Barrington Stage Company: Working on a special play



Stage actors and directors Ana Graham and Antonio Vega came to New York from their native Mexico five years ago in the hope of finding a new artistic home.

"We were looking for a theater that would let us do here what we do in Mexico (City at Por Piedad Theatro)," Graham said over a coffee at a Pittsfield coffeehouse.

They also were looking for a play to perform in English, one in which their Mexican accents wouldn’t matter.

What they found was an Italian stage adaptation of Ettore Scola’s modest 1977 film, "A Special Day," starring Sophia Loren as an overworked, plain, lonely Italian housewife and Marcello Mastroianni as a troubled gay man who meet by chance on the same day in 1938 that Adolf Hitler arrives in Rome to meet Benito Mussolini.

On the condition that they make no changes in the story or delete any of the characters, Graham and Vega, working with Danya Traymor, gained permission to make their own English-language translation, "Working on a Special Day."

They found a theater group -- The Play Company. They premiered "Working on a Special Day" Off-Broadway at Flea Theater in the winter of 2012 and brought it back one year later at 59E59 Theaters. It has played at the Edinburgh and Australian Fringe festivals and for other international audiences.

"We learn from every audience," Graham said. "We found the New York audience to be very mature.

"We played to a teenage audience in Singapore. They related to it but in a different way."

Now, Berkshires audiences are having their say. "Working on a Special Day" has been previewing since Wednesday at Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Stage where it officially opens 3 p.m. Sunday.

Barrington Stage board chairman Mary Ann Quinson saw "Working on a Special Day" in New York and recommended it to BSC artistic director Julianne Boyd.

"It’s perfect for our second stage," commented Stephanie Yankwitt, BSC’s newly hired artistic associate for new play development and producer for BSC’s St. Germain Stage. "What we want to do (in that space) is enlighten audiences as much as engage them."

Necessity has been the mother of invention for Vega and Graham.

"We put our own spin on (the original play)," Vega said. To begin with, Graham and Vega play all the characters. They also have taken a creative approach to set design that involves chalk-drawn elements on the set’s walls.

"We had to be creative rather than cool," Graham said.

Making art isn’t easy and Graham and Vega admit that the challanges have been daunting.

For starters, they are directing each other.

"It was our biggest challenge," Graham said. "Sometimes you would say ‘This scene isn’t working for me’ but this isn’t about that. It’s about how to make each other more truthful."

"We had to learn how to be kind to each other (in rehearsals)," Vega said.

Despite the fact that Vega and Graham easily navigated an interview, they say their skills with English also have been a challenge.

"We’re playing that we’re Italian but, still, the grammar, the intonation, the phrasing is English. We were nervous about that," said Graham.

Perhaps the most important challenge, Vega and Graham say, is to encourage audiences to willingly enter the imaginative world Vega and Graham have created; to go along on the journey the play’s characters make.

"It’s a challenge for audiences to suspend disbelief," Vega said. "(Because) we do all the characters, so the story can be told, we (approach it in our minds) like children playing.

"What we want is to be truthful."

"It’s not how much make-up, you put on," Graham said, "it’s how you play the characters that make it real."


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