Joshua McTiernan's World Premier of "The Red Line"

October 13, 2014 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Players By The Sea has been involved in the most progressive work to be offered on Community Theatre stage in Jville for a few years. In addition to new and challenging work, they have added original work to their mission, and will be giving Playwright Joshua McTiernan his world debut of "The Red Line" in their black box theatre. This is the kind of community sponsorship that we think will lead the way into a vital, and stimulating future for arts and artists. Join us for more after the jump!

Players by the Sea Presents
The Red Line

Written by Joshua Kreis McTiernan
Directed by Juan Carlos Unzueta

Notes from Josh McTiernan, Playwright and Dramaturge.

In the summer of 2012, I found myself in Chicago working for my uncle. Most days I would bike to work along Lake Shore Drive but it was an unusually steamy summer and I wound up abandoning my much-loved biking trail for the air-conditioned confines of the Chicago Transit Authority’s red line. It was on these gently rocking trips into and out of the heart of Chicago that I made some key observations that would coalesce into the birth of this play. The first was the frequency and absurdity of the graffiti found on Chicago’s buildings. Tags would appear splattered in the most quizzical and impossible places: in the middle of 10 story buildings, along some abandoned desert of concrete or brick. How was anyone able to create such beautiful pieces of art in such precarious locations? And what were they trying to communicate? Who were they talking to? Me? Someone else riding the red line? The second observation came off the Sheridan stop. Nudged between apartment buildings that were three or four stories taller sat a house whose roof butted right up against the elevated tracks of the red line. That would be the perfect place to hang out with your friends I remember thinking. Just you, your buds, a cold beer, and a perfect view of the world flashing by. A great setting for a play, I noted to myself. A good place to start a story.

I have many times fallen in love with someone who did not love me back – that pit in your stomach you carry around with you and occasionally call loneliness. I’ve never found drugs to be that effective or invigorating, but I know plenty of people who have. I think even foul language holds a certain kind of poetry. I’m not fond of lawyers, but I love a good argument. I think you should be allowed to regret whatever you want to regret whenever you want to regret it. People are messy and complicated. They’re the last true inexhaustible frontier.

The play you are about to see is the result of two years of hard work. After scribbling down some notes in Chicago and roughing out a plot, I took my idea into my two-year Master’s degree program at Sarah Lawrence College. There, I was lucky enough to work with one of the people who inspired my love of playwriting to begin with: Stuart Spencer. (If you have yet to read “The Playwright’s Guidebook” by Mr. Spencer, I highly recommend it. It is the closest thing to a bible any burgeoning playwright will ever need). Over the next two years, I was blessed to be able to workshop The Red Line in New York with an amazing group of actors while working one-on-one not only with Mr. Spencer but with other artists who were testing the limits of what the theatrical form could sustain. For my part, two challenges presented by the play excited me most. The first was the physical nature of the story telling, the second was its examination of character. So many new plays being produced around me contained nothing but talking heads lounging luxuriously on sofas. George and Martha with their martinis but without their bite. Certainly, I thought, there has to be some physical way to express all of that well-intended jabber. Besides, the thing so many people forget is theater is a physical art form as much as it is a vocal one. Could I create a kind of kinetic, hyper-physical language that would support the storytelling? Could I have motion be an essential part of these characters lives? How much of a moment could we make of a movement? In the same vein, could I create and reveal character in such a way that would constantly challenge an audience’s assumptions about the intentions, desires, and traits of each of the people they were watching? Could I, through time and revelation alone, reveal a character for what they truly were: a mess of complicated intentions and actions, just as knowable as you or I; just as cryptic as well. Over the last two years (and with this play in particular) I have come to realize that no play is without its challenges. They wouldn’t be worth writing without them.

“Oh. So you’re new here, huh? Most people tramp off to bigger cities like New York where they get swallowed up. But Chicago still has a way of holding her own: the local and out-of- town ones; the ones who are down for a quick burger at Moody’s (never settle for their dark interior – always choose the patio); the ones who live for the rattle of that train passing three feet from their windows at 2 in the morning; the ones who know that heaven’s not much more than an hour’s drive down Lake Shore Drive, a ride on the Navy Pier Ferris wheel, or picking up a man on Hollywood beach; the ones who trade in stars for skyscrapers, refuse to call the Sears Tower “the Willis Tower”, and beg for Fall to last and last and last. It’s 2012. It’s a city powered by wind. It’s the gay boys in Boy’s Town, heart-break girls at the Swedish bakery around the corner, and that long lonely lost feeling you get leaving Millennium Park, when the kids over at Crown Fountain are squealing and tumbling. I like to sit and watch those kids play in that long shallow fountain. I take my lunch breaks there. I dare anyone to sit there for 10 minutes and not smile. I dare anyone to say this city doesn’t move you.”

