1960s Avant Garde American Style

Independent Players is delighted to be returning to the Elgin Fringe Festival for the third straight year, and this year, it introduces playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie and his short play–Interview –to the EFF audience for its enjoyment. Directed by IP Artistic Director Don Haefliger, it stars Matt Fox, Beth Hitzeroth-McDonald, Blase Horn, Jonathan Horn, Brian McLeod, Lori Rohr, Rebecca Stellato and Dana Udelhoven, all of whom are IP veterans. It will be performed on Friday, September 15 at 6 PM, on Saturday, September 16 at 4:30 PM and Sunday, September 17 at 3 PM at First United Methodist Church, 216 E. Highland Avenue, Elgin. Tickets are only available t Side Street Studio Arts (the Elgin Fringe Festival headquarters), 15 Zeigler Court, Elgin.

This satirical play is the first part of his full-length work entitled America, Hurrah (which also includes TV and Motel). Interview was first presented at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in New York City in 1964-65 in tandem with Motel. The entire trilogy was premiered at the Pocket Theatre in NYC on November 7, 1966. This “keen deconstruction of American popular culture” immediately established Van Itallie as one of the most distinguished playwrights of the American avant garde. According to Time Magazine, “he conveys an especially timely sensation, that of a world of fragmented experience so speeded up past human endurance that a man must either die laughing or go mad. It is anguishingly funny, yet oddly poignant, and more than passing wise in the way of today’s world.”

To best understand what transpires in the play, renowned New York drama critic Norman Nadel explains it best. “Four smiling interviewers interview a scrubwoman, a house painter, a banker and a lady’s maid. It is commonplace and familiar enough, except that suddenly, the most innocent statements are foreboding. As the interviews progress, we are stung by the intensity and viciousness of the contest. The questioners are trying to destroy the dignity of the four clients, and the latter fight to hold their self-respect. It is never resolved.” (The interviewers check the applicants’ teeth and look for track marks. Even if one hasn’t interviewed in decades, she is there, identifying with the hopes, the rising tensions, the indignities all in a quickly shifting dramatic landscape.)

To continue, Norman Nadel once again: “Abruptly, the scene changes—a street, a subway, a psychiatrist’s office, a confessional—but throughout, this compelling involvement continues. And the sense of familiarity continues as well. We are not seeing something new, except in the bizarre design of the play itself, but we are recognizing something which has been before us all the time. Therein lies the shock effect of Interview and its power, as well. None of it is happening to others; it is happening to us—or rather, it is recalling things that have happened to us. We are thrust into awareness. The insulation burns off, and we have no choice but to perceive.” In other words, when these individuals emerge from the interview situation and share their experiences and traumas in the second half, the viewer suddenly realizes the universality of the situation.

Once again, tickets are only available at Side Street Studio Arts, 15 Zeigler Court, Elgin. Independent Players’ performances are at First United Methodist Church, 216 E. Highland Avenue, Elgin and the dates and times of performances are Friday through Sunday, 9/15 at 6 PM, 9/16 at 4:30 PM and 9/17 at 3 PM. We hope you will join us and experience 1960s avant garde through the perceptive writing of Jean-Claude van Itallie.