Christopher Massimine is trying not to lie.He’s trying not to lie when his wife asks him whether he has sorted the recycling, or when his mother-in-law’s friend Mary Ann asks whether he liked the baked appetizers she brought over.He’s trying not to lie to his therapist, who has him on a regimen of cognitive behavioral therapy to help him stop lying. And he’s trying not to lie to me, a reporter who has come to interview him about how a lifetime of lying caught up with him.This effort began around 15 months ago, when Mr. Massimine resigned from his job as managing director of the Pioneer Theater Company in Salt Lake City after a local journalist reported that he had embellished his résumé with untrue claims.The résumé, it turned out, was the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of many years, he has since acknowledged, he lied prolifically and elaborately, sometimes without any discernible purpose.He told friends he had ascended Mount Everest from Tibet (he was actually in a hotel room in Cambodia) and attended Burning Man (on closer examination, his photographs proved to have been taken in Queens.)He told journalists he was born in Italy. (New Jersey.) He told school friends his birthday was in September. (May.) He told his wife he was having an affair with Kourtney Kardashian. (Not true.)When his binge of lying was exposed, it left Mr. Massimine’s life in tatters, threatening his marriage and discrediting his early success in the world of New York theater.He spoke to The New York Times to address what he described as a fundamental misunderstanding: These were not the lies of a calculating con artist, but of a mentally ill person who could not help himself.Mr. Massimine, talking with his wife, Maggie, has tried to identify the facial tics he experiences when lying.He is not the first to suggest that certain kinds of lying are a compulsion. In 1891, the German psychiatrist Anton Delbrück coined the term pseudologia fantastica to describe a group of patients who, to impress others, concocted outlandish fabrications that cast them as heroes or victims.That argument is advanced in a new book by the psychologists Drew A. Curtis and Christian L. Hart, who propose adding a new diagnosis, Pathological Lying, to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.Psychiatry, they argue, has long misidentified this subset of patients. Rather than “dark, exploitative, calculating monsters,” they argue, pathological liars are “often suffering from their own behavior and unable to change on their own.” These liars, the psychologists argue, could benefit from behavioral therapies that have worked with stuttering, nail-biting and trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder.Just before his fabrications were exposed, Mr. Massimine checked into a psychiatric hospital, where he was diagnosed with a cluster B personality disorder, a syndrome which can feature deception and attention-seeking. For many of the people close to him, a diagnosis made all the difference.“He’s not just a liar, he has no control over this,” said his wife, Maggie, 37, who admitted that, at several points, she had considered filing for divorce. “That really was the turning point for me, when I had an understanding of it as an illness.”Since then, she has thrown herself into the project of helping her husband recover. “It’s similar to Tourette’s,” she said. “You acknowledge that it’s their illness that’s causing them to do this, and it might be a little odd and uncomfortable, but you move past that.”A call from Mount EverestIn 2018, Mr. Massimine posted messages and photos on Facebook pretending to be near Mount Everest in Tibet.Maggie remembers, with painful clarity, the day in 2018 when she realized the breadth and depth of her husband’s problem.“I’m in tibet,” his email said. “Please don’t be mad.”He had attached a photograph of two men, a Sherpa and a fair-haired alpinist, with Himalayan peaks looming in the background. He had managed to sneak into China with the help of kind Buddhist monks, who led him as far as Everest Camp 2, he told her. “This is Tsomo,” he wrote. “He is awesome and if he comes to the USA you’ll love him.”Maggie stared at the picture, which he had also posted on Facebook; it didn’t make sense. Mr. Massimine, her husband of five years, had told her he was on vacation in Cambodia. He had not given himself time to acclimate to the elevation of Everest Base Camp; he had no mountaineering experience; he didn’t have a Chinese visa.“At first, I thought, Why is he posting this when it could get him killed?” she said. “And then, the crazier his posts got, I was like, This isn’t real. None of this is real.”That weekend, with help from her friend Vanessa, she began a “deep dive,” reviewing all of his Facebook posts and email accounts. She discovered elaborate deceptions — voice impersonators, dummy email accounts, forged correspondences. She was terrified, she said. “Who is this person?” she recalls thinking. “Who did I marry?”Christopher Massimine’s flair for theater emerged early.via Lawrence MassimineMr. Massimine is tall, handsome and eager to please. He grew up on a cul-de-sac in Somerset, N.J., the only child of a nurse and an auditor. His flair for theater emerged early — at 10, he wrangled the members of his Cub Scout troop into performing “A Knight’s Tale,” a play he wrote and scored. Family photos show him in costume, a fair-haired boy with fangs, a knight’s armor, an eye patch.The lying started early, too. He says it began in the second grade, when, nervous about bringing home a B plus in math, he told his parents that he had been invited onto the stage at school to sing a duet with an actor from “The Lion King.”Lying became a “defense mechanism,” something he did to calm his anxiety, usually without pausing to consider whether he