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Interview: Playwright Cyndy A. Marion on the West Coast Premiere of BROKEN STORY

Production to play at the Sherry Theatre in NoHo.

Interview: Playwright Cyndy A. Marion on the West Coast Premiere of BROKEN STORY

A serial killer's backstory always seems to fascinate people more so than that of their prey. But what is it about these vicious murderers that inspires works of art being written about them? That question popped into my head when I heard about the West Coast premiere of Cyndy A. Marion's play Broken Story, which was inspired by the murder of writer Susan Berman and her close relationship with serial killer Robert Durst. I knew I wanted to find out what inspired Cyndy to create the play and how she conducted her research.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Cyndy. For readers who do not know anything about you and your theatrical background, what would you like them to know about you?

Thank you for the opportunity. I have a background in Directing and an MFA in Directing from Brooklyn College. I've been directing plays in NYC since 1996 and for The White Horse Theater Company, where I am now the Producing Artistic Director, since 2003. In more recent years I've taken to playwrighting. Broken Story is my 2nd play. My first play, You Are Perfect about the life of Manson Family member Susan Atkins, played in Los Angeles in 2018. I'm excited to be back in LA with Broken Story.

Interview: Playwright Cyndy A. Marion on the West Coast Premiere of BROKEN STORY As the Producing Artistic Director of White Horse Theater Company, you directed the NYC World Premiere of Broken Story. Why did you decide to not direct it in Los Angeles?

(Pictured: Playwright Cyndy A. Marion. Photo credit John Robert Hoffman)

Practical reasons for one. I live and work in New York. In order to mount a longer run, we decided that an LA-based team would be best. That way the show could rehearse in Los Angeles. Also, having already directed the play, I am I excited to see what another director brings to the material. Director Tamara Ruppart is a long-time colleague and friend of mine. We both went to Davidson College (at different times) and met through the theater department alumni network. I'd been wanting to collaborate with her for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Tell me a bit about White Horse Theater Company. Were you involved in its creation?

White Horse is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to producing and developing American plays. It was founded in New York City in 2002 by two actors named Rod Sweitzer and Kirk Kjeldsen. They hired me to direct their first production-Sam Shepard's True West. Rod, who is from and currently lives in LA, and I really hit it off due to our mutual love of Sam Shepard. We went on to officially incorporate the company in 2003 and did several Shepard plays together in the early years. Since 2010, I have been the Producing Artistic Director and have directed and produced several productions including two late plays by Tennessee Williams Clothes for a Summer Hotel & A Cavalier for Milady, a rarely seen Shepard play called Eyes for Consuela and the World Premiere productions of my two plays You Are Perfect & Broken Story.

With Rod now back on the West Coast, it seems only natural to be producing in both NYC and Los Angeles. More information at www.whitehorsetheater.com

How deeply are you involved with its West Coast premiere? Do you attend rehearsals and/or work closely with director Tamara Ruppart?

Since I am still in NYC (I leave for L.A. tomorrow morning), I have not been at rehearsals with the exception of the first rehearsal which was a Zoom read-thru. The L.A. cast is amazing, and I am really excited to see the final run-throughs and all the progress that has been made. Tamara and I do work closely from afar. She calls and texts me often with questions and I feel she has a great respect for my vision as a writer which I deeply appreciate.

Have the two of you worked together before?

No. We are both directors so there wasn't really an opportunity in the past. We've seen and supported each other's work. Now that I am a NYC playwright and she is an LA-based director, that chance to collaborate is finally here!

Basically, what is the plot of the play?

In Broken Story we meet Jess, a driven young New York reporter who arrives at the Los Angeles home of murdered novelist Jane Hartman, hoping to uncover the true story behind a mysterious Hollywood crime. As she meets those closest to the victim, everyone becomes a suspect. Alibis are questioned and motives are discovered in an effort to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Turns out, Jess is as gifted with her journalist notebook as she is with her imagination. Fantasies collide with the facts and this dangerous pursuit of truth takes a personal turn.

How much of the story is based on what really happened as opposed to creating the events in it out of your own imagination, re-naming the characters Jess and Jane?

The premise for the story is directly inspired by the relationship between writer Susan Berman and her friendship with Robert Durst, and many elements of what really happened are in the play. But this is not a docu-drama. The character of the journalist comes from my own imagination and the scenes in the play are seen through her lens. Meaning, that what you are seeing in the play are Jess' own imaginings of how things went or how they might have gone. The character of Jane is based on Susan Berman, but she is definitely my own character-how I imagine this writer to be or the personification of what attracted me to her.

