by: Caleigh Crow
The Starbucks where I’m meeting Matt Jacobs and Howard Rosenstein is so busy I have to hover like a vulture over the packed rickety round tables. I’m standing with my chai latte looking like the ghost at the feast, a Dickensian table-less orphan looking for signs of imminent departure. A woman at a table for four reaches for her coat. Lightning quick, I make my approach, shooting evil glares left and right towards other patrons who would try to swoop in. Don’t these people know I have a meeting?
Thus, I’m distracted as I’m laying down my coat over a pair of chairs sending out silent signals with my mind that I’m having a professional artistic business meeting and that I deserve all four of these chairs. Despite what the thermostat reads, it’s still winter and we need a dedicated coat chair.
I turn around and I’m face to face with Matt Jacobs, a little early for our meeting. He tells me Howard will be along shortly. I’m getting a peek into the dynamic between these two artists already, and Howard hasn’t yet made an appearance. We chat until Howard arrives, which isn’t more than five minutes, and the three of us perch on our high chairs and get acquainted.
Matt Jacobs is the director of Honesty Rents by the Hour, by Michael Milech, which goes up on March 10th and runs until the 26th , with previews on March 7th, 8th, and 9th at the Rialto Theatre. The premise reads like the set-up of an old joke: a French mom, a Hassidic Jew and a grad student organize a three-way at a seedy motel. Make no mistake, the play is comedic, and it’s a singular premise that serves as an immediate and accessible hook, but both Matt and Howard emphasize that the script is so well-written that none of the characters come off as superficial. Howard Rosenstein, who plays the Hassid, gives provocative answers easily throughout our discussion, and he has an obvious devotion to his art form.
“The greatest medium in art, for me, to speak to the human condition communally is with an audience in a theatre, presenting what it is to be alive at this time and feeling whatever it is that we’re feeling and dealing with it however that it is that we’re trying to. And this play really touches on the human condition in a way that gives that uplifting feeling of spirit that one craves when going to theatre.” Howard speaks with confidence, and after all, he’s right. It’s a true human connection that audience members are seeking, and Matt shares Howard’s belief that Honesty Rents by the Hour delivers.
“The themes the play touches on are universal.” Matt says. “Even though the characters are not at first glance people that everyone’s going to relate to, the play and the script really gets into the feeling – “
“Oh, wait a minute! This really is about me!” Howard interjects and Matt laughs. He’s bolstering Matt, lending support in the form of a quip.
“Yeah, it’s about everybody, and that’s why I think it’s lasted so long and still has legs. Because that’s not going to go away.”
“Lasted so long since the summer of 2015!” Howard says dryly.
“The night is young!” Matt replies and all three of us are laughing now. The relationship between these two is easy despite the differing perspective. For Matt, a relative newcomer to Montreal, the time between Honesty’s successful Fringe Festival run in 2016 and now seems like a long time, but for Howard the more time artists can dedicate to a show the better it is, and remounts are something he’d like to see more of.
“My castmates are extremely talented and they have bodies just like mine so that stuff is going be there. I expect the show to far surpass where we got to last time and we’ll do justice to the play that won – what was it? Best new play? What was the award?” He turns again to Matt for confirmation who gives the slightest frown and furrowed brow as a response – neither of them are exactly sure what award their play won at Fringe last year. They aren’t feigning ignorance or modesty; the award is just not a priority. Even for a cynic like me, they both come across as genuine.
“Best New English Text.” I offer. This is a professional artistic business meeting after all.
“So, we’ll make it more than the best new text, we’ll make it sing even more than we did the first time around.”
As we’re talking a barista knocks her familiar chrome espresso wand on a counter repeatedly. It’s loud in here and the crowd hasn’t died down at all since we started talking, and Howard makes a joke about conducting an interview in a construction site. Howard speaks without reservation and often takes the time to laugh out loud before giving an answer and at one point Matt good naturedly chastises me for avoiding the word ‘sex’ in my questions. The camaraderie is contagious.
“It’s a really unlikely place for all these characters to come out and spill themselves and that’s what happens. It’s just constantly the tension’s building to a point where each character has a point where they just explode outward. For whatever reason, they feel comfortable or even necessary that it gets out at this point, things that they wouldn’t be able to share with people they care about most.” he says.
“And there’s a certain ease to sharing your secrets with a stranger because you don’t feel like there’s going to be any judgment. Or at least you hope.” Howard adds.
The conversation continues like this. I’ll ask a question and either Howard or Matt gives a fully thought out answer and the other echoes the sentiment. What I’m seeing and hearing are two professional colleagues who are on the same page, but more than that I’m seeing trust. The artists themselves credit trust for their success last year.
“I always go into a performance giving absolute trust in my fellow actors. And if things screw up they screw up and one of us if not all of us will find a way out.” Howard says. “We’re working in very close proximity with each other, you know, especially with mock kissing and sex.”
“These are three professional actors that work with a certain professionalism, and it’s a trust between us as well.” Matt is speaking from a director’s perspective but he speaks affectionately of his cast and wears his respect for Howard on his sleeve: “I trust Howard greatly. He’s got so much more experience than I do and I trust him. I need to let them find themselves.” He says of the characters, “What I tried to do the first time we did this was to make it really open. I’m open to ideas from all of them and I’m not going to push it if it’s not working.” We’re getting yet another glimpse of the relationship between these two behind the curtain.
“What are you most excited about for this run?” I ask. It seems that every aspect of Honesty excites them and I’d like to pin them down on an answer. Howard laughs and laughs. Matt and I look at each other, then back at Howard, both of us in anticipation, both of us curious.
“Getting paid!” he replies, grinning, laughing still.
“I knew that’s what he was going say!” Matt grimaces. “That’s not what he means.” He reassures me, though it’s not necessary, because it’s obvious from Howard’s thoughtful answers that theatre is more than a job to him, it’s just that Howard likes to provoke.
“Let me be clear,” Howard says when he finally stops laughing, “I think the most exciting thing is as I said before it’s a very well written play, it’s a great story. And having remounted shows before that are worthwhile I am really excited about adding more layers to it, going deeper. Making it a more profound experience for everyone.” Howard returns to an earlier train of thought, and since it’s a show about bodies and people who intend to use them, it makes sense that the topic would resurface.
“You remember when you fell off your bike at the age six and you have problems on this side opposed to this side and that’s because your body remembers that it really got hurt, even if it was 35 or 40 years ago, because the body never forgets.” He grins and adds, “It’s the elephant in the system. So, to bring back plays again and again and again it allows some real interesting stuff to start happening in performances and the audience can experience it too.”
“We only did eleven shows in June,” Matt says, “and by the end of it all of us were saying-“
“It’s ready,” Howard interjects, “It’s ready to go somewhere interesting.”
Honesty Rents by the Hour runs from March 10th-26th at the Rialto Theatre. Previews are March 7th, 8th, and 9th. Tickets and more information are available here.