would be believed. “It was just something where I kind of pulled the trigger and hoped for the best,” he said.In interviews, friends recalled this behavior, which they described as “tall tales” or “embellishments” or “campfire stories.” It never seemed malicious, said Jessica Hollan, 35, who was cast opposite him in a middle school production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”“It was more just like, you caught a minnow, and then it became a swordfish,” she said.Maggie shared a wedding photo from 2013. No one called him out on it, said Lauren Migliore, 34, who got to know him in college. She recalled him as a loyal, affectionate friend but sensitive and needy, “like a little puppy.” “I always thought it came from a place of insecurity,” she said. “I never thought it was worthy of mentioning. It was an attention thing.”By the time he met Maggie, Mr. Massimine was a successful theater producer with a tendency to extreme workaholism. Co-workers recalled his pulling all-nighters as productions approached, sometimes forgetting to shower or change clothes.This intensity propelled him upward through the industry; at 29, he was named chief executive of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, where he laid the groundwork for a runaway hit, a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish.But it hadn’t been good for the marriage. Now, Maggie understood that her husband’s work habits were not her only problem. They separated for a few months. Then she softened — maybe, she told herself, he was lying because she made him feel inadequate — and they got back together. He started therapy and went on an antidepressant medication.They spent months sifting through everything he had ever told her about his life, “just figuring out fact from fiction,” she said.A small group of prolific liarsVironika Wilde said she lied frequently as a teenager to “produce a moment of empathy in other people.”Ian Willms for The New York TimesIn 2010, when researchers from Michigan State University set out to calculate how often Americans lied, they found that the distribution was extremely skewed.Sixty percent of respondents reported telling no lies at all in the preceding 24 hours; another 24 percent reported telling one or two. But the overall average was 1.65 because, it turned out, a small group of people lied a lot.This “small group of prolific liars,” as the researchers termed it, constituted around 5.3 percent of the population but told half the reported lies, an average of 15 per day. Some were in professions, like retail or politics, that compelled them to lie. But others lied in a way that had no clear rationale.This was the group that interested Dr. Curtis and Dr. Hart. Unlike earlier researchers, who had gathered data from a criminal population, the two psychologists set about finding liars in the general public, recruiting from online mental health forums. From this group — found “in mundane, everyday corners of life,” as Dr. Hart put it — they pieced together a psychological profile.These liars were, as a whole, needy and eager for social approval. When their lies were discovered, they lost friends or jobs, which was painful. One thing they did not have, for the most part, was criminal history or legal problems. On the contrary, many were plagued by guilt and remorse. “I know my lying is toxic, and I am trying to get help,” one said.This profile did not line up with the usual psychiatric view of liars, who are often diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder, a group seen as manipulative and calculating. This misidentification, the authors argue, has led to a lack of research into treatments and a general pessimism that habitual liars are capable of change.In a new book, the psychologist Drew Curtis argues that prolific liars could benefit from behavioral therapies.For Vironika Wilde, 34, a writer whose first-person account is referenced in the book, it was possible to stop. She started lying as a teenager, a “chubby immigrant girl who spoke with an accent,” hoping to win sympathy with over-the-top stories of a drive-by shooting or a fall from a roof. Over time, though, keeping track of the lies became stressful and complicated. And as she developed deeper relationships, friends began calling her bluff.In her 20s, she stopped by imposing a rigid discipline on herself, meticulously correcting herself every time she told a lie. She looked for new ways to receive empathy, writing and performing poetry about traumatic experiences in her past. Telling the truth felt good. “You still have these internal mechanisms saying something is off,” said Ms. Wilde, who lives in Toronto. “That is what makes it so relieving to stop. Those pangs of guilt, they go away.”But she was never able to coach other compulsive liars through the process. Several approached her, but she could not get past a few sessions and was never convinced that they were ready to change. “I had the impression,” she said, “that they were trying to avoid negative consequences.”This was a common observation among researchers who have spent time with prolific liars: That it was difficult to build functioning relationships.“You can’t trust them, but you find yourself getting sucked into trusting them because, otherwise, you can’t talk to them,” said Timothy R. Levine, a professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham who has published widely on deception.