BWW Interview: HOBOKEN Director Fritz Brekeller Debuts at Hollywood Fringe
Hoboken is about to open at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Director Fritz Brekeller took time from a busy schedule to talk with us about the show.
Fritz Brekeller has worked extensively in the soap opera world, winning multiple Daytime Emmy Awards, most recently this past May, as part of the directing team at CBS's The Young and the Restless. THEATER: He received a 2016 NY Innovative Theater award for Outstanding Direction of Scott C. Sickles' Composure at the Workshop Theater. Among his many other theater credits, includes two past collaborations with playwright Laura Rohrman: My Life as You and The Elevator: Secret Thoughts. He also conceived the musical revue Foxy Ladies Love/Boogie 70's Explosion, which played to sold-out crowds at the legendary Duplex in Greenwich Village. TV: ABC's All My Children. FILM: What Would Bear Do? and the short, Through the Morning. WEB: season 4 of the indie soap, Empire and the pilot for the off-off Broadway spoof, Off-Off Kilter.
Tell us about your association with Fringe as a director. Is this your first time?
Yes, this is my first time directing a Fringe show - in any Fringe festival. However, I did work as a Production Manager for a terrific musical called The Crack in the Ceiling back in 2015 at Fringe NYC. While that show was great, my experience with that festival was less than desirable and left me leery of the Fringe model. Then in 2018, I had just come to LA, Laura (Rohrman) expressed interest in mounting a production of Hoboken. Someone had recommended the Hollywood Fringe, but I wasn't sold on the idea until I saw the FringeTV highlight reel. That video showed the sense of community and camaraderie that was missing in NY and it opened me up to the idea of doing our show as part of this festival. I have to say; I have not been disappointed. The festival has barely just begun and already we feel the support of the other artists and it's very exciting to be a part of it.
Describe Laura's piece and why it will rivet audiences as a thriller.
Hoboken, set in 2008, focuses on Jack and Erica who hook-up on Halloween and quickly set up house. We see the highs and lows of their relationship over the course of a year. She dreams of being a famous actress and he's got the means to make her dream come true. Along for the ride are Erica's BFF, Sam and her new boyfriend, Niko, a Russian screenwriter who has written a movie the girls want to star in. Being in their late 20s/early 30s, they like to party and live the good life but when an unspeakable act is revealed - all their lives are changed forever.
This is not a thriller in the traditional sense. Yes, we have international intrigue and characters that may not be what they seem. We even have some edge of your seat moments. But we call it a "high voltage" thriller because there is a layer of the storytelling that takes the play to a most unexpected place. It is quite shocking and people who have seen or read the play, tell me they never saw it coming. It for that element that I think audiences will be riveted.
Tell us about your soap opera background. How does that help in directing this piece?
I fell into the soap world when my college professor urged me to do my required internship at CBS's As the World Turns. I scoffed at first but after tuning in for two weeks, was hooked. I became fascinated because it seemed like a fantastic merge of the stage and the camera. It was like they were doing a new play every day and three cameras captured it all. The head writer of ATWT at the time, Douglas Marland, was a master storyteller, crafting extensive year long tales and weaving 40-some characters in and out of those stories.
I went right from being an intern to a full-time job and was fortunate enough to train for several different positions. I worked at most of the NY shows, most notably for 14 years at ABC's All My Children but by 2011 all those shows were off the air and I started working in indie films and got back into theater. But when I got a call from The Young and the Restless last year about a job, I couldn't wait to come to California. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of their team and am grateful to work in the daytime drama world again.
I know people like to make fun of soaps, I mean they are essentially romantic melodramas but let it be noted that not only are they the oldest form of storytelling on broadcast television but literally every country in the world has this form of serialized stories and in many parts of the world, they are the most popular show on the air. So clearly, there is something about them people connect to.
It is an incredible learning ground: from a production point of view, you are shooting over 100 pages of material each day; and from an acting perspective, there is not a lot of rehearsal, so the actors must make strong choices. Both sides have influenced me as a director: know what you want and be prepared, so you can make it happen. I'm not saying Hoboken is a melodrama but there is certainly a heightened sense of reality depicted in the play. My time in the daytime arena has proved most useful.
Is this a romantic thriller? What other work might you compare it to?
Well Don, that's a tricky question. I would not describe it as a romantic thriller but more of a toxic love story. It's hard to compare it to other works, but it has been likened to Patrick Marber's Closer.
Tell us about your association withe the playwright before this venture.
Laura and I were introduced by a mutual friend when she had a short play in the Samuel French Festival and needed a director. The play, The Elevator: Secret Thoughts, sees 4 people in an elevator and all the dialogue is what they are thinking and because Laura wrote it, they are thinking some pretty crazy things. I was working at AMC at the time and recruited several actors from there to appear in the show, one of whom was Kelli Giddish, who's currently on Law & Order: SVU. After that, Laura and I decided to mount her play, My Life as You which was quite successful and ran for a month with another AMC actor (and Emmy winner), Jeff Branson. We then did a reading of her play, Reporter Girl, about her grandmother, Dale Messick who created the comic strip Brenda Starr. I believe it was during that time, she started talking about a "crazy" new play she was writing called Hoboken. Over the last ten years, we done several reading and workshops to develop the piece and it's very exciting to actually get it on its feet.
What real challenges are you facing in preparing this work for the stage?
The biggest challenge has been getting to a 90-minute running time. At the table read, the 84-page script took a little over an hour and a half to read. But since there are huge moments that are just skimmed over in a reading, I knew we needed to cut it down. I just didn't know where those cuts were going to come from. But in the rehearsal process, we'd breakdown each scene and start looking for things to trim. Each time we'd work a scene, we would find a line here and some words there. The more we worked it, the more the cuts came naturally, and we were able to see how to best shape and concisely tell the story. We are now down to 73 tight pages.
If we had to choose just one piece to see at Fringe, why should we choose Hoboken?
I feel fairly certain that Hoboken is unlike any other show at the Fringe. It is sexy, edgy and has a shocking twist you will be thinking about for some time afterwards. Also, we have a powerhouse cast who are doing incredible work and I have to admit, they are pretty easy on the eyes.
Do you personally have a favorite movie thriller that you like to watch whenever it airs? If so, why this choice?
I am a huge fan of Brian DePalma's - especially his late 70's/early 80's films, like: Dressed to Kill, Body Double and Sisters. I never get tired of watching those. No one works a split screen like DePalma and the scores to his movies are so dramatic. I love it! His films are sexy, sensual thrillers, not unlike Hoboken. However, we dig into darker and more uncharted territory.
What do you hope audiences will take away from viewing Hoboken?
I know I keep eluding to the twist in the show and it deals with something that is rarely spoken about, not just in theater but in general. We hope to shed some light and open the discussion that needs to be had. It is a much bigger problem than is dealt with in the play but to get folks thinking and talking is the ultimate goal.
Anything else you care to add to our discussion that you feel will heighten audience experience of the play?
Yes - take an Uber or Lyft to the theater, parking can be hell around there during the festival. The Fringe shows start on time, so save yourself the aggravation and if you don't have to look for parking, you can enjoy a cocktail before (and/or after) the show at Fringe Central which is right next door to our theater!
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Produced by: The Waverly Writers Collective
Featuring: Patrick Cronen, Mary Ellen Everett, Mikaila McMaster and Christopher Valente
Hoboken was developed with RCL Writers Group, The Fold and The New School Alumni Project/DAP Lab with Fritz Brekeller at the helm. It was selected for Rising Sun Theater Company's Under Rehearsed Reading Series in 2015 and produced as a sold-out workshop at Shelter Studios, NYC with Double Down Productions /Tony White in 2018.
Sunday June 9th, 4:15 pm
Saturday June 15th, 3:45 pm
Sunday June 16th, 8:15 pm
Friday June 21st, 10:15 pm
Thursday June 27th, 8:15 pm
Location: Dorie Theatre at The Complex Hollywood, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd.
Tickets are $20 - www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/600