BWW Interview: Vanessa Morosco in WHAT THE BUTLER SAW at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

BWW Interview: Vanessa Morosco in WHAT THE BUTLER SAW at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey continues their "Art of Hope" season with What the Butler Saw by Joe Orton and directed by Paul Mullins. The show will be on the Madison Stage from September 6 to October 1.

Marking the third Main Stage and fourth overall production of the company's 55th season, What the Butler Saw follows the Theatre's successful runs of The Bungler by Molière and Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, on the Main Stage and A Midsummer Night's Dream on the Outdoor Stage.

First performed in 1969, this uproarious farce shocked audiences when it was first produced. Now, almost 50 years later, what were racy subjects are far less so, and audiences are able to both laugh more and see better the delightfully wicked bullets that playwright Joe Orton fires in startling pace from beginning to end. This brilliant comedy unveils the fragile state of truth in the hands of those in power, and the power of truth despite our easy ability to twist it. Because the show includes moments of partial undress and adult subject matter, it is not suitable for young children. had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Morosco who plays Mrs. Prentice in the show. Our readers will like to know that she will be playing the part opposite her real-life husband, Peter Simon-Hilton.

Vanessa Morosco is in her first season with The Shakespeare Theatre playing opposite her talented husband Peter Simon Hilton, having just appeared on the Outdoor Stage in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Credits include: Arcadia (Palm Beach Dramaworks); Disgraced, Frost/Nixon (Maltz Jupiter); The Importance of Being Earnest, opposite Sian Phillips (Shakespeare Theatre Company, DC); The Way of the World (Yale Rep); The 39 Steps, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry VIII (Alabama Shakespeare Festival); The Tempest, Henry IV, Parts One and Two, Henry VI, Part One, Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing (Colorado Shakespeare Festival); Lend Me a Tenor (Fulton Theater); Around the World in 80 Days (Off-Broadway); One Man, Two Guvnors, Dancing Lessons (Florida Studio Theatre); Love's Labour's Lost (Folger Shakespeare Theatre); School for Scandal (PICT); and seven seasons with the American Shakespeare Center, including: Macbeth, All's Well That Ends Well, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Pericles, 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, and The Duchess of Malfi. Vanessa is also a director and teacher with an expertise in Original Practices Shakespeare, a member of the League of Professional Theatre Women, and holds an MA from Yale in Ethics.

When did you first realize your penchant for theatre?

I remember being a high school student and attending a production of Julius Caesar with my class, and all of a sudden Marc Antony seemed to look directly at me as he said 'Now do you weep.' And I suddenly realized that I was, in fact, weeping! I knew then that I wanted to be a part of that unique imaginative collaboration that exists - if only ephemerally - between actors and audience.

Are there any theatre artists that have inspired your career?

Having spent much of my career in the classical theater world, the striking absence of female role models and mentors has made me cherish those that have entered my life. Sian Phillips has been a real inspiration to me, and I was able to work closely with her and learn from her stunning Lady Bracknell while playing her daughter in The Importance of Being Earnest at The Shakespeare Theatre. "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy." Well, I'm hoping for that tragedy, MR. Wilde.

Tell us how your work as a teacher/director compliments your work as an actor.

I have always loved the storytelling aspect of live theater. When I am directing a play, I have to think about the entire story, while as an actor I often have to focus primarily on my own unique story. But I find that as an actor, thinking about the 'big picture' helps me not only support my fellow actors in their tasks on stage, but enables me to think on behalf of the audience so that I can really listen to the ever-changing mood of an audience and partner them in each moment as they receive the story.

Did you meet your husband through your stage work? How often have you performed with him?

My husband Peter Simon Hilton and I first met in a production of The 39 Steps at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. We spent hours and hours in rehearsal creating our comedy escape through the Scottish moors - handcuffed together as the play demands - and if you're still hungry for time with someone after that level of intense collaboration, well I think that's pretty clearly a match.

What the Butler Saw will be our 14th play together. He's an amazing partner - on stage and off. As an actor, I make it my job to invest in my scene partner's success and show off their moments on stage - almost the way a vaudevillian straight man would set up his comic - and showing off the person I love so much is nothing short of joyous ... and together we feel that generosity between us is palpable and exciting to an audience.

How do you like working at The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ?

The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ is an extraordinary place of creativity, headed by the imaginative and tenacious Bonnie J. Monte. Unlike many regional theaters, the rehearsal spaces, costume and scene shops, prop storage and offices for the entire administrative staff here all share the same building. This creates an incredibly collaborative community and allows us all to be efficient in producing the work, as well as witnessing on a daily basis how integral we are all are to the success of final product.

Tel us a little about the cast/creative of What the Butler Saw.

Paul Mullins as our director has beautifully navigated the line between honing specificity and being wildly playful, which is exactly what rehearsing a farce of this complexity needs.

Kristin Isola, our the costume designer, as well as creating a wonderfully sexy and period design, has also excelled in constructing a series of pieces that are required to fit multiple characters - personally I wear a dress that fits me like a glove, after having been worn by an actor nearly a foot shorter. And, of course, there are custom made straight jackets!

What would you like metro area audiences to know about the show?

What the Butler Saw may masquerade as a 1960s sex farce - and it may having you laughing like one - but it continually strikes me as so ahead of its time as to speak to us right now. The character with the least amount of authority and power is constantly calling for truth in the world, whereas the character with absolute power continually makes inaccurate assumptions and brash decisions, based on little or no factual information, causing chaos in the lives of those who trust his authority. Joe Orton's plays are rarely produced in the United States, and the fact that STNJ is bringing it here is a rare and wonderful gift. It is such a special opportunity for both the actors and the metro area audience.

For the future?

I am very excited to share that I will be returning to STNJ in a few months to direct MACBETH.

For more information on Vanessa Morosco, visit her web site at

Tickets for What the Butler Saw can be purchased by visiting or by calling the Box Office at 973-408-5600. The Theatre is proud to bring back its successful "30 UNDER 30" program for the 2017 season. Patrons aged 30 and under can purchase tickets for only $30 with valid ID, subject to availability.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Vanessa Morosco

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