Friday, October 19, 2018

Candice Oden as Martha - Freedom in the time of #MeToo

I’ve been aching to act with my theater company for a while. I took a little break to work on some writing, which I’ll hopefully be able to share with you in the somewhat near future, but this production round, I was like, “I’m in.” And what an experience it has been. It’s been such an adventure to work alongside Brandon’s writing process, figuring out as a team what story we were wanting to tell. During our preparation process, we discovered so many things about the story that could be told from a feminist perspective, and we realized just how timely we could make this story-telling. 

In addition to the clever and challenging aspects of a many-person story being told by only four people, we also have women playing male roles. And three of the four characters are women in this production. Woohoo! My role has a few characters rolled into one, and some are traditionally male roles. It’s exciting to be able to tell a male’s story from a female perspective, instead of having to actually play a man. And Martha has been such a joy to play. In many ways, she and I are very similar. I think people think that if a character is like you, you have to work less, but I have found that to be quite incorrect. No matter how similar we are, at the end of the day, I’m not Martha, we do not experience the same things, and our responses to things can vary greatly — and with the kind of work we do as a company, those responses can vary night to night!

Candice Oden as Martha in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. Photo by Russ Rowland.

These are desperate times, and the play speaks to that quite well. It also champions things like the #MeToo movement. The Hysteria of Dr. Faustus is so timely — even reviewers are saying so — and it’s thrilling to execute night after night. This show has so many complexities that are such a delight to deal with on a nightly basis. I was telling my mom I have a place to shove all my emotions, and it’s actually a good thing. Ha! 

Candice Oden as Martha in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. Photo by Russ Rowland.

It’s also been very gratifying to be working with the cast we have in the way that we do. We have a truly organic process, and in that, if a piece of the set breaks (and it has), we have the acting tools to deal with it. No night is the same, and I treasure the opportunity to do this kind of work. My work as an actor has grown over the course of doing many shows with The Seeing Place, and I’m actually playing onstage more than I ever have. Doing this show has been so freeing — it’s definitely one of my favorite TSP productions. And may the rest of the run be performance bliss! :)


Candice Oden is appearing as Martha in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. The show must close October 21 - To get tickets or to see reviews and production photos, visit

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Rachael Murray as Asst Director - Hell Hath No Fury, Right?

People seem tense these days. I moved to New York this year, after spending 7 years in the nation’s capital. While those years hold many lovely memories, if I’m being honest, those 7 years felt far, far longer. Aside from the traffic, the other piece that makes time move so slowly is living next to the seat of national politics. In particular, since the 2016 election the city has taken on an even more palpable political tension. There is a sense of impending…(doom? anxiety?) in the air, like storm clouds swirling overhead.

One night after a Tech rehearsal, Candice Oden, who plays Martha in The Hysteria of Dr. Faustus, asked me which city was harder to live in: DC, or New York? Without hesitating, I said DC, for sure. That’s not to say I suddenly have rose-colored NYC blinders on, with no recollection of the times I’ve cried on the subway whilst apartment hunting, but suffice it to say there is a LOT to be said for having a little distance from the anxiety-inducing ad nauseum of the Hill.

So how the Hell is all of this related to The Hysteria of Doctor Faustus? (No pun intended. Just kidding. Pun totally intended.) I’ll get to that. I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with current events these days, but we have recently had a new Supreme Court Justice sworn in. And the news cycle of the last few weeks has had some eerie parallels to our show.

In doing some of the research during the rehearsal process, we did a little reading on a variety of religious philosophies, from Calvinism to Satanism. I started thinking about modern parallels. What does it mean to be damned in 2018? It got me thinking about privilege in a wide sense, and—as it is most prescient to our show—masculine privilege. And how that interplays with Mephistophiles, a damned, fallen angel. Who is a woman. Fighting to smash the Ultimate Patriarch in the Sky.

Erin Cronican as Mephistopheles. Photo by Russ Rowland

As Erin touched on in her blog post as well, I also got to thinking about how much women are conditioned to behave over the course of their lives. Amongst the sea of “ladylike” or “not ladylike” behaviors that are ingrained from a young age is this sense of being “nice.” Being nice is so closely linked with ladylike-ness. I also began to think of this ladylike demeanor being so closely linked to one’s interactions with men. Part of that sweetness and nicety is often directed at not hurting a man’s feelings—both not to upset their ego, and also not to upset them to the point of…regrettable action, shall we say. So really, a large part of being ladylike is connected to a sense of safety.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not the first person to think these thoughts, and it’s not necessarily the first time they have crossed my mind in one form or another. But I think over the course of this rehearsal process/news cycle, I came to understand them more deeply and fully. One of the best things about wrestling with a play is you have to wrestle with its deeper-seated meanings as well. 

