Marshall Explores What it Means to Be Human

Eight years ago, moviegoers were amazed to see a seemingly unaged Jeff Bridges resurrect his role from 1982’s Tron for the 2010 sequel, marveling at how makeup could have rendered him 22 years younger. Of course, the truth was more amazing, as it was revealed that CGI came heavily into play, meaning that Bridges himself did not even need to be on set while “his” scenes were filmed. This technique is now de rigueur, of course, with Andy Serkis making a living out of portraying characters while wearing a body suit covered with reference dots. The most recent Star Wars films brought both Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher back to youthful life with (mostly) believable accuracy. And while the effect of the “uncanny valley” (whereby animation hews too closely to real life for the human brain to process comfortably), proves to be less and less of an issue as filmmakers perfect the craft, actors can hope to rely on live appearances to ensure that CGI and motion capture don’t displace them entirely.

This is the central theme posed by playwright Kevin Broccoli in his latest original script for Epic Theatre Company, Marshall, opening March 2. “The play is about an android and a human facing off against each other at an audition,” says Broccoli. “That’s a simple premise, but it allowed me to ask a lot of interesting questions. We tend to think that art (especially theater) is the last frontier when it comes to technology taking over. A robot can’t act after all, can they? What if they were designed to? What tools would humans have at their disposal to stop that? If they ever really do start putting a young DeNiro hologram in movies, what can we do?”

marshallMarshall builds upon the theatrical conceit first explored in Broccoli’s controversial James Franco and Me, where a different actor portrayed James Franco in each performance opposite Broccoli himself. The actors and Broccoli never rehearsed or compared notes with each other prior to the performances, allowing for true spontaneity as well as a different perspective each time the piece was done. The subsequent success of and eventual legal controversy surrounding James Franco and Me garnered a lot of attention to not only the subject matter, but also the dramatic concept. “After the James Franco and Me explosion,” says Broccoli, “someone commented that they really loved the idea of a play with an agreed-upon text with no rehearsal, and they were sad that the concept of the show got lost in the surrounding controversy. They suggested that maybe one day I should write another play designed for that concept.” Broccoli was eager to take the suggestion and run with it, as Franco had been written first and the concept of no mutual rehearsals was attached after the fact. He was so eager, in fact, that a finished result was produced almost on demand. “They must have thought I would do it years later,” says Broccoli. “I did it the following week.”

This time around, Broccoli is openly toying with and taking advantage of the fact that his fellow actors will be there with lines memorized, but otherwise facing on-the-spot challenges that would otherwise have been ironed out in a lengthy rehearsal process. “Nothing to do with safety … no fistfights here, “says Broccoli, “but things that rehearsal might make less daunting … nudity … I really wanted to up the stakes. And, that’s what the play explores. What it means to be human and is humanity really necessary when you’re making art, or can it be faked? The idea this time around is to create a show that presents events that are challenging to execute without a rehearsal.”

Asked about the significance of the play’s title, Broccoli explains, “Both the android (Broccoli plays the non-human named Green) and the human (only known as The Actor) are auditioning for the role of Marshall, a character in a film who we’re told is fluid, meaning anybody could play them. That opens up the possibility of the show being done with men or women of any age, the same way Franco was done.”

Unlike Franco, however, which featured a diverse lineup throughout, Broccoli is presenting Marshall in fixed groups, starting with an all-male lineup. “This time around we’re doing it with all men, but my plan is to revisit it the way we revisited Franco with different groups of people each time. With Franco, each run had a diverse mix, because we didn’t know we’d be doing it multiple times. This time around, I want to look at one group at a time, and then slightly alter the script each time depending on the group we’re doing the show with.” When asked if he wrote Marshall specifically for men or women, he responds, “I wrote it sort of generally, so that it would be possible to produce the show without making alterations. But you can’t help envisioning certain people when you’re writing, and if you try to write for an invisible person who can be anybody, it makes it really tricky. So at some point, I just settled on ‘Okay, for this run, it’s going to be guys,’ and then I’ll go back and tweak it for a second or third time.”

Given the idea that Marshall is about our innate humanity and where exactly one stops in defining what it is to be human, it would be easy to wonder if the script delves into the concepts of gender-fluidity, race and the idea that we have issues looking past the surface to find common ground. Does the script inherently accommodate a performance by *any* human? Broccoli agrees that it does, up to a point. “We never find out the Actor’s name. They’re just called The Actor in the script. And the android’s name is Green. So, you could easily see it being done by two women. Gender is never really mentioned, nor is the physical appearance of either character. But, gender and race aren’t really explored in the context of the script itself. It’s more about generalized humanity.”

The first round of performances for Marshall kicks off Friday, March 2, with Christopher Crider-Plonka taking on The Actor role. Subsequent performances and their featured Actor are as follows:

Sat, Mar 3 – Featuring Nick Doig; Sun, Mar 4 – Featuring Dillon Medina; Mon, Mar 5 (Press Night) – Featuring Christopher Crider-Plonka; Fri, Mar 9 – Featuring Adam Preston; Fri, Mar 16 – Featuring Michael Puppi; Fri, Mar 23 – Featuring Matthew Gorgone; Sat, Mar 24 – Featuring Nick Doig

Epic Theatre Company presents the Premiere of Kevin Broccoli’s Marshall, Mar 2 – Mar 24 at 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston. All performances at 8pm except for Sun, Mar 4 at 7pm. Students and Military Service Members attend free, as part of Epic’s Free Ticketing Program. For tickets, email EpicTheatreCompany@gmail.com

 

 

 

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