“A Sleeping Country” Directors Notes

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Peter Hardy, Artistic Director

When I first started reading Melanie Marnich’s A SLEEPING COUNTRY, I knew that we were looking for a comedy to help round out the 2011 Essential Theatre Play Festival – or, at least, something lighter than the two fairly heavy dramas we had already decided to do (Lee Blessing’s GREAT FALLS and Theroun D’Arcy Patterson’s A THOUSAND CIRCLETS).  Right from the start I was pleased with how funny A SLEEPING COUNTRY was, even while it dealt with some serious subject matter (a woman who may be in danger of dying from insomnia).  It had a magical, imaginative feel as its heroine, Julia, left New York City for the much older city of Venice, Italy – a place of ancient mysteries and fairy tale romance.

But I wasn’t prepared for how deeply the play would delve into the heart of its sleepless heroine, even as she encounters some hilariously eccentric Italians that she may or may not be related to.  In trying to find a way to finally fall asleep, Julia learns how to become truly awake, emerging from the hazy dream that her life has become.  Has that ever happened to you?  It has to me, and the truth of that experience gives this funny and fanciful play an unexpected power and depth of feeling.  In the end, it’s a play about hope, and embracing life in all its terrifying wonder.

I love to direct plays like this, when the challenge is to try and make them work on all their different levels – to bring out the humor, and the fairy-tale magic, and the heartache and love and hope and fear.  To make something that’s both truly funny AND beautiful.

I’ve got a wonderful cast that I’m so looking forward to working with – the phenomenal Kelly Criss as Julia, the woman who might be dying (but learns how to live).  Kelly appeared in the Essential’s productions of FOOD FOR FISH (playing about 9 different characters) and QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT (only one …).  You may also have seen her at Theatre in the Square, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Aurora and a number of shows at the Shakespeare Tavern.

My old pal Megan Hayes will be playing Julia’s best friend (and psychiatrist) Midge … along with a gondolier and a sleeping princess.  I worked with Megan in one of my favorite Essential productions, THE MOST FABULOUS STORY EVER TOLD, and she’s been seen at just about every theatre in town, including the Alliance, Horizon, Jewish Theatre of the South, Georgia Ensemble Theatre, Aurora and Theatre in the Square, plus a bunch of TV and online comedy stuff.

I’m looking forward to working with Matt Myers for the first time, playing Julia’s bewildered fiancé Greg (plus the Italian super-servant Franco and the Italian dreamboat Carlo).  Matt’s been seen at Dad’s Garage, Theatre in the Square, Aurora, Georgia Ensemble and Theatre Gael.  And we’re lucky to have Holly Stevenson (whom I’ve known for years, have acted with, but never directed before) playing the grand and mysterious Isabella Orsini, the woman who just might have the key to Julia’s fate.  Holly’s been seen all over town, at the Alliance, Theatre in the Square, Theatre Gael, Jewish Theatre of the South and Stage Door Players.

This week I’ll be meeting with designers to talk about how we’re going to create the weird and wonderful world of this play.  Rehearsals start in early June, and we’ll be opening up the Festival on June 30.  We hope to see you there!

Peter Hardy