BWW Interview: Amanda Moresco Directs WHERE THE NUMBERS END at the Whitefire Theatre
Interview with Writer/Director of Where The Numbers End ... Amanda Moresco
Amanda began her career as an actress in New York City working for the late Sidney Lumet. Amanda has appeared in numerous films and TV shows and earned a SAG Award for Ensemble Cast for the Academy Award-winning film Crash. Pursuing her real passion, writing, Amanda has learned from the best by working behind the camera for Woody Allen, Bobby Moresco, and David Chase, and in writer's rooms as assistant for Paul Haggis, Todd Field, John Lee Hancock, Mark Johnson, and Gil Adler. Amanda wrote two episodes for the first season of NBC's The Black Donnellys. She has had two feature films produced. Amanda has written and produced numerous one-act plays. Most recently, she directed the L. A. production of William Hoffman's "Cal in Camo" which went on to a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway run. Amanda is raising two sons and splits her time between New York and Los Angeles.
by Steve Peterson
When did you first become interested in theatre either as a performer, writer, or director?
When I was little my father would read Edgar Allan Poe to my sister and I, listen to The River by Bruce Springsteen on repeat and talk with us about the lyrics which were just like poetry to me. At 14, my Grandmother helped me get my first job as a Broadway Usherette at The St James theater. The first show I worked was The Secret Garden with Mandy Patinkin. I worked different Broadway theaters and saw tons of shows for over six years. Then, my family moved to LA to support my father in his pursuit of a career as a screenwriter. I learned that craft from him and I fall madly in love with movies and exquisite visuals but always equally with poetry and theater.
How did your father's film career influence your taking up writing, directing?
My father has been a huge influence on me especially in understanding that this business is a labor of love and the only reason to do it is because you couldn't possibly do anything else with your life. And that if you've stopped loving it for what it is- a grueling labor that has awful lows and incredible highs - then it's time to get out.
How did the idea of the story to come to you and when you did realize this could be a play, rather than a book or film?
When I was in college, I started hearing the voice of louise. She told me that the thing she missed most about being a kid was punching people in the face. I also knew that she had two cousins: Margaret and Caroline and that one was a dreamer who was scared to leave her block and the other was an alcoholic partyer unable to face the present. Eventually, I embarked on writing my first screenplay. I called it "Red to Green". It was optioned four times but never got made. I'm glad it didn't. Eight years later, I started thinking about my old poetry and Louise's monologue about "punching people in the face" which of course I never used in the screenplay because you don't put two page monologues in screenplays, and I realized that I could never get the movie right because the characters were being strangled by the confines of a screenplay structure. That is when I embarked on writing the play. I knew it was right because when I let them speak freely, their voices came pouring out of me.
How did choosing New York City's Hell Kitchen as a backdrop for the play come about? Had you lived there in any point in time? What is your connection to that neighborhood?
My great grandparents immigrated to Hell's Kitchen in the 1920s. I went to the same grammar school on 51st and 10th that my Grandfather went to and my father after him. My family's roots are embedded in the tenements and high rises between 43rd and 54th on The Westside of Manhattan. It breaks my heart to such an extreme extent that the history of NYC is disappearing for the sake of money and real estate and "gentrification", that I wrote a goodbye love poem to it. And that is what this play truly is.
I understand that this play took a while to evolve and take shape. What was your process in developing the story and characters? Please tell us about the process before the play was workshopped in the Actors Gym at the Whitefire Theatre. Also, life got in the way - - please share that if you are comfortable doing so.
As I was saying before, the idea came to me in college. I wrote the opening monologue and the opening love poem to NYC then. They sat in a notebook for six years. I just didn't know what to do with them. I knew about the characters but I didn't know what the story was. In my 20s I struggled with an eating disorder and the lines between reality and un-reality severely blurred. I felt ashamed and scared and because mental illness runs in my family, I became obsessed with the idea of "what is crazy". That's when the story began to take shape and I was ready to start plotting it out.
Tell us about the play.
The characters came to me right away. But when I realized it was about the question "what is crazy", I realized I needed to be very specific about what each of their "crazy" was. And that is what this play is about. Three damaged women coming to terms with the fact that either they're going to conquer their crazy or their crazy is going to conquer them. And of course being Irish, I can laugh about all of it and I hope the humor shines through in the play the way it shined on me when my grandmother would tell someone to go fuck themselves and everyone would laugh, all while we were sitting at a wake with a dead guy in a coffin.
Why did you feel compelled to tell this particular story? What is the meaning behind the title of the play?
This play had many different titles. "Saturday Night in a Bar in New York" "I Am From Here". And lots of others. But in the middle of a rewrite, a pass that was meant to focus in on Margaret's dilemma of wanting to go some place far away and yet being too afraid to go anywhere by herself, she said in my imagination: "we don't go past West Fourth Street. We don't go past where the Numbers End. Because fuck that." And I knew that was the title. Signifying the neighborhood comfort and claustrophobia that exists so often in NYC. When you have everything at your fingertips 24 hours a day within a ten block radius, why bother going beyond your ten block radius?
Why did you choose to direct the piece?
I wasn't sure if I should at first. The play is written so melodramatically that I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to shake that as a director and the whole experience would be one long sappy roll your eyes puke fest. But when I started thinking about my vision of the execution, it occurred to me that this play really should unfold as a "ballet of words" not a piece of dramatic material. Like a one hour spoken word piece with twists and turns and crescendos. Once I understood that, I felt strongly that I needed to be the one to execute that. Here's to hoping I don't fuck it up.
The play was workshopped in your father, Bobby Moresco's, Actors Gym at the Whitefire Theatre. What was that process like and how did it contribute to the fruition of the play?
Every week I would bring in ten pages of this play and hear brilliant actors read those pages and get insight from the group. I would then go home and rewrite based on the notes I found most helpful. Two whole drafts were workshopped there. To say that the sharp talented group of artists at The Gym contributed to this play would be an understatement. There would be no play without The Actors Gym. I would never have had the discipline to do it on my own- without the weekly check in.
What do you want the audience take away or feel, after having seen the play?
I can only hope that they laugh and come away with an understanding that we're all crazy in our own way. I hope they understand that mental illness sometimes isn't a choice. I hope they understand that at any moment in your life, you can get up and walk out of a bad place, if you ask for help. And mostly, I hope that when the play is over they will feel like they did just spend Saturday Night in New York. The way I did every weekend of my life with friends and family and bartenders...in a world that just doesn't exist anymore.
What's up next for you - creatively?
I just finished writing a half hour comedy pilot also based on my time in Hell's Kitchen. Of course, it's titled: "Fucked Up". :)
The Whitefire Theatre presents the world premiere dramedy "WHERE THE NUMBERS END: A Hell's Kitchen Love Tragedy" written and directed by Amanda Moresco. March 18 - June 10, 2017. Saturdays at 8:00 pm. Ages 18+. Mature language. Minimal violence. Tickets $22. brownpapertickets.com. Information: 818-990-2324.Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.