there isn't always a clear answer, but we must move forward anyway and the choice is ours how we face it. Both messages have power and truth in them, and do a lot to illustrate the balance the driver is so desperately seeking.

Catherine: My favorite character is the 'Distraught Woman'. It's a brief look at her life, but very telling, emotional and real.

5.) Why should folks come see HELLCAB?

Rich: People should see HellCab because it's so different than what you're used to. If you're looking for Christmas it's got Christmas, but if not - not too worry.. it doesn't have TOO MUCH Christmas.. it's definitely not the Nutcracker and it's definitely not A Christmas Carol.

Thorin: First and foremost, HellCab is a great story and uniquely lends itself to getting out of it what you bring in. There are undeniable points to be made and common themes, but several different ways to view the events that unfold; some scenes may have one person dying laughing while leaving the person next to them shocked and horrified. Second(and I'm obviously a bit biased here) Is that it is absolutely STACKED with talented performers who manage to breathe beautiful life into the multiple roles they play. Thirdly is that it offers something different for the holidays, something a little more grounded and a little less directly warm and fuzzy.

Catherine: Folks should come and see HellCab to glimpse a world they may be totally unfamiliar with. It's such a unique show with incredibly diverse characters. And why not take a break from holiday stress? Really!!

The current production of HELLCAB features American Repertory Theater of WNY alumni Nick Lama (A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE, DEAD ENGLISH) in the lead role of the taxi driver. Additional ART/WNY alumni include Shabar Shabazz Rouse (A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE) and Rich Kraemer (THE UNDERPANTS; BLOODY BLOODY Andrew Jackson). Rounding out the ensemble is Catherine Burkhart, Thorin Vallentine, Emily Styn and Aqueira Roberts. Pollyanna Productions producer John F Kennedy will lend his directorial eye for the production. Presented at American Repertory Theater of WNY's 330 Performance Space, HELLCAB will have a three-week, Thursday through Saturday run scheduled from November 30th to December 16th. Tickets are $20 with showtime at 8 pm. For more information contact 716-903-2847 or visit pollyannaproductions.com or visit the social media site at pollyannaproductionshellcab@facebook.com

Performance Dates Nov 30th, Dec 1st, Dec 2nd Dec 7th, Dec 8th, Dec 9th Dec 14th, Dec 15th, Dec 16th Showtime 8:00 pm Ticket Price $20 .

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