Stuart Spencer. Zach Lusk. Alex Emond. Mary Johnson. Rowan Kahn. Simon Pincus. Julia Doolittle. Vinny Mraz. CB Goodman. Carlo Adinolfi. Joe Schwarz. Jim Wiggins. Brad Akers. Lindsay Curry. Ricky Watson. Derrick Routier. Leanne Gallo. Franklin Ritch. Juan Carlos Unzueta. If you’re looking for someone to blame, these are the most likely suspects.

Executive Director - Players by the Sea Theatre

Why is it important for Players by the Sea to produce original work?

Our Mission Statement is “Players by the Sea enriches the community through excellence in theatre.” Part of enriching our community is producing  new works that provide not only entertainment  by spark discussion and change. We are especially committed to producing new works by local Jacksonville Playwrights. We have supported Ian Mairs, Al Letson  Barbara Colacielllo, David Sacks, Gene Nordan, Chis Sheppard and Jeff Grove, Olivia Gowan, Kelby Siddons and Joshua McTiernan. Several now have their works published and and are being produced around the country. We are proud to be able to contribute  to their success.
Why is it important to do this play now?

The Red Line speaks to making real connections and communication. In this time of cyber relationships, we can lose the synergy of the human interaction. While social media is an important vehicle for exchanging information, something is lost. The Red Line explores modern relationships. The Playwright, Joshua McTiernan is no stranger to Players and  we are very proud that he chose us to produce the World Premiere of his thought provoking play. Joshua just completed his graduate studies in writing at Sarah Lawrence College this past May and agreed to stay in Jacksonville as Dramaturge and Playwright for The Red Line. Then he’s off to Chicago! Keep your eye on him!

Playwright & Dramaturge - The Red Line

Why did you write this play?

Unrequited love and a challenge. Writers write what they themselves need to hear, and an early impetus for the play was that kind of longing for someone that leaves a heft of loneliness in your stomach you carry around with you for months. I have a terrible gift for falling into impossible loves. Part of this play is a response to that – a place to sort through all that unreciprocated feeling; a meeting ground of commiseration for those who have been kept up at four in the morning with a bottle (or 12) of beer and that nagging feeling that “it all would have worked out if only I had...!” The play also encapsulates a challenge. So many of the plays I see younger playwrights working on consist of nothing more than talking heads lounging luxuriously on sofas. George and Martha with their martinis but without their bite. “Is there not”, I wondered, “a more physical way to tell a story?” Can we make movement an essential element of these characters’ world? How much of a moment can we make of a movement? People often forget that theater is a physical as well as a vocal art form. For me, one of the most exciting challenges of writing this play was being able to experiment with an intensely physical form of storytelling that liberated the characters from their dreaded talking-head syndrome. There’s something very refreshing about setting characters loose like that, something very cathartic.

Why is this play important to do today?

I want to preface this response by saying: I adore classic theater staples. “Our Town” gets me every time. There’s nothing like a stirring portrayal of Willy Loman or another Antigone bravely marching towards her death. But so much attention has been paid to these classic stories that we often forget the newer, more relevant voices of the theater. So many playwrights have their finger on the pulse, are writing the stories we’re all experiencing right now. We’re adding to the public discourse; we’re presenting life as we live it now (not as it was lived 100 or even 500 years ago); we’re debating the issues of the time; we’re pressing into new forms and stretching the theater to it’s limits. To me, that is why any new work is important because it represents the zeitgeist. It represents a struggle to make theater important now. And now. And now. Good plays have no expiration date. Shakespeare will have always plumbed the depths of the soul, Sophocles will have always pegged us for who we really are. But monuments have a way of impeding younger voices. To me, The Red Line speaks to something “Death of a Salesman” or “Antigone” cannot. It speaks to that terrible moment when you send that text message and realize: there is no taking this back; it speaks to that feeling of being young and drunk on love and insecurity; it speaks to people that exist in the now and tries to reflect back not a reality that once existed, but one that currently exists. We have to hold desperately to the stories and the myths that have brought us here. At the same time, we must be open and accepting of the new ones coming down the road.

What is your role on the process once rehearsals start?

For the last two years of readings and workshops, this has essentially been “my play”. Alone at your computer or hearing it read out loud, you become protective of it. You become enamored with it. But once you give that play to a director, once you hand it off to actors, the play is no longer, “your play”. The play now becomes “our play.” My role, as the writer in the rehearsal room, becomes one of vetting the best and most interesting approaches to the play through constant and honest dialogue with the director and the actors. My role becomes one of challenging the assumptions I’ve held about the work I’ve been writing and have become so sure of. “Well maybe she doesn’t really love him?” “How do we know he’s telling the truth?” “What do they really mean when they say this line?” Playwrights become unhelpful when they demand a strict adherence to how things are interpreted. “You must say it this way, you must realize my blocking, this is what I meant with that line.” A playwright’s job in any process is to drop everything they think they know about their play and, instead, offer up their story to the collective creativity of the group. Everyone in that room is there to make the best play possible. It is when you realize this fact that you can truly begin to collaborate and, in the theater, collaboration is the key to success. It doesn’t mean drastically changing the story, it doesn’t mean creating an entirely different play. What it means is collectively agreeing upon the best way to the tell the story.  

