Jessamyn Smyth writes, produces, and directs for Naked Theatre, a low-frills, high-concept company that has been reinventing Thursday nights at a Northampton bar. Her latest play, ”The Importance of Being Wild,” opens this weekend at the Shea Theatre in Turners Falls in a showcase of romantic comedies rounded up by Michael Fleck of the Country Players. ”Crazy in Love: PG-14” is the name of the evening. Along with Smyth’s play, about a ”disastrous dinner party with several happy endings,” the night offers tales of new love (”First Love,” by Murray Schisgal and directed by Amanda Percival) and a portrait of a first romantic encounter (”Date With A Stranger,” by Cherie Vogelstein and directed by Fleck). Smyth directs her own ensemble comedy, which she pegs as a tale of ”manners, gender roles and romances gone terribly awry.”
Meantime, she is working on a novel, a collection of essays and a volume of poetry. She holds a master’s degree from Goddard College, was a recent grant recipient of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont and teaches English at Greenfield Community College.
- LARRY PARNASS
Q :What has your ”Naked Theater” work taught you about the meaning of ”ensemble”?
A: Working in a large group of talented people both humbles and ennobles everyone involved. I often ask actors to access the part of themselves that is the least wounded and the most powerful; given close attention to their beauty and strength, people will almost always rise to an expectation of excellence. Actors filter my language through their bodies and experience, show me things I didn’t even know I’d written, and make my work bigger and more vibrant. The reciprocal generosity involved in theater is astonishing, on every level of production.
Q: Your forthcoming essay collection is called ”Real Femmes Aren’t Afraid to Get Their Hands Dirty.” Isn’t writing a fairly clean trade?
A: Even if it is, being human often isn’t. ”Real Femmes…” will be in part a tribute to the history of marginalized women who have been willing to live in the trenches for whom and what they love, and in part a challenge to ridiculous, hostile, and profoundly boring notions of what it means to embrace stereotypically ”feminine” attributes in the interest of consciously subverting them. It will also be a funny, sexy, smart book that knows how to climb trees, bandage wounds and change the world.
Q: You’ve been examining gender roles in your plays. Is this a playwriting theme for the long haul?
A: Yes. I find poking at power dynamics – sometimes gently, sometimes with a very large stick – both a good time and a necessity as a thinking, feeling, human being. Shape-shifting of all kinds holds great fascination for me, and can work as complex metaphor. The stage has always been a mirror for society, and apparently I’m of the Euripides camp when it comes to issuing fairly direct challenges with that reflection. In my prose, people often turn into animals, but I find those sorts of transformations a bit hard to stage on a budget.
Q: Does your dog resent being called Gilgamesh?
A: Of course not. It is his due, as a Great Hero. It is possible, however, that he merely tolerates some of his other nicknames, ”Gillyrumptious” in particular.
”Crazy in Love: PG-14” will be performed Friday and Saturday and Nov. 12 and 13 at 8 p.m. at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls. To reserve tickets, call 863-2281 and press 1. Tickets will also be on sale at the World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield and at the door: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students Grade 12 and below. ”The Importance of Being Wild” stars Heather Abbott, Al Clement, Kelsey Flynn, Laura Patrick, Rowena Rantanen, Judy Rodriguez, Marcia Schuhle, Marvin Shedd and Sue Shedd.