BWW Interview: Jennifer Kim Gets Existential in THE AMATEURS
The 14th century plague is just a fetid breath away from the intrepid theater troupe hightailing it to the next European town in Jordan Harrison's THE AMATEURS. Jennifer Kim is one of six actors portraying multiple characters in this comedy that tackles existential head scratchers like the nature of man and the meaning of art.
Kim portrays the opinionated Rona, a feminist of her time. Directed by Oliver Butler, THE AMATEURS stands apart from most straight plays. "The script is so different from others I've read," Kim said. "And I read a lot of scripts. Some kind of stick with you when you're reading it.
"There are some projects that jump out at you. It's an intuitive thing," Kim said of her immediate attraction to the play.
Kim is particularly fond of Rona, her main character. "She's a tough one. She's the super-aggressive alpha of the group," she said.
"She takes up the entire room," Kim said with a laugh. "It was hard for me to channel or stretch myself at first. My initial reaction was that I can't do that and be completely shy. But with Rona I don't do that," she said.
THE AMATEURS ponders the purpose of art and whether or not it would survive civilization's demise. Or bloom anew. "What makes human beings want to create art?" Kim asked. "For Rona, it's a spiritual aspect. Magic, tarot, god, praying; she believes in everything, literally.
"If the cards say something will happen, it gives her hope. It's quite beautiful. Somehow, everyone's dying and spirits might be broken but you have to keep going," Kim added.
What's striking about this unusual play that breaks the fourth wall, is that it doesn't have a cathartic breakthrough. "It's not neatly tied up at the end, it makes audiences keep thinking about what they've seen," Kim said.
The play's dauntless troupe reveals the evolution of human creativity in a dark age through the interactions with nonplussed Larking (who portrays God among others), played by Thomas Jay Ryan. The Seven Deadly Sins make an appearance, and Kim juggles Gluttony with her other parts.
"I think the motivations for the characters are all different," Kim said. "We all want to feel safe and protected, and Larking wants to be one of the elite in the castle."
The play's turning point poses the question: Why does humankind keep creating art when it can barely survive? How do we keep going without letting the plague paralyze us?
The production requires physical stamina and strength. A large wagon houses the troupe's belongings and is pulled around the stage, which is filled with fake dirt. "I definitely feel stronger," Kim said.
Rehearsing the play was strenuous for them all. "Tech was brutal the first week," Kim recalled. "I remember doing some previews in sheer panic with all the set changes." The wagon, a home base for the wandering troupe, had to get rid of some of its ballast.
"So many pieces were taken out of the wagon to lighten it up for us," she said.
THE AMATEURS is Kim's third play. "I'm fairly new to it," she said. "This structure is different than other straight plays. It's not as naturalistic. It's like being on a train and you're lucky to catch it.
"There's a play within a play so it's a delicate dance," she said of the swiftly paced production.
She prepares for each performance by joining with other cast members. "We sit with each other moments before the play," Kim said. "It's important for grounding and settling into the space."
A monologue takes the action from 14th century Europe to current day. "When there used to be an intermission it was confusing to some people in the audience. Now, the monologue is like a breath of fresh air," Kim said.
Harrison's play challenges audiences to consider universal subjects. "When something's really good, it requires a little more work. Some audiences may not be willing to do that," she reflected.
Kim has been asking herself the big questions lately, too. "Recently I've been very obsessed with the meaning of life, what is the purpose of feeling despair?" she asked.
"One thing I really connect to is the storytelling and how important it is. It's a key element of life. Yet what makes us create, especially in moments of horror and struggle-that's the main question," Kim said.
Kim was first attracted to the theater when she was barely out of toddlerhood. "I remember it vividly: I was about 4 and we went to see Les Mis," Kim recalled. "It's not that I'm a huge musical person, but I remember thinking, 'What is this? I need to do this!'
It took a few more years before she realized her love of the stage. "My love for acting was cultivated in middle and high school. When I was applying for colleges, I realized one consistent thing was my love for acting," she said.
Kim has also been in film and television, including The BOURNE LEGACY with Matt Damon. "That was amazing," Kim said. "I couldn't believe I got to fly to Korea"-where her family is from-"and was there for my grandmother's 90th birthday."
The self-confessed "movie nerd" appreciates the differences between live and filmed productions. "I love them all, but live theater is the most rewarding," she said. "Each night in theater is different."
Besides meditating before each show, Kim practices a unique vocal exercise. "I put a cork between my teeth for enunciation because I'm from California," Kim said with a laugh. "I say a few pages of line, do breath exercises, have a little rooibos tea and Throat Coat."
The takeaway for Kim is the nature of art and discovery. "What sparks it, what makes people feel the need to express themselves creatively?" asked Kim. "People tell stories because they're afraid of the darkness."
The Amateurs is playing at the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street. Scenic design is by David Zinn, costume design by Jessica Pabst, original music and sound design by Bray Poor, wig, hair and make-up design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas and mask and puppet design by Raphael Mishler.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg