So, Doug Hughes, when do you sleep? In the past year alone, the the new Tony winner has directed five distinguished Off-Broadway plays, starting with Frozen in March 2004, plus two Broadway productions of two of those plays, Frozen and Doubt, and just this morning has started work, he and actors sitting around a table, script in hand, on Jon Robin Baitz's The Paris Letter.
"You know," Hughes says agreeably, "I was just thinking that I could use a little of it" — meaning sleep. "When Paris Letter opens, I'm going to sit down and shut up for a while."
Still, he admits, "doing a lot of work puts you in touch with your instincts. I can speak my mind with much more facility; I used to brood more." With a quiet dollop of irony: "Any of us in the theatre are not going to complain of overwork."
Instinct may also give voice in the selection of what one might want to direct. Take: John Patrick Shanley's Doubt. "This is the case of a bird landing on the windowsill. I hadn't known a thing about it. His agent, George Lane, sent me the script. I felt certain I wanted to do the play after I read the first sentence [from Father Flynn's opening sermon]: 'What do you do when you're not sure?' There was just something so gutsy and confident about putting that to an audience. Within a day, Lynne Meadow of Manhattan Theatre Club called. Lynne and I go way back to MTC's earliest phases in that fabulous rabbit warren, the Bohemian Hall on East 73rd Street, where my first job was showing people in and out of auditions for Ain't Misbehavin'."
An early superb directing job by Hughes was of Tim Blake Nelson's The Grey Zone (1996). "For ten years I was Dan Sullivan's associate at Seattle Rep. We got to know this young actor/playwright out of Juilliard, Tim Blake Nelson. Tim gave me one act of this play about something I knew nothing about, the Sonnderkommando [who carted bodies to the ovens in the Holocaust]. Tim and I took a trip to Auschwitz. Came back, he finished the play, we workshopped it in Seattle, and no one wanted to do it until we talked to the guys at MCC [Manhattan Class Company], here in New York, that tiny little place one flight up on 28th Street where they allowed me to pour in a concrete floor to simulate the death camps."
Then there's Margaret Edson's Pulitzer-winning Wit, co-produced by Hughes, directed by Derek Anson Jones, and then there's the Pulitzer-winning Doubt, starring Brían F. O'Byrne and Cherry Jones. O'Byrne and Hughes and Shanley long ago got together to decide whether Father Flynn did or did not sexually abuse that kid in that school. They're not telling Cherry Jones what they know. One wonders whether this drives Cherry Jones nuts.
"It does drive her nuts," says the drama's 49-years-young director, "and that's the best possible fuel." No sleeping baby could look more peaceful.