“Once you can’t take people at their word, communication loses all its functionality, and you get stuck in this horrible place,” he said. “It puts you in this untenable situation.”BackslidingMr. Massimine is cautious about joining group conversations where people are swapping stories, knowing that he may feel the urge to fabricate.In October 2019, the year after the Tibet lie fell apart, Mr. Massimine called Maggie in a state of breathless excitement. There was news: He had won a Humanitarian of the Year Award, from a group called the National Performing Arts Action Association.The couple had just moved to Salt Lake City, where he had been named managing director of the Pioneer Theater Company at the University of Utah. Things weren’t going well at work, where, as he put it, “the people who were supposed to be listening to me weren’t listening to me.” Once again, he found himself pulling all-nighters, lashing out at interruptions from Maggie, who was pregnant.Aggrieved and raw, he reached for an old solution. It was a deception that went beyond what he had done in the past, and he needed Maggie to back him up. “I felt like, you know, this was a very big lie, and I want to make sure I got everyone on board, so that it feels like it’s a real thing,” he said.Maggie was, frankly, dubious. But then he flew to Washington for two days, coming back with a medal and photos that appeared to show him at a White House podium. “I was like, OK, I guess he really did get this award,” she said. “Like, he came back, and he’s got an award.”His new co-workers were keeping closer track. In his first month on the job, he asked colleagues to secure him a last-minute observer pass to a U.N. conference, then claimed that he had been a keynote presenter, said Kirsten Park, then the theater’s director of marketing. It seemed like an “enormous exaggeration,” but then again, it was theater, she said: “Everybody expects a little bit of fluff.”She watched him giving interviews to reporters and describing a career of dazzling breadth and achievement. When he brought Ms. Park a news release announcing his Humanitarian Award, she searched for the organization, then the award, online, and found nothing.Mr. Massimine takes daily walks, thinking through the moments when he felt an urge to lie.“I absolutely thought it was a lie,” she said, but hesitated to report her doubts to superiors. When he flew to Washington to collect the award at the university’s expense, she doubted herself. “Maybe the only worse thing than lying is accusing someone of lying who hasn’t.”Mr. Massimine’s behavior became harder to ignore in 2021. He began posting amateurishly written articles — he now admits paying for them — that described him in even more grandiose terms: He had been a vice chair of MENSA International, a consultant to Aretha Franklin and a minority owner of a diamond company. Even friends, watching from a distance, wondered what was going on.“I didn’t think half the stuff in it was real,” recalled Jill Goldstein, who worked with Mr. Massimine at the Folksbiene.Then it all blew up. In a painful conversation with university officials, Mr. Massimine learned that a group of staff members from the theater had filed a grievance about him, alleging mismanagement and absenteeism, and that a reporter from the local FOX affiliate was preparing an exposé on his fabrications.Looking back at this period, Mr. Massimine did not sound particularly remorseful, but instead indignant toward his co-workers: “The audacity that, you know, these employees who have just been fighting me and fighting and fighting and fighting and fighting. And I have been trying to work with them because I had no other choices.” That realization, he said, “sent me into a complete breakdown spiral.”Maggie recalls these days as the scariest she has ever lived through. She was so afraid he would hurt himself, she said, that she stood in the door when he used the toilet. Finally, she drove Mr. Massimine to the university hospital’s psychiatric institute, where he checked in for the first of three brief stays.Once again, she found herself at home alone, reviewing thousands of her husband’s emails.“I called my best friend, Vanessa, and I was just like, ‘He did it again,’” she said.A Smaller LifeMr. Massimine, with his wife, Maggie, and their son, Bowie, in the New York City borough of Queens.Dr. Jordan W. Merrill, a psychiatrist who treated Mr. Massimine in Utah that year, recalled him as exceptionally fragile during the weeks that followed.“There are times, as a psychiatrist, we have patients where we really worry we’re going to get a phone call the next morning that they are dead,” he said. “There was a period that he was that person.”Lying had not previously been a focus of Mr. Massimine’s psychiatric treatment, but now, the doctors swung their attention to it. Dr. Merrill described Mr. Massimine’s fabrications as “benign lying,” which functioned mainly as “a protection of his internal fragility.”“It’s not seeking to take something from you, it’s about just trying to cope,” Dr. Merrill said. “I don’t know if they know they’re doing it. It becomes reinforced so many times that this is just the way one navigates the world.”For Maggie, the diagnosis made all the difference. Mr. Massimine’s doctors, she recalled, “sent me to psychology websites and really walked me through it so I could have a better understanding.” As she came to see his actions as symptoms of an illness, her anger at him drained away.The diagnosis also mattered to his employer. Mr. Massimine negotiated a $175,000 settlement with the University of Utah in which neither party acknowledged wrongdoing, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, which acquired the agreement through a records request. Christopher Nelson, a university spokesman, confirmed Mr. Massimine’s resignation but declined to comment further.The Massimines sold their large Victorian house in Salt Lake City and moved in with Maggie’s parents in Queens.The Massimines recently closed on a three-bedroom house in Queens, away from the world of theater.These days, Mr. Massimine meets weekly with a therapist, unpacking the moments when he felt a strong urge to fabricate. He says he quiets the urges by writing, posting often on social media. When he finds himself on the edge of a group of people swapping stories, he steels himself, takes deep breaths and tries to stay silent.Now that some time has passed, he and Maggie can laugh about the more ridiculous episodes — “I called my general manager and I was like, I can’t talk very long, I’m on Mount Everest” — and that is a relief. The effort of keeping track of lies had become a mental strain, “a million different things in my brain that didn’t need to be there.”