PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Brian Kulick

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Brian Kulick Director Brian Kulick has been working steadily this season, but that doesn't mean you're going to get a better idea of his area of expertise. The eclectic Kulick is one of those few helmsmen who ricochet between the classic and new works by contemporary playwrights, displaying skill and finding success in either era. He began the current season with an imaginative, acclaimed staging of A Winter's Tale in Central Park. He is currently represented Off-Broadway with David Grimm's Kit Marlowe, a modern take on classical figure Christopher Marlowe. Next, he will mount the thoroughly modern Kathleen Tolan comedy, The Wax at Playwrights Horizons. Playbill On-Line talked to Kulick about the whole Kit and caboodle.

Director Brian Kulick has been working steadily this season, but that doesn't mean you're going to get a better idea of his area of expertise. The eclectic Kulick is one of those few helmsmen who ricochet between the classic and new works by contemporary playwrights, displaying skill and finding success in either era. He began the current season with an imaginative, acclaimed staging of A Winter's Tale in Central Park. He is currently represented Off-Broadway with David Grimm's Kit Marlowe, a modern take on classical figure Christopher Marlowe. Next, he will mount the thoroughly modern Kathleen Tolan comedy, The Wax at Playwrights Horizons. Playbill On-Line talked to Kulick about the whole Kit and caboodle.

Playbill On-Line: You seem to be hitting a rather busy streak of late, one show after another.
Brian Kulick: It's like that feast or famine thing. A milli-second after Kit opens, I go into rehearsals for The Wax. It was one of those confluential things. We'd been in development with Kit Marlowe for about a year and a half and George [C. Wolfe] felt it was finally ready to go. I had known I was going to do The Winter's Tale and The Wax, and then Kit got green-lighted.

PBOL: So little is known about Christopher Marlowe. How does David Grimm's play tackle the subject?
BK: It's two-fold. On one level, it takes as much as we can know about Marlowe from all of the scholarly investigation together into a coherent arc. Also, to me what's really exciting, is that the event of Christopher Marlowe's life, and just what that life starts to represent for a contemporary audience—it's on that level that the play, for myself, is most exciting. Other people who have read about the life of Marlowe will be pleased with Grimm's attention to detail and bringing his own perspective on those facts.

PBOL: Does he make any sort of conjecture as to what happened in the Depford tavern where Marlowe was killed?
BK: What he does is he lays out how Christopher Marlowe got to that place. By the end of the play, you know exactly how he ended up in that room. Why he decided to stay in that room or enter that room, he leaves up to the audience. He takes you step by step through Marlowe's life to show you how each step led to that place. And I think that's always going to be part of the mystery of anyone who dies young; how knowingly did they go into [their end]. It has an un-Marlovian mystery to it; almost Shakespearean mystery.

PBOL: Wax's plotline sounds interesting. How would you describe the play?
BK: One of the things I love about Kathleen's writing is the music of her writing. It's the music of emotions, the music of the rhythms of how people are when they are with each other. One of the characters writes chamber pieces, and I really do feel that what Kathleen has created is kind of an amazing score, like a piece of chamber music, with musical lines that criss-cross. PBOL: You made your initial reputation with an inventive staging of Timon of Athens and have continued to tackle lesser-done Shakespeare like A Winter's Tale. At the same time, you've directed new works by young playwrights, like Kit Marlowe and Adam Baum and the Jew Movie. Do you prefer one sort of work to the other?
BK: I found that I need both to inform each other. It's great fun to be able to live inside the size of a Shakespearean production and what that demands in terms of marshalling forces and demands. It's a big canvas, visually and psychically, exciting and scary. To me the Shakespeare work always feels like Rothko—big, wonderful choices of red or blue, especially when you work at a place like the Delacorte Theatre. And when I get the opportunity to work with Kathleen Tolan or Daniel Goldfarb it's almost like Seurat, it's pointillism, it's beat by beat; there's a different kind of tension. And that, I find, helps inform some of the broad strokes in the Shakespeare.

PBOL: Do you have a particular taste for the more obscure Bard, or were these assignments given to you?
BK: I came to Shakespeare late. Timon was the first Shakespeare I had the opportunity to direct professionally. There were four left [in the Public Theater's Shakespeare marathon] and I chose Timon, because I thought nobody knows it that well and I can't screw it up too badly. [Laughs.] On a subliminal level that is part of what I thought. And then I was just floored, once I started living with the text. Where it sat in Shakespeare's life and canon was very interesting and it made we want to work from that particular point. They believe Pericles is the next play after Timon. And since Andrei Serban did such a great job with Cymbeline [at the Public], I didn't feel I could touch that, which would be next. So I thought I'd do A Winter's Tale. So I wanted to walk down this particular last path that Shakespeare walked. It's fascinating. With Timon, it feels like the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next. Brecht used to say, sometimes you have to say "no" very loudly so an audience will scream back "yes." Timon seems to be one of the great "no"s in theatre. Suddenly, after that, with Pericles, Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale and The Tempest, [Shakespeare] starts to put forth a more assured "yes" to existence. I though, "Oh, that's really interesting. I'd like my life to go in that direction. Maybe if I walk this path with Mr. Shakespeare, I can get some of that `yes'-ness into my life." [Laughs]

PBOL: So is The Tempest next?
BK: You know, I've kind of been scared of The Tempest all my life. I'd kind of like to jump back and maybe do The Merchant of Venice or All's Well That End's Well.

PBOL: Any other projects in the works. More Shakespeare in the Park?
BK: The park is such a huge...it's the hardest gig to do for me. Because of the weather. God doesn't collaborate always the way you want him to. You truly get terrorized if it rains. It ruins all the tech days. I'm in tech for Kit Marlowe now and I woke up this morning and thought, "I hope it doesn't rain!" It takes a little while to recover from a park experience. It's really amazingly difficult to mount, because the place is hot. It doesn't matter what the temperature in New York City is; it's ten times that. So if it's hot in New York, it's really, really hot in the Delacorte; if it's cold in New York, it's really, really cold in the Delacorte. And I come from California. So I thought, "Oh, the sun, what sun?" And then the first time I did it, I got sun stroke. Completely floored. So this is a long answer to say, I may want to take a summer off!

--By Robert Simonson