Backstage with Evalyn Hansen: Bill Langan is the director of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Glengarry Glen Ross," which opens Friday night at Oregon Stage Works.
Bill Langan is the director of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Glengarry Glen Ross," which opens Friday night at Oregon Stage Works. I have had the privilege of sitting in on rehearsals. The play is impeccably directed. Bill received his master's degree from Yale School of Drama and has been acting professionally for 20 years, including six years in the acting company of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We lunched on the terrace at Martino's and discussed acting, art and politics.
BL: I couldn't be more delighted by the quality of my actors. I love my guys. I'm so impressed. Now I can see from this "side of the table" the real meaning of the phrase, "directing is 80 or 90 percent casting," depending on who you talk to and somewhat depending on the show. But this play is all about the actors; it's all about the language, which I love.
That is why I love Shakespeare and the Greeks and the classics. It's love of dramatic literature and taking the language that the authors give you and expanding upon it. I'm just delighted to have the cast that I have, with some of the work we've been doing and the way that they are willing to throw themselves into it — I'm really almost moved to tears.
I wish we had more time for the actors to explore on their own. I try to give them structure and let them play within that. The director needs to be responsible for the whole play, and he needs the actor to just trust, just dive in. Now I know how it feels when you see an actor who will say, "Ok, let me try that," and really try it. It either works or it doesn't, but the only way I'm going to know is if the actor does it. The biggest thing I think directors can do is build trust.
EH: You were a history and political science major in college. How does politics influence your work in theater?
BL: Politics is important and vital, and I care about it a great deal, but it is day-to-day and can be ephemeral. Art is not. One of the reasons I love Shakespeare and the Greeks is that there is universality to it. Great artists and musicians tap into something that is essential about the human experience. The only reason to do Shakespeare and the Greeks today is that they still have something to say to us. I think that is extraordinary.
My politics certainly color my perspective, but I've rarely seen dead-on political theater work very well, at least for me. I think when people are doing political theater they are trying to give you answers. Theater, like all art, is not very successful at providing answers. We are really good at asking tough questions. Our role is to ask tough questions and start the conversation and provide the seeds for thought.
With political theater, I think of people beating me over the head with their point of view. Well, that's not going to win me over. But if you provide for me a story that presents a complicated situation that looks like life and has some resonance in the world I know, you are going to make me think about my own preconceptions or my own view of the world. For me, the political value of theater is to ask the questions that some people would prefer you didn't ask.
"Glengarry Glen Ross" opens Friday at Oregon Stage Works, 191 A St. The show runs through Oct. 18. For tickets and information call 482-2334.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.