PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Sam Gold, Director of Seminar and Look Back in Anger

By Kenneth Jones
26 Feb 2012

Adam Driver and Matthew Rhys
photo by Joan Marcus

I was surprised at how much his dialogue included repetition of words and phrases. There is a kind of poetry — a muscular poetry — to it that I did not expect.
SG: Yeah, I think the writing is beautiful. I love the language of the play, and I find that it's very challenging because I think in the 50s, people wrote more poetically and spoke more poetically. What was, at that time, a piece of "kitchen-sink realism" had dialogue that was so poetic. We identify a kind of kitchen-sink realism with a much less poetic way of speaking. So, those are interesting things to sort of explore in the play.

I guess one man's poetry is another person's crudeness. What surprised you about the play as you dug into it? Did you have an "A-ha" moment — an angle that you didn't see before?
SG: The thing that was always really challenging for me as a young American was understanding what the stakes were for an upper-class woman and a working-class man in post-war England. I think, for me, basically when people speak with British accents, I think they're fancy. Jimmy Porter is very articulate and he quotes Shakespeare and Dante, he's very well read. It's very hard, I think, to enter into the class issues of the play as someone unfamiliar with that time and place. And, for me, the "A-ha" moment was trying to find, for myself, an analogous way into that class conflict. I started thinking to myself, "If this play took place in the American South in the '50s and Jimmy was black and Allison was the daughter of the plantation owner, what would be the stakes of those two people getting married and him stealing her away from her family and living in a crappy apartment somewhere?" You think, "Well, the Ku Klux Klan might try to kill them." It's very high stakes. I found a lot of "A-ha" moments as I tried to explore the stakes of that class conflict within the marriage.

The play also seems to sort of pre-figure Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in a really interesting way — in terms of its word-play and its arrested-child fantasy stuff. Did you find that?
SG: Yeah, I think the play has a really nice place within the history of dramatic literature. I think it's part Hamlet, part Streetcar Named Desire and gave birth to Harold Pinter and Edward Albee. He sits in a really interesting place in the history of drama. I think for people who go to see theatre with a sense of history, it's really a great pleasure to get to look at it historically, and I wish for people to go to see plays with that kind of context. Like, when people go to a museum and see a Picasso, they understand that the way he draws the eyes on the face is in the context or the history that he's rebelling against, and you sort of understand the history of art as you look at it.

Matthew Rhys and Charlotte Parry
photo by Joan Marcus

There is no literal kitchen sink in your staging. They don't have running water.
SG: Exactly. I mean, to be really literal, the apartment that Jimmy and Allison live in has no running water; they have to go downstairs to get water, so there would not have been a kitchen sink. I think that's just a broader term for a kind of working class, realistic play. [The genre does] a good job showing you the small living spaces [characters] live in — showing them very realistically, so people in the audience, who, mostly, were middle-class people, could see how the working class lived. That was an important new development in the theatre. I think, now, the sort of middle-class audiences that go to see plays are pretty used to seeing that.

And, literally, are they in an attic?
SG: Yeah, the location for the play is the attic of a Victorian in a midlands town in England: big houses in an industrial town in England where they rent out the attic as if it's an apartment. There was no bathroom. You'd have to go downstairs to use the bathroom. They were very poor and they were not living in very good conditions. Continued...