“I want to change,” he said. “I don’t want to be doing this for the rest of my life. It’s taken a toll on my memory. It’s taken a toll on my character.”Recently, the Massimines closed on a modest three-bedroom house in Hamilton Beach, a middle-class neighborhood in Queens overlooking Jamaica Bay. It’s a long way from the world of theater and the life they had envisioned when they went on their first date, at Sardi’s.Maggie is OK with that. Given his problem with fabrication, sending him back into the world of show business would be “like telling an alcoholic to become a bartender.”Early this month, as he watched their 20-month-old son, Bowie, kick a soccer ball across their narrow back yard, Mr. Massimine seemed impossibly far from that old world. He spoke, a little wistfully, about the fictional Chris, the one he has had to relinquish.“There was this wonderful character of me, and he did things nobody else could do,” he said. “In some ways, I’m sad to see him go.”‘Why would we expect any of this to be true?’Mr. Massimine wrote about his lying, attributing it to mental illness.This fall, Mr. Massimine made his first tentative re-entry into the public eye, publishing a column in Newsweek that attempted to explain his lying.“As part of my diagnosis, when I am in mental distress, I create fabrications to help build myself up, since that self-esteem by itself doesn’t exist,” he wrote. “I compensated in the only way I knew how to: I created my own reality, and eventually that spilled into my work.”The column, which ran under the headline “I Was Canceled, It Turned My Life Upside Down,” portrayed him as a victim of office politics and online trolls. Judging by the comments written anonymously, it did not win him the sympathy of many readers.“He made up and accepted a humanitarian award that DOES NOT EXIST,” one wrote. Another asked: “As a confirmed liar writing about how you lied, why would we expect any of this to be true?”Ms. Goldstein, a friend, said she admired Mr. Massimine for pushing the limit of the kinds of mental illnesses that are discussed publicly.“Some of them are still in the closet, and this is one of them,” she said. “Compulsive lying, that’s not something that’s out and open. That’s not acceptable. That’s considered wrong.”Other associates were less forgiving. Ms. Park, who worked for Mr. Massimine in Utah, was one of the few former co-workers willing to comment on the record.“I have no doubt that Chris struggles with mental health,” she said. “Nearly everyone did in 2020. But lying is still a choice. The urge to lie doesn’t mean you have to. Moreover, knowing this about yourself, continuing to lie and then not disclosing it is also a choice.”She noted that he had secured a competitive, well-paid position in Salt Lake City with a résumé that falsely claimed that he had a master’s degree and that he was a two-time Tony Award nominee, among other things.“If this is a characteristic of his illness as he has said, he has clearly been able to use it to his advantage to gain prestige, position and pay,” she said.Even friends wondered whether his public discussion of his mental illness was disingenuous, a form of reputation management. “A redemption arc,” as Ms. Hollan, his friend from middle school, put it.“I want him to get better,” she said. “I love him to death. But at the same time I don’t know how much of what he’s saying is actually true.”The diagnosis will not resolve this problem. For much of recorded history, lying has been counted among the gravest of human acts.This is not because of the damage done by particular lies, but because of what lying does to relationships. To depend on a liar sets you on queasy, uncertain ground, like putting weight on an ankle you know is broken. “You are always hurting another person with that kind of behavior,” Ms. Wilde said.As I reported this article, Mr. Massimine regularly checked in with me to report his progress at avoiding lies, a streak that eventually extended to nine weeks. He felt good about sharing his story, reasoning, “If there are 100 people who think I’m full of shit, but one person it does help, that’s enough.”But on my last visit, when Mr. Massimine had stepped out for a walk, Maggie sat with me at the kitchen counter and listed things in the Newsweek column that she thought he had exaggerated to make himself look better.“Embellishments,” she called them, like saying he was doing “townwide construction work” when he had actually helped his father-in-law dig a hole for a neighbor’s cesspool.“I worry about his conversation with his therapist,” she told me. “I’m like, are you being honest with your therapist? Are you telling them everything?”She tries to keep up with everything he has been posting on social media, but she has a job, and he writes so much. Maggie sounded tired.“I am not confident that he has totally stopped,” she said. “I can obviously not watch him all the time.”While we were talking, Mr. Massimine returned home from his walk and settled on the couch, listening.“I disagree,” he said. “I think I’ve been good.”Rebecca Ritzel and Alain Delaqueriere contributed reporting. More
