Meet, if you haven't yet, director Taylor Reynolds. She makes her Playwrights Horizons debut with Dave Harris’ Tambo & Bones, which opened February 7, and is in rehearsals for Page 73’s production of John J. Caswell, Jr.’s Man Cave at The Connelly Theatre.
Reynolds is a Producing Artistic Leader of OBIE-winning The Movement Theatre Company. Notably, she directed Plano (Clubbed Thumb), for which she earned a Drama Desk nomination for Best Director, and The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival), which earned a New York Times Critic's Pick. Below, Reynolds discusses her work on her two most recent productions, both genre-blending satires.
What about Tambo & Bones and Man Cave caught your attention?
It’s the playwrights. I already knew Dave and John, how they think about theatre and implementing their experiences. Then I read the plays and thought “they talk about doing this and actually do it.” Both really embrace theatricality, the largeness of theatre and having a multitude of genres. It’s more clearly laid out with Tambo & Bones and the different worlds built into its structure. With Man Cave, we are in rehearsals and finding so many layers. It’s been a joy transitioning from one to the other. In Man Cave, there are ghosts and very real hauntings of traumas these women have, and are going through; it’s fun blurring the lines between reality, spirituality, and what we think of as real. That’s also in Tambo & Bones, the whole question of what is real.
Can you talk about differences and similarities between these two satires and how they address race and racism?
In Tambo & Bones, race, Blackness, and our societal ideas of Blackness and performance are very clearly the top layer. Also, specifically this idea of Black masculinity – what it is, what the archetypes are, what stereotypes we/society/white American society places Black men in.
With Man Cave, it’s these conversations between Latinas who are seemingly just around each other, but still feel watched – by the spirits, and slightly by the audience. They address stereotypes pushed upon them. Fascinatingly, the cast members are from different generations and have different responses to how they want to be represented, even in talking to each other, let alone in larger society.
We’re figuring out the last scene, how to shift the audience into feeling more aware of being voyeurs. What might it feel like for these women to no longer feel that gaze of the audience, of white supremacy, of patriarchy, oppressing them, to have agency? Then the shock and question that comes with that. Often, we think about freedom as “let’s get away from this oppression, then it’ll be great.” And that’s true, but there’s also that first moment when stepping out of the cage: what do I do now?
Hopefully, what we’ll get to in Man Cave, like Tambo & Bones, is what happens when you create the world you always thought you would thrive in, and what happens if you are still not thriving in that world.
Both of these plays are notable for blending disparate genres. How have you found the right balance in each one?
Tambo & Bones is a bit easier because each structure is contained. I believe whatever has come before affects what happens next. Though parts are semi-contained, as an audience, we fill in those gaps of what it took to get from world to world, how Tambo and Bones level up.
Dave and John use genre for what feels most present and helpful to the story and what they’re doing. It’s about letting things coexist, letting Man Cave be a horror comedy or a family drama that is also a spiritual thriller. Trying to identify it as a drama with ghosts or a horror play with drama is really a disservice to the possibilities of even experiencing it. There is so much to question about what we’re really experiencing, especially with the big question John and I have been talking about for years. How can we manifest a visceral sense of terror in the theatre? We have to manifest it differently in theatre. We’re thinking about how to push the boundaries in what we’re seeing and help an audience focus. The point isn’t “how did they do that,” but “how did they make me feel like I was in a confined space instead of an airy audience.” In crossing genres, the whiplash is not being able to pin down the format. For both plays, it allows a release of expectations and gives us the opportunity to go along for the ride and process once it’s done.
What do you hope the audience takes away from an evening at Tambo & Bones?
I hope they have fun and demand Playwrights Horizons lets us record an album. I hope people walk away with their expectations subverted and really think about the journey of Tambo and Bones throughout, and what history and the future really mean for our ancestors and for our future people. We don’t know what the people who came before us wanted; we don’t know what the people who come after us will want. But we’ve got to do what we can, right now, especially in relation to Blackness and what it means to be a Black person still performing for majority white audiences.
Do you have any suggestions for audiences when they see either show?
It’s a different response for each, but Tambo & Bones is certainly participatory and asks for that.
For Man Cave, be ready to be a little scared of reality, of ghosts. Come in open-minded and ready to go along for the ride. Love these women as much as we do.
I think, for both shows, make noise.