By Caleigh Crow
For some directors, the thought of having the playwright in the room is less than ideal. Donna Byrne, director of The Meditations of Guido Kowalski, admits, “I prefer to work with dead playwrights,” but in this instance, having playwright Irene Saharov in the room is a boon to the production, allowing the ensemble to take full ownership over their characters, checking in with Irene along the way.
“When I see the play being performed, I stop thinking of it as mine; it becomes ours. Everybody contributes something to it, different nuances, I have no problems with changing lines or throwing them out,” Irene laughs, “throwing out my babies! It’s a fun collaborative effort.” Irene and Donna are comfortable with this approach because they credit their actors for their hard work getting into character. “The actors bring some interesting takes on the characters. They’ve developed the characters right before our eyes,” Donna explains. “The other day Adam Recine, who plays Guido Kowalski, came out with this Italian phrase out of the blue, and it worked beautifully.” Donna turns to Irene, “Mark it down, Irene. We’re keeping that!”
“They all bring something to it, which is fun,” Irene adds.
“They do have that freedom to develop it. There’s a comfort zone,” says Donna. “They have a special degree of freedom because Irene, being the playwright, is right there, so they can just ask.”
This is Irene’s second play, and her first play in the St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival, and she was thrilled to be selected. She met Donna through a mutual friend before the results of the lottery, but knew right away she wanted Donna on board. Donna explains, “Irene showed me her script and said that she’d be submitting it into the FRINGE, and it was lucky enough to be picked, then she came knocking on my door-”
“I was banging on the door,” Irene begs, “Donna please!”
Donna laughs, “Don’t worry, Irene!”
“She said, well I’m going to check the website to see if it’s there!” The three of us share a laugh.
Irene was compelled to write, as so many writers are, by hardships and friendship. After a very trying year, Irene was “in a state of shock” when a friend asked her a question that stuck in Irene’s head: “Why do you think God is doing this to you?” What a question, and an age-old one at that. The audience navigates this complex quandary through Guido, a barkeep with regular people having regular crises such as bank foreclosures, cheating spouses, and burned down houses. “So, I wrote a comedy about all these weird people and bad things happen to them. It’s a philosophical farce. Guido tries to understand, tries to explain why bad things happen to these people,” Irene says. “One character who’s into numerology tires to explain using numerology. Guido talks about what he remembers from philosophy 101, which of course he mangles, and he quotes Father Silvio, who his mother used to invite for dinner, to try and explain from a Christian perspective.”
For Irene, being present at rehearsals has been an invaluable learning experience for her as a playwright, and she’s grateful to have Donna’s experience to fall back on. Donna relates a story about Irene filling in for an absent performer. Irene says she “would have been embarrassed in another group, but after so many rehearsals you’re just part of a family.” The experience informed Irene’s writing, as Irene was required to have a prop drink while she was reading lines, and realised that every item she writes into a play has a ripple effect through the production. Someone has to find the right prop, the actor has to use it at the right time and in the right way, but for the playwright, it was just a glass. “It’s much more complicated than I thought!” Irene says.
The Mediations of Guido Kowalski runs from June 8th – 18th at Mission Santa Cruz. For tickets and more information please click here.