The ancient and contemporary swirl together in Liba Vaynberg’s ambitious, off-kilter play about life after a divorce.It is something of a shock to encounter Jennifer Westfeldt, as gorgeous and screwball-comedy perfect as ever, playing the mother of an actual grown-up — a daughter deep enough into adulthood that not only has she gotten married, but now she’s getting a divorce.Your brain may do some contortions as it attempts to adjust, but the effervescent Westfeldt — star of the classic rom-com movies “Friends With Kids” and “Kissing Jessica Stein” — has indeed taken up the Jewish-mother mantle. As Mama in Liba Vaynberg’s ambitious, off-kilter play “The Gett,” at Rattlestick Theater in Greenwich Village, Westfeldt handily steals the show.Mama’s daughter, Ida (pronounced EE-da), a poet with a day job at a library, is rather less interesting. This is unfortunate, given that she is the main character.One Dec. 25, en route to a friend’s party, Ida (Vaynberg) gets stuck in an elevator with a guy who is smolderingly hot despite his penchant for magic tricks. (The show’s magic consultant is Alexander Boyce.) The stranger is attracted to Ida even after she flosses her teeth in front of him, right there in the elevator.This is Baal (Ben Edelman), Ida’s future husband and eventual ex. His name, a note in the script explains, “is the Hebrew word for husband, master, and a false violent god who is eventually banished.” Romantically, Baal is not a healthy choice.Directed by Daniella Topol, “The Gett” is about his banishment, but its principal subject is Ida’s struggle to remake herself after their divorce. (A gett is a Jewish divorce decree.) Subtitled “One Woman’s Creation Myth,” the play borrows its seven-part structure from the seven-day creation of the heavens and Earth in the Book of Genesis. Within that framework, the first day is Ida and Baal’s meet-cute.The play slip-slides between the contemporary and the ancient, the real and the surreal. When Ida asks her divorce lawyer (Luis Vega) what the date is, he replies: “Well, there was light on the first day, and now we’re drawing a line that separates the heavens from the earth. So, the second day of creation.”It’s a difficult tone to strike, more so given the production’s unbalanced dynamic. Ida is curiously drab, lacking the pull of sympathy; scenes between her and a series of male characters (played by Vega) don’t breathe as deeply as they need to. But whenever Baal appears, things perk up — because the dark magnetism that makes it so hard for Ida to get him out of her head works on the audience, too. He is a beguiling presence, inhabiting a nearly spectral dimension.And Mama is all exuberance, with a delightful comic fizz. Rambling to Ida in voice mail after voice mail, she roots for her unconditionally.“You were so weird,” she tells Ida, remembering her as a child, and there’s no mistaking that this oddness was a good thing, worth cherishing.Produced in partnership with Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, “The Gett” intends to work on two levels, as one woman’s divorce story and as a play laden with meaning from Jewish history and culture. The script contains plenty of layers. But in performance, flatness too often dominates.Then the scene changes, Ida’s voice mail beeps, and Mama returns, persistent in her love.“This is your mother,” she says, and for a few moments all is well again.The GettThrough Dec. 11 at Rattlestick Theater, Manhattan; rattlestick.org. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. More
The enduring Agatha Christie whodunit, which has stumped West End theatergoers since 1952, will come to New York next year. (No spoilers, please.)For the past 70 years, London theatergoers have enjoyed trying to figure out the identity of the murderer in “The Mousetrap,” Agatha Christie’s enduring whodunit.Now, Broadway audiences will get a chance to try to solve it.On Friday, keen-eyed theatergoers discovered a website for the Broadway iteration, which announced that the murder mystery, whose London production holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest-running play, would make its Broadway debut some time in 2023.The website did not give details about the run’s start date, location or cast, but said the production’s set would be “a loving recreation” of the chintzy West End design and even borrow its wind machine, which is used to create a storm.On Friday, Adam Spiegel, the show’s British producer, confirmed the transfer of the show in a telephone interview from St. Martin’s Theater in London, where he was hosting a special matinee of “The Mousetrap” to celebrate its 70th birthday.Spiegel said he “was not ready” to provide any details of the Broadway run, but insisted it was going ahead. “Oh God, yes, it will happen in 2023,” he said.He is producing the show with Kevin McCollum, the Tony Award-winning producer who recently helped take “Six,” the hit musical about the wives of Henry VIII, from London to Broadway.It is unclear why “The Mousetrap,” which began as a radio play, has never reached Broadway before. For decades — even when it was merely middle-aged, and still far from becoming a septuagenarian — some critics have called it an anachronism, noting its old-fashioned staging, with creaking windows the closest thing to a special effect.A New York production did open Off Broadway in 1960, at the Maidman Playhouse. “‘The Mousetrap’ will not exactly shake you up, but neither will it let you down,” Lewis Funke wrote in The New York Times. But it never moved to Broadway.The original 1952 production starred Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim, who were married. All told, the show has been performed over 28,915 times in London, the production said on Friday in a news release, and has been seen by over 10 million people. Queen Elizabeth II attended its 50th anniversary performance in 2002.A decade ago, when the show was celebrating its 60th anniversary, Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times that seeing it in London was like “being part of a field trip to a historic site,” because he found himself surrounded by so many tourists and schoolchildren. But he loved its cozy mystery. “Oh, bliss, it’s a living Clue board,” he said.