Why Players by the Sea?

I’ve always had a very special relationship with Players by the Sea. When I was shopping my first play “The Creationists” around Jacksonville, I got an audience with Joe Schwarz (the executive director of Players) through a friend. What I wound up finding that day was a like mind and a generous friend. Joe believes in the power of the theater to change people and he’s willing to give those with gumption, drive, and vision a platform on which they can tell their stories. There’s honesty to Joe’s process and a “solutions-only” attitude that helps make Players by the Sea such fertile ground for new local and national work. It’s something that Jacksonville is desperately in need of. The truly incredible playwrights that Jacksonville has (and trust me, they exist in spades: what southern man or woman can’t weave a good tale?) never wind up staying long. There’s simply no outlet for new work here besides Players, or at least no theatrical group that is so actively seeking out the promotion of new and exciting modern plays written by the very people in it’s community. That’s what gives Players the edge. They don’t want to do what’s comfortable, they want to break ground; they don’t want to cloak themselves in the warmth of what’s proven, they love the stark risk of the modern; they appreciate the voices from the past as well as celebrating and uplifting the voices of the future. Jacksonville deserves forward-thinking theaters. Players by the Sea is just such a theater.

Director - The Red Line

How is the process of directing an original play?

For me the process of directing an original play isn't any different than directing another play, in that I read the work and attempt to create a physical representation of the world and relationships I envisioned for the characters. What makes this process different and very exciting is that the playwright is in the rehearsal space and has a direct relationship with the actors and me. Aside from previous readings of his play, he hasn't seen the scenes blocked and physically brought to life by actors. Watching him edit right in the room has been pretty fascinating. As the director, it's also really wonderful to be able to defend some of his edits in the direction I give the actors. He's so willing to allow us to play around with his words and it's been going really well! Additionally, the actors have an opportunity to go directly to the source with some of their questions, and at the end of the day Josh hopefully has a better product to put out into the world.

What attracted you to this story?

When Joe Schwarz initially approached me, it was the playwright's name that attracted me. Josh and I are really great friends; however, while he was away at grad school we weren't in as close of contact. I actually wasn't aware that PBTS was producing a premier of one of his plays. Before we met I had the pleasure of seeing his play The Creationists and was extremely impressed. A few years later he directed me in PBTS' production of Tracy Lett's BUG. After Joe sent me the script to The Red Line, and I read it one morning in bed, I found myself just sitting there for a while, digesting what I'd just experienced. This wonderful study of twenty somethings making rash decisions, over-thinking situations, manipulating each other, basically playing the fucked up games that we've all either played or thought about playing at one time or another, just hit me so heavily. "What did I just read," I thought. I knew immediately there was something special with this piece and I was really eager to get started and bring these characters to life.

What do you want audience members to think or feel upon leaving the theatre?

After leaving the theatre I want audience members to have a similar feeling to what I felt after reading it; that "Whoa. What was that?" kind of feeling. Not in a way that they didn't understand what they saw, but that they're digesting the storytelling and replaying consequences of the characters' actions.

Why is it important to produce this show today?

The Red Line is a very contemporary look at relationships and communication that will certainly resonate with anyone currently dating or in a relationship. The ideas of jealousy, struggling to be the most important person in someone's life amidst school and careers, and wanting to make a physical or spiritual connection with someone aren't new themes; however, social media and text messaging have done a number on modern relationships. This play explores the implications and ramifications of navigating these delicate situations in 2014. I also think it's important for Jacksonville to foster the work of our emerging artists. There are currently so many exciting things happening in the arts in our city, however the majority seem to be in the visual arts and music. The presentation of a compelling piece of theatre, written by someone from our city, should fill us all with pride and hopefully lead to the nurturing and development of more widely known Jacksonville theatre artists.

On The Studio Stage
October 30, 31
November 6, 7, 8
General Admission: $23.00
Senior/Student/Military: $20.00
Thursday Night is Student Night: ½ Price Tickets at the Door with Valid Student ID | 904.249.0289


*This production contains adult situations and language that are not suitable for children.

After taking a wicked cocktail of speed and vodka, Artie Morawski is convinced his girlfriend is cheating on him. Determined to be the first to strike, Artie and his old drug-dealing friend Sy hatch a scheme to publicly shame her. Can Connor,  Artie’s long-suffering roommate, stop him before disaster strikes? Friendship, Facebook, and physics collide on a rooftop in Chicago in this hyper-kinetic look at the breakdown and break-ups of modern relationships.

Artie Morawski: Ricky Watson
Connor Harville: Derrick Routier
Penn Cohen: Leanne Gullo
Sy Densmore: Franklin Ritch