As a writer, was her journey what inspired you to write the play? Or was it more wanting to understand what motivated serial killer Robert Durst? Or perhaps a bit of both?

What inspired me to the write the play was not what motivated Robert Durst to kill Susan Berman, but rather why Susan Berman was friends with a serial killer and someone she knew was capable of murder. Why also would she lie for him? The idea of being killed by your own best friend haunted me somehow, as did the idea of her vulnerability on the night that she died. She literally opened the door to her own murderer.

How did you gather research to prepare your characters' background stories for the play?

I read several sources on the subject of Robert Durst such as A Deadly Secret, Without a Trace, as well as several books about and by Susan Berman including Murder in Beverly Hills, Easy Street: The True Story of a Gangster's Daughter, Fly Away Home, Driver, Give a Solder a Life and Spiderweb. The character of Darby, Jane's best friend, is inspired and based-on several of the best friend characters in Susan's novels as well as some of her friends in real life who spoke to the media after her death.

The play received its World Premiere at the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York City in November of 2019. Did the death of serial killer Robert Durst on January 10, 2022 cause you to edit the play for its West Coast premiere opening November 4 at the Sherry Theatre in NoHo?

No. Durst's death has no bearing on the plot of my story since my play is not a re-telling of events as they actually happened, but rather what could have happened. Even though Durst was convicted of Susan's murder, we still don't know for a fact that he did it. It could have been her manager, or the landlady, or her best friend. Or someone else entirely. And, in the end it becomes less about solving the murder and more about the personal journey of the young journalist.

Interview: Playwright Cyndy A. Marion on the West Coast Premiere of BROKEN STORY The Los Angeles cast features Liana Aráuz, Lynn Adrianna Freedman, Lindsay Danielle Gitter, David Hunter Jr. and Rod Sweitzer. Have you worked with any of them previously?

(Pictured: Lynn Adrianna Freedman and Lindsay Danielle Gitter. Photo credit Matt Kamimura)

Well, Rod of course. And I worked with Lindsay on both the Toronto and Los Angeles productions of You Are Perfect. She played the role of Susan Atkins and is a fantastic performer. Excited to have her in the role of Jess in LA.

Have you worked with any of the creative team before? (Set Design by Andis Gjoni, Lighting Design by Katelan Braymer, Costume Design by Derek Nye Lockwood, Sound Design by Andy Evan Cohen, Composer Joe Gianono, Projection Polaroid Photography by Gail Thacker, Dramaturgy by Linda S. Nelson, or production Stage Manager Hannah Raymond and Assistant Stage Manager Brandi L. Johnson)

Set Designer Andis Gjoni is an artist in residence with White Horse as are Costume Designer Derek Nye Lockwood, Sound Designer Andy Evan Cohen, Composer Joe Gianono and Dramaturg Linda S. Nelson. They were all part of the NYC production team and are part of the White Horse family. I am really excited to be working with LA-based Lighting Designer Katelan Braymer, Stage Manager Hannah Raymond and ASM Brandi L. Johnson for the first time. Gail Thacker is one of the Artistic Directors of the Gene Frankel Theater in NYC where the play premiered in 2019. Gail's Polaroid projections were designed for the NYC production and we are thrilled to be bringing them to LA along with the original set by Andis Gjoni which is being driven across the country as we speak!

What questions or lessons do you hope audiences will talk about after seeing the play?

I just hope they talk about the play. Anything they say or feel is valid as long as the play stays on their minds. And I hope the title takes on multiple meanings.

What else would you like readers to know about the play?

It's funny! I think there is a great deal of humor in it. Sure, it's a drama with murder mystery elements, but there's also a lot to laugh about. So, go ahead!

Thanks so much Cyndy!

Broken Story performances are scheduled for opening weekend on Friday, November 4 at 8pm (preview), Saturday, November 5 at 8pm (press opening), and Sunday, November 6 at 7pm, followed by regular performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm through November 27 at the Sherry Theater, located at 11052 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA, 91601. The performance will run approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are $25, available for advance purchase at https://www.whitehorsetheater.com/broken-story-la. All audiences must wear a mask for the duration of the performance and while in the theater.




From This Author - Shari Barrett

Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way across the boards all over town. After teaching in secondary sc... (read more about this author)


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