Broghanne Jessamine as Gretchen (left) and Candice Oden as Martha (right). Photo by Russ Rowland

Having lived 30 minutes as the crow flies from the Capitol, I was exhausted from the hourly White House drama. New York has held a pleasant sort of escapism for me these past few months. But I suppose there’s still something of a Washingtonian in me, because I can’t quite break the habit of getting up to watch the Sunday morning shows. I suppose my change in perspective has also put a lot into focus for me about what’s going on for us as a nation.

Though it’s been building for a while now, in a post-Kavanaugh world, there is a tangible sense of feminine rage in the air, vibrating around us. A line from Clare Barron’s female-focused Dance Nation suddenly popped into my head at one of our last Hysteria rehearsals: “What am I going to do with all this power?”

What are we going to do with all this anger?

Truthfully, I’m not sure. But maybe I’m just being nice.

(Also, there are magic tricks. Did I mention the magic tricks? Come for the magic. Stay for the rage.)


Rachael Murray was assistant director for THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. The show must close October 21 - To get tickets or to see reviews and production photos, visit

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Brandon Walker as Dr Faustus - Writing and Enacting Doctor Faustus

I really didn't know what I was getting into, probably much like Doctor Faustus' pact with the devil. I thought it would be a relatively easy task to adapt the play. After all, I've adapted ANTIGONE and THE STRANGER, and I've written two other full-length plays. It seemed like more of the same. Boy, was I wrong.

Since beginning, a few people have asked what drew me/us to such grand and epic material. I guess it didn't start to hit me what a gargantuan task I'd undertaken until I finished writing. In the process, I recognized that the play had gotten a Hell of a lot more personal than I had been expecting - pun intended. It's quite confronting to write a play about an aging, suicidal nobody, waking up to his own repressed desires. I think that, in a way, we can all understand. There are always these things we want that seem to be just out of arms' reach.

That's just the first problem. Really, this was also my first time writing an intimate scene as well - which is an unbelievably personal thing to do. And then there's the whole issue of the decline that Faustus runs into when he realizes that nothing is filling the gap in his life. And that's probably what's been most difficult for me as an artist: this is largely a play about someone that gets what he wants - and still isn't satisfied.

Brandon Walker as Dr Faustus in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. Photo by Russ Rowland.

As an actor, it's also an interesting issue to work on a script you've written. I've largely had to disassociate myself from the writing in order to accomplish what I'm doing onstage, and I've been much more successful than I was with my first play, WHEN WE HAVE GONE ASTRAY - in which I remember feeling so self-conscious onstage that I swore I'd never act in one of my own plays again. See, generally, there's someone else to blame as an actor. But when you're the writer AND the actor, the finger is going to point to you, no matter what. In my second play, SCOTCH KISS, I didn't write a character for myself. Same goes for THE PEOPLE VS ANTIGONE. I did write a part for myself in THE STRANGER, but we haven't done anything other than readings of that at this point. So, this is really my first time back since my first play. It's helpful that it is an adaptation - and I've tried to keep pretty true to the source material - even with the modernization. I've essentially pulled the story from Marlowe's texts, but the characters from Goethe's play - so, it isn't just the love story we see in the Opera of Faust. It is a story of corruption. It also helps that I'm not directing - and though I wrote the play, it's a very different thing to live through something as an actor than as a writer. So, once I started acting, I still had to learn how the behavior operates though me.

I'm very lucky to be working with the group I'm working with, and everyone has been very patient with me as I've caught up to them in terms of my work in rehearsals. Probably the biggest challenge I've had as an actor is that I've had to age myself 40 years for the top of the show - and I spend about an hour doing my hair and makeup before every show. I have a whole physical and vocal character that I put on for it. It's quite extensive. Then I have a few minutes as myself, sharing a fun banter with my partner in crime, Erin Cronican, as Mephistopheles, before putting on a second persona, an English novelist named Henry Faust. Then I have an extensive make-out scene that turns into a "me too" moment with Broghanne Jessamine, which though it's always nice to kiss someone, has got to be one of the most nerve-wracking things I've ever done onstage - especially considering that I wrote it. And I always come away from that feeling like a pretty terrible human being. And then everything goes south for Doctor Faustus, and I spend the rest of the play covered in blood from various people and filled with guilt, loss, and emptiness - literally haunted by Candice Oden as Martha, one of the many people I've destroyed.

Brandon Walker as Dr Faustus in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. Photo by Russ Rowland.

