FringeNYC 2008 Preview: Good Pictures

Jim Nugent and Will Harper in "Good Pictures"

Jim Nugent and Will Harper in "Good Pictures"

The New York International Fringe Festival is a place that many artists return to time and time again. Take playwright Ashlin Halfnight, for instance. After scoring Fringe successes with his plays God’s Waiting Room (FringeNYC 2005 Award for Outstanding Play) and Diving Normal (FringeNYC 2006 Award for Outstanding Ensemble), Ashlin is back for a third go-round with his latest offering, Good Pictures. The play – which opens Thursday, August 14th at The Studio at the Cherry Lane Theatre – focuses on two men who meet in an upstate town jail and forge an uneasy and desperate escape plan. Might Ashlin be taking home more Fringe honors at this year’s festival awards ceremony? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, Ashlin and Good Pictures director Dominc D’Andrea took time out from their rehearsal schedule to drop by the ol’ blog and tell us more about the show. Here’s what they had to say…

Unless I’m mistaken, this the first time you two have worked together. How’d you decide to team up for this project?

Dominic: Ashlin and I have actually had a relationship for two years. We met when I directed two readings of the same play at the Lark Play Development Center during the fall of 2006. We became quick friends, and have worked together on several small projects, including the One-Minute Play Festival. Good Pictures is, however, the first full-length production collaboration that Ashlin and I have been involved with together. Our collaborations have always been really easy and fun, so working together is production just seemed to be a good  fit. So far, it’s worked out very well.

Ashlin: It’s the first time we’ve worked together in a sustained, full-length format, but we met a few years ago at the Lark, where Dominic led a couple of round-tables of a play of mine called, The Stars Above Balaton… and he also directed (brilliantly, I might add) a couple of my offerings (including a piece about Penis-fish) for the One-Minute Play Festival that he curates. So… after batting a few ideas around, I threw Good Pictures at him and said, you know, “Hey, what about this?” It kind of went from there…

Ashlin, how is Good Pictures similar to and/or different from your previous work?

Hmm… I can’t really honestly draw a whole lot of concrete parallels between Good Pictures and many of my other plays. But to be fair, I can’t really draw parallels between any of my plays. I can’t control a sort of large-scale ADD when it comes to writing. I just stumble from one thing to another like an idiot. And, I remain constantly in awe of people like Shepard and LaBute and Gurney who mine incredible amounts from more confined emotional and situational spaces. I’m less apt to sit still – and less deep… and I blame it all on Sesame Street.

Anyway, let’s see… new things:this is not an issue-driven play at all – but the subject matter, the background issues, are unlike anything else I’ve explored (jail, immigration, the sex trade); and the fact that it’s a two-hander is new, and presents certain narrative and conflict problems – and there’s a gun that gets shot, so that’s different. Does that count? A gunshot? Well, there you go. There was sexual violence in Diving Normal, divine wrath in God’s Waiting Room, a knife in Mud Blossom, and a bomb in Baby Face. So, yeah… I’ve just been working my way up to a gun. There. Parallel. Weapons. Apparently, I’m exploring ways to hurt people. The theater of weaponry.

Dominic, what kind of themes and material do you gravitate towards as a director? And how does Good Pictures play towards those interests?

I have always been attracted to plays with gritty texture and characters with dark ethos. I like contained experiences: plays that either practice unity, or invite an experience that allows the actors and the audience to stay in one place for a given amount of time. I’m excited to learn “what happens” behaviorally, emotionally. In terms of basic storytelling, I appreciate writing that is nuanced, but not precious; and, plays that embrace simplicity and allows the risk-taking to have emotionally resonant strokes. I like plays that allow actors to do their best work. I think Ashlin has given us this kind of vehicle.

What kind of experience can the audience expect from your show?

Ashlin: This play will be a little claustrophobic, a little loud, a little mean, a little funny…and, frankly, the whole thing will be over before you know it. I can’t think of another play of mine where the pace is so relentless… there are some breaths in it, of course, but overall, it’s a pretty fast ride. It’s also tense as hell, right from the opening, and the two actors are super fierce… so there’s a sense of danger in every little move. I think the audience can expect a pretty visceral, raw experience… hopefully they’ll enjoy themselves…and hopefully they’ll give me a lot of money on the way out of the theater.

Dominic: Good acting. Deeply focused storytelling. A very intimate, almost claustrophobic experience Bare-bones production value. There is a no-bullshit kind of production: it’s stark, emotionally risky, and there is nothing to hide behind. The actors are navigating a lot of dangerous and beautiful terrain in the writing. We have totally embraced the technical limitations of the fringe, and we have made a really ghetto, and extremely well played little show. It’s totally a fringe experience in the true sense.

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