“So, yes, ‘The Mousetrap’ creaks,” he wrote, “but old houses do; that’s part of their charm.”The show’s long West End run was interrupted by the lengthy coronavirus shutdown. Spiegel said the idea for the transfer to Broadway arose soon after “The Mousetrap” reopened in May 2021. Ever since, it “has probably had the most successful run of its life,” Spiegel said, “so suddenly we got a renewed sense of purpose about where else it might work, and New York seemed a good place.”“The Mousetrap” is set for a limited engagement, according to the website. Asked if that could end up actually being for 70 years, like in London, Spiegel demurred. “That might be a bit ambitious,” he said, “but we might as well aim for the moon.”Wherever “The Mousetrap” ends up being staged on Broadway, one thing about the production is guaranteed: Spiegel said that it would “of course” end every performance just as it does in London, with a member of the cast asking the audience to keep the identity of the killer to themselves. The no-spoilers plea has helped keep the ending a surprise for 70 years. More
Noël Coward’s bleak portrait of a collapsing marriage between two artists has its American premiere at New York City Center.Sheila Brandreth and Keld Maxwell are in love and about to get married. She is a novelist and he is a playwright, both at the start of their careers: It’s a union made in literary heaven, and Sheila (Sarin Monae West) looks forward to “the joy of working together and helping one another to make our way in the world.”But when Keld (James Evans) is out of earshot, Sheila’s roommate, Olive Lloyd-Kennedy (Elisabeth Gray), offers a more jaundiced perspective. “You are much the cleverer of the two,” she tells Sheila, “and because of that I prophesy that you will be the one to give in.”Alas, it is Olive who is right.This is not much of a spoiler considering that the play is called “The Rat Trap,” the title revealing a gloomy — cynical souls might say realistic — view of marriage as terribly wrong for one party, possibly even both. That this all ends on an uncompromisingly depressing note is all the more startling considering that the show, presented by the Mint Theater, was written in 1918 and is meant to be a comedy.Then again, its author is Noël Coward, whose view of matrimony was like a cocktail of Champagne and strychnine.Written when Coward was 18, “The Rat Trap” was first staged in London in 1926 and is just now making its American debut. Elements of his signature style already figure in this piece of juvenilia, including such epigrams as “Marriage nowadays is nothing but a temporary refuge for those who are uncomfortable at home.” What’s more remarkable is that the teenage Coward had an uncanny sense of the agonizing friction between artistic ambitions and domestic life.Alexander Lass’s underpowered production at New York City Center does not bother exploring some tantalizing possibilities — like, for example, the nature of Olive’s feelings for Sheila — and it does not quite manage to hit either the comic highs or the dramatic lows. (There are also some questionable set and blocking choices, like a sofa positioned in such a way that the actors sitting on it must contort themselves to avoid showing their backs to the audience.)But West shines, first as a woman in love then as one who shrivels into seething disillusion when her career stalls while her husband’s blossoms. Because of course Sheila’s ambitions end up taking a back seat to his. “I gave up my working brain for you,” she tells Keld, who responds with a classic anthem of weaselly self-justification.The play appears to suggest this imbalance is baked into the conventions of bourgeois relationships. But it also satirizes the bohemian pretensions of Naomi Frith-Bassington (Heloise Lowenthal) and Edmund Crowe (Ramzi Khalaf), a couple of proto-hipsters who prefer free love to the officially licensed kind.Coward later wrote that “The Rat Trap” had some merits, but “the last act is an inconclusive shambles.” He was too harsh — the ending is trenchant rather than inconclusive. In love as in war, it seems to say, everybody loses.The Rat TrapThrough Dec. 10 at New York City Center Stage II, Manhattan; minttheater.org. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. More
The cushion of state money let the Hampstead and Donmar playhouses develop broad programs with international reach. Now they must find creative ways to play on.LONDON — Standing ovations at London theaters are drearily routine these days, but I experienced one a few weeks ago that felt genuinely impassioned. I’m thinking of the fervent audience response to a new two-character play, “Blackout Songs,” on Hampstead Theater’s intimate second stage. (The show runs at the 100-seat Hampstead Downstairs until Dec. 10.)Chronicling the bruised and bruising relationship between two self-destructive drinkers who meet at an A.A. meeting, Joe White’s spiky tragicomedy is impressive on several fronts. Its performers, Alex Austin and Rebecca Humphries, fearlessly inhabit two restless lovers trying to stave off psychic and physical ruin. The writing plays with time, asking the audience to piece together a fragmented narrative that views these characters — unnamed until the very end — at critical points as they ricochet in and out of each other’s lives.The play asks a lot of the two actors, who meet its demands with force. But there was an additional reason for the palpable excitement in the house at the show’s end that night. The excellence of the show dealt a direct rebuke to the still