EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
Below are excerpts from the March 23, 2017 JMORE interview with director Noah Himmelstein about Los Otros.
NEW EVERYMAN PLAY EXPLORES PREJUDICES, FEARS AMONG DIFFERENT CULTURES
In light of the debate over immigration policy currently dominating the American political scene, the themes explored in “Los Otros” couldn’t be timelier.
The newly envisioned musical is directed by Pikesville native Noah Himmelstein for Everyman Theatre, at 315 W. Fayette St.
The show — which is a significantly re-structured, re-written version of an earlier work by the same name — also deals with such perennial themes as human relationships.
Jmore recently spoke with Himmelstein, Everyman’s associate artistic director, about the show, which opened yesterday, Mar. 22, and runs through Apr. 23.
The play’s book and lyrics were written by Tony Award-nominee Ellen Fitzhugh with music composed by Tony Award-nominee Michael John LaChiusa. It stars Broadway veterans Judy McLane and Philip Hernández.
Jmore: Why did you choose this play?
Himmelstein: Michael John LaChiusa has been a great mentor for me for the last 11 or 12 years. Two years ago, he sent me a very early version of the play that was performed in L.A. I was intrigued, so I called [LaChiusa and Fitzhugh] and said, ‘I would love to work on this with you.’
Why did it intrigue you?
It’s about a white woman and her experiences with Mexican culture, and a Latino man and his experiences with white culture. Their experiences are so peculiar, and I mean that in the best way. It’s based on a true story, told in a dreamscape, as stories [from their lives] come into their minds. In one scene, the woman smuggles a Mexican woman across the border in the trunk of her car because she needs a housekeeper and can’t afford to pay an American housekeeper. The housekeeper becomes such a nurturing presence to the [white] woman’s kids, yet she is afraid to go to the barrio, afraid of ‘the other.’ We’re all a little prejudiced, and this piece is a non-preachy, nonjudgmental way into [exploring] that. It’s subtle — a multi-shaded view of how fear of ‘the other’ plays in our lives and how much other cultures affect and enrich our lives without us realizing it.
A multi-shaded view of how fear of ‘the other’ plays in our lives and how much other cultures affect and enrich our lives without us realizing it.
How relevant is this show to what’s happening in 2017?
Two years ago, these issues were part of life, but since then the political scene has really informed our rewrites. We villainize immigrants, but they are us. We are all immigrants. The play says so much about human experience, how we connect and don’t connect with each other. It’s a microcosm of the society at large — a healing antidote to what’s going on in the country, in Washington, in the media now.
How has the show changed since earlier iterations?
When I came in [to the process], I had ideas about how the structure of the piece could be different. I asked Vinny [Lancisi, Everyman’s founding artistic director] to workshop the play in New York, and that led to writing and re-writing. The ingredients of the show were always remarkable but there was a better way in. I wanted to keep the piece poetic but also make it easy for the audience to relate to it. Musicals by nature are very collaborative. In the first version, the man and the woman characters took turns telling stories and being onstage. This version has both actors onstage the whole time, and now they are telling their stories to each other and it’s more conversational. Telling stories to each other is how you build empathy and understanding. You have no idea what someone else has been through. If you’re not listening, you’re closing yourself off — that’s where the fear [of the other] comes in.
What’s it been like to work with these actors?
These actors are so smart and so seasoned. They really know when something’s working or not working because they’re inside the characters. Both have them have done huge roles, but the acting work in this show is very detailed, it’s almost Shakespearian. There are so many words, and we can’t lose any of them. They have risen to the challenge. They’ll say, ‘That scene is so beautiful, but not really right for that moment.’ We’ll go home and think about it and say, ‘They’re right.’
Everyman hasn’t done many musicals, right?
It’s the first musical in our beautiful new space, so it’s been very exciting. We have a band of six musicians, and these actors are extraordinary singers. We call it a ‘lyric play’ — it goes from music to dialogue and dialogue to music. It’s something new for audiences, and whatever the piece becomes, it was reborn here. The creative possibilities [of the new space] are tripled!