A successful young couple breaks up, and thus need to rent out their beautiful apartment. Through showing the property to a succession of potential subletters, they become enmeshed in something much stranger-and funnier-than anything they anticipated. Such is the stuff of Jean-Claude Carrire’s play La Terrasse, which will receive its West Coast premiere at Center Stage Theater tomorrow, Friday, April 17, in a production by Genesis West.
Maurice Lord, the irrepressible creative force behind the company, and the director of many of Santa Barbara’s most exciting independent plays, feels that with his latest show, “the tables have turned.” “In the other shows I have done recently,” he said, “the actors have been the ones who have had to do the stretching, and I was the one who was pushing them. But now, with comedy, it is almost the other way around.”
Lord, who gave us Tracy Letts’s highly unsettling Bug in the fall, is best known for tackling edgy material like Martin McDonagh’s scathing The Pillowman and Sam Shepard’s violent and politically charged The God of Hell. Oh, and it was Lord who put on Edward Albee’s The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?, the one in which Bobby Lesser played a man who falls in love with a barn animal.
But La Terrasse, Lord assured, is not like these other shows. In fact, it is a comedy appropriate for the whole family. “Yes,” said Lord, “you can certainly bring the kids. : It feels weird to say that.” No doubt it does, for a man who is used to asking his actors and his audiences to go to the heart of darkness. Fortunately, through years of painstaking work with the area’s most talented professionals, Lord has developed a devoted following among the acting elite. Leslie Gangl Howe, a Lord mainstay and a brilliant actress, will play the realtor. Other familiar faces include Tom Hinshaw, Fred Lehto, Ed Romine, and Marian Freitag, all veterans of the Santa Barbara stage and favorites among those in the know.
Two other important casting decisions were made in a different way, however. Ted Harmand, who will play the lead character Etienne, was a good actor Lord had known 10 years ago. When Lord began thinking about who he wanted for this role, he Googled Harmand-but to no avail. He wasn’t on Facebook either, but he was in the Santa Barbara phone book.
For the female lead, Lord selected someone whose first response was “no.” After catching Jackie Apodaca in Shakespeare Santa Barbara’s Much Ado About Nothing, Lord became determined that she would play Madeleine, the other lead in La Terrasse. “At first she said that there was no way; that she was too busy with being a mom, writing her column for Backstage, teaching at UCSB, and casting for Love’s Labour’s Lost, which she will direct this summer,” Lord explained. “But I didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I just said, ‘Look, tell me what it will take for me to get you to play this role,’ and whatever she asked, I made it happen.”
By accepting the role, Apodaca has stepped into a collaboration not only with her fellow actors and her director, but also with the play’s author Carrire, who is best known for his Oscar-nominated screenplays including The Unbearable Lightness of Being (with Philip Kaufman), That Obscure Object of Desire, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (both with longtime collaborator Luis Bunuel). He was the first president of the French National Film School, La FEMIS, after its reorganization by Jack Lang in 1986, and he remains an icon of French cinema and the intellectual generation spawned by May 1968. He also, at 78, happens to be an avid follower of this particular production, which was brought to his attention by his agent.
What can we expect from this international hybrid? First of all, because this is Genesis West, there will be plenty of splendid acting. Lord feels this rehearsal process has been his most creative yet, saying, “because I am less experienced with comedy, I have been letting my actors come up with more of what they want to do onstage themselves, and since they are all so good, the result is often very funny.” Secondly, because this is a Carrire script, we can expect intelligent, multi-faceted, and wickedly hilarious material. Carrire’s screenplay for Jean-Luc Godard’s 1980 Sauve qui peut (la vie), which was released in the United States as Every Man for Himself, remains a high water mark for irreverence that may never, despite the best efforts of several generations of independent filmmakers, be surpassed. Here the style is more that of French farce crossed with Eugene Ionesco, and the referents are largely cinematic. “When I was doing Bug in the fall I was obsessing on Hitchcock,” Lord says, “and then when I started research for La Terrasse, I fell in love with Luis Bunuel. There will be a lot of that feeling in this production.”
La Terrasse opens Friday, April 17, at 8 p.m. at Center Stage Theater, and runs through May 2. For a complete schedule or for tickets, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org or genesiswest.org.