fresh news of major cuts in government subsidies for arts institutions across London, in which the Hampstead lost its entire grant. Work like “Blackout Songs” is what the Hampstead exists to do, and suddenly the theater felt at risk.The same fate befell the venerable Donmar Warehouse, another small theater with an outsize reach. Might the activity of two playhouses so crucial to the theatrical ecosystem — not just in London — be somehow curtailed? Would they have to become safer, less adventurous?Both houses have long shown their importance, here and overseas. Equipped with three auditoriums between them (the Hampstead has a 370-seat main stage as well), they have generated a substantial body of work, sending shows from London into the world and also offering homes to shows from abroad. The Donmar has just staged the European premiere of “The Band’s Visit”; a second American musical, “Next to Normal,” is scheduled to arrive there next year.To cut these theaters’ subsidies is to advocate, willingly or not, for shrunken ambitions. Philanthropy and commercial activities can pick up the slack, of course, as in the United States. But donor bases don’t arrive overnight. The cushion of state money let the Hampstead and the Donmar develop broad programs with international reach. Unless the theaters tread carefully, the effects of the cut will be felt far beyond London.I can easily see international producers snapping up “Blackout Songs,” not least because its compactness — two characters, one set — is attractive financially. But the director Guy Jones’s production sets the bar high. On a bare stage with just a few chairs, the play’s jagged, nonlinear style is accompanied by whiplash shifts in mood that Humphries and the compellingly volatile Austin capture with ease. The impact couldn’t be stronger, prompting the best sort of guessing game about where the play might end up next.“The Band’s Visit” at the Donmar Warehouse, directed by Michael Longhurst.Marc BrennerThe Hampstead has a history of birthing plays that have entered the theatrical canon. Bernard Pomerance’s “The Elephant Man” and Mike Leigh’s “Abigail’s Party” premiered there, as did Harold Pinter’s seminal two-hander, “The Dumb Waiter.” The flow of writing works both ways: The Hampstead has hosted multiple American Pulitzer Prize-winners and finalists, including Marsha Norman, Martyna Majok, Tony Kushner and Stephen Karam.“The Humans,” the Karam play that won the 2016 Tony Award, traveled to the Hampstead in 2018 with its American cast. An earlier Karam play, “Sons of the Prophet,” will receive an overdue British premiere on the Hampstead’s main stage on Dec. 12: further evidence of that two-way traffic.Sure, not every Hampstead offering has been of comparable value. It has faltered of late with plays like “The Breach” and “The Snail House,” two misfires from Naomi Wallace and Richard Eyre; the current main stage play, Rona Munro’s history-minded “Mary,” is beautifully directed by the Hampstead’s artistic director, Roxana Silbert, but doesn’t galvanize the audience as “Blackout Songs” does downstairs. (It also requires more background knowledge of Mary, Queen of Scots and her court than most playgoers will possess.)Still, it’s important to the Hampstead to program a range of work across its two theaters and throughout the year. “What’s the point of a theater not having shows?” Greg Ripley-Duggan, the Hampstead’s executive producer, said pointedly by phone this week. But, he added, the lost subsidy was “an awful lot of money to make up, and to make up from one year to the next. The business model is going to have to change radically.”An absence of state funding will mean greater reliance on corporate and individual philanthropy, and pressure on ticket prices in a city where playgoing — especially away from the West End — is still reasonably affordable. Tickets for “Blackout Songs” can be had for about $12, a sum unheard-of in New York.Across town at the Donmar, a recent 30th-anniversary gala fell within days of the funding cut announcement, and the playhouse’s current and former artistic directors took to the stage at the event to celebrate the 251-seat powerhouse and argue for its survival. The Donmar is also lucky to be hosting a show just now that plays to its strengths: “The Band’s Visit.” On view through Dec. 3, the production is the first musical at this address from its current artistic director, Michael Longhurst, whose career spans both sides of the Atlantic, much like the Donmar itself. “Frost/Nixon” and “Red” are just two Broadway hits first seen there, as was Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out,” which is now back onstage in New York through Feb. 5.“The Band’s Visit” has gone in the other direction. Much lauded on Broadway, this adaptation of a 2007 Israeli movie of the same name has an unshowy sweetness that suits the intimacy of the Donmar — all the better for a musical set in an Israeli backwater that is transformed by the unexpected appearance of a group of Egyptian musicians lost on their way to somewhere else.Like “Blackout Songs,” this loving reappraisal of “The Band’s Visit” brought the audience to its feet. Let’s hope the Donmar, and the Hampstead, find creative ways to play on.Blackout Songs. Directed by Guy Jones. Hampstead Downstairs through Dec. 10.The Band’s Visit. Directed by Michael Longhurst. Donmar Warehouse through Dec. 3. More
James Cooney on performing in Henry V at Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare’s Henry V is the play launching the winter season in the fabulously candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s the first time this work has been put on there, so we were excited to get a chance to talk to actor James Cooney, who will be playing Thomas of Lancaster along with other roles in the production.