I think that the biggest surprise to me has happened in the playing of the role. I just didn't realize how profound the subject matter is. Hell really is a state of mind for Doctor Faustus. It's a fascinating thing to get what you want, because it really isn't ever enough, is it? We always think that things are going to be better when ____. And they just aren't. And related to the "me too" movement, it's been an interesting thing for me to tap into the many things I've done in my life to contribute to the problem. I can't speak for men everywhere, but I can say that I have crossed a lot of lines in my life. Most of them were not seemingly disastrous at the time, but I'm not proud of my behavior either. I have been creepy when I thought I was being romantic. I have been forceful when I thought I was fighting for a relationship. I have taken advantage of people who looked up to me when I'd convinced myself we were on an even playing field. I have also been on the other side of things. I was molested by a director in my early years as a professional actor. I know about compromised situations firsthand, and it's quite powerful to share them so viscerally both as a writer and an actor in this play.

Finally, it's really very exciting to me that this production is so ensemble in nature. The same basic themes are present for all of the characters. Gretchen is not just an innocent victim in our production. She has some responsibility in her own downfall. Wagner and Martha are both complicit as well. Really, we are all victims of our own envy, even Mephistopheles - and so, the audience gets to share in that from many different perspectives. I'd say that everyone that sees THE HYSTERIA OF DOCTOR FAUSTUS can really see themselves in at least one of the characters, if not all. It's a timely and important story - and just in time for Halloween.


Brandon Walker is appearing as Dr Faustus in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. The show must close October 21 - To get tickets or to see reviews and production photos, visit

Monday, October 15, 2018

Erin Cronican as Mephistopheles - Fighting For My Voice

The title of this blog takes on multiple meanings, which I didn’t realize when I sat down to write today. Not only is there the craziness that has been going on with #MeToo and #IBelieveWomen in which my voice has figuratively been silenced, but I been fighting pneumonia for the past few months which has literally taken my breath away. I have felt so stymied that I have been glad for a creative outlet, and I’ve funneled all of my strength into producing/directing a decidedly more feminist take on the enduring fable, FAUST.

I’m fighting for my voice more than ever, and it’s both invigorating and exhausting.

THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS is the first play of The Seeing Place’s ninth season, and I’m so proud to be involved as an actor, director and producer. It’s the classic story of a man who sells his soul to the devil, but we’ve chosen to adapt for a cast of just four - three women and one man - which drastically changes the way the play is perceived by audiences. And by having the main antagonist, Mephistopheles, played by a woman (me!) we put further focus on the traditional roles of male and female when it comes to power, agency, and expression. [Tickets through Oct 21, here]

It’s been interesting playing the role of the quintessential devil. Everyone expects the devil to be a man, so there’s a real focus on what I bring to the role to make it different. I have worked hard to make sure that I’m not slipping into caricature or thinking that I’m supposed to be a man. Instead I’m a disembodied, non-gendered spirit that inhabits a female form, so gender has no construct with me. (You’ll have to see the show to find out why this is - no spoilers here!) Another challenge is that this is a character who’s joy and expression of love have been removed from her when she was damned to hell - how do I stay true to that while remaining energized and dynamic as am actor on stage? How do I keep my voice alive?

Erin Cronican in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Part of my inspiration for the role comes from great actors who are crossing boundaries in today’s theater (think Janet McTeer in Bernhardt/Hamlet and Glenda Jackson as King Lear.) And the other inspiration comes from within myself - where is the little girl who learned that she must be quiet - who was she before that lesson and how do I bring her to the surface?

As a director I’ve worked with the female actors to help them find their particular voice as the characters, especially pushing for the to explore their anger and dark emotions in ways that we don’t get to see on stage from women. It’s been inspiring to watch these women come into their own with the roles and make a statement about the environment in which we’re living and how that’s reflected in the play.

Erin Cronican in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. Photo by Russ Rowland.

All this while I’ve been dragged down by pneumonia, and for months I have been lacking a full bodied voice to speak with. Have you ever had the experience where your speaking voice was inhibited for a long period of time? I have found myself getting smaller and smaller in everyday life, while becoming more and more frustrated by my lack of personal expression. People who know me have assumed that the reason I’ve been sick is because I run myself ragged. And that may be true - running a theater company takes a toll, especially when working on a project that is so personally impactful. But I’m starting to feel like the loss of my figurative voice has made my literal voice disappear as well.

And it’s funny - as soon as we started run-throughs of the show where I was inhabiting the character for more stretches at a time, my voice started to come back. It’s as if my artistic expression on stage is helping with my personal expression in life. And the more of myself I reveal as an artist on stage, the more I’m revealing in my real life.

I hope that you’ll be able to come out to see this play. It’s got the thrills and chills that you expect from a play about the Devil, but it also poses questions about the nature of consent and desire that’s apropos of today. It’s also achingly funny, and I think it’s so important to laugh during these trying times.


Erin Cronican is appearing as Mephistopheles in THE HYSTERIA OF DR FAUSTUS. The show must close October 21 - To get tickets or to see reviews and production photos, visit