Wow, James! This is exciting stuff. Henry V is a real powerhouse of a play to be staged in such an intimate venue. And it’s being directed by Holly Race Roughan from Headlong. How do you feel about being a part of it all?
It was a no brainer for me when I was asked to be a part of this production. All of Shakespeare’s plays have an uncanny ability to speak to our time. Henry V however might be one of the most soul-shakingly (I might have made this phrase up!) relevant plays for an English audience in 2022/23. You can’t help but ask what it means to be English when you read it and how this play resonates for us now.
Can you tell us about the different characters you will be playing? Which is your favourite?
I play Thomas, brother to King Henry V; Orleans, a friend and lover to Prince Louis of France; and Gower, a captain in the English army. The beauty of playing multiple roles is they all have their own quirks that I enjoy exploring. But Thomas is the most interesting to me from a psychological perspective. It’s interesting to consider what it is like to be so close to the throne but knowing you will probably never become king. The complexity of family dynamics is something we have explored in detail in our production .
The Globe is renowned for their ensemble productions. What’s it like working with this particular company?
Ensemble is definitely the word! Holly has set up a space where collaboration is encouraged and it is supported by all the staff at the Globe. Entering a rehearsal space can be a daunting prospect whatever your experience level. But from day one the Globe welcomed us all with open arms. Most theatres do a meet and greet on day one, but this was the first time I had experienced EVERYONE in the building coming together to introduce themselves. It makes such a difference to start off on an equal footing and feeling like I belonged in the room.
You really will be acting in very close proximity to the audience in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: are you ready for going to full scale battle in a Jacobean theatre?
Thankfully, Shakespeare recognised the power of the imagination! Devoid of CGI Shakespeare calls upon the audience to “work your thoughts” and imagine the war happening on stage. It’s what theatre does better than other media – asking the audience to create the story with the people on stage. In the Playhouse you really can see every single audience member’s face and that complicity of imagination and play between the audience and the actors can be electrifying!
You’ve had some experience of drama that makes contemporary political commentary, having been in The 47th at the Old Vic, last year – a play about Donald Trump. How do you think this production reflects on today’s Britain?
I am a massive football fan and with the World Cup starting I am waiting to hear some of those famous Henry V speeches used in a motivational video before England play an important game! I think this play is a part of the fabric of England whether you like it or not! It asks so many questions about nationalism, patriotism, Englishness, Britishness, the relationship between those in power to those subject to power. The list goes on. Whether we accept or reject the ideas Shakespeare presents is up to the individual, but there’s no doubting its relevancy in a country which finds itself questioning its identity.
What do you think the audiences are going to take away from this Henry V?
I am always wary of telling an audience what they SHOULD take away. We are sharing a story and not a lecture. However, as a company I think there was a recognition that we had to re-interrogate Henry V in 2022. Is Henry an English hero? Or was he a “foolish youth” as mentioned by his own father and the French nobility? Was Agincourt some divine miracle? Or did the English get lucky in the face of overwhelming odds? And how does all of this relate to an English identity in 2022? I guess what I am trying to say is I hope audience leave with more questions. And that most importantly it was two hours well spent!
We’d like to thank James very much for taking the time to chat with us, and wish him well for the coming season. Henry V plays at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from Thursday 10 November to Saturday 4 February. Get your tickets now because, to quote the Bard himself:
“… gentlemen in England now-a-bedShall think themselves accurs’d they were not here”
Henry V is a Shakespeare’s Globe and Headlong Production with Leeds Playhouse and Royal & Derngate Northampton. It is on now in the indoor, candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse through to 4 February. Tickets and information available here. More
Francesco Baj & Flavio Marigliani on Teatro Multilingue and Goodbye Papà
Teatro Multilingue are a new European based theatre company presenting plays in multiple languages. We caught their last play, Mrs Green, when it stopped off at Camden Fringe in August, whilst their latest work, Goodbye Papà will be making a visit to Bristol’s Alma Theatre (8 Dec) before reaching London and The Hope Theatre (11 & 12 Dec). We think they are doing some fascinating work and bringing us a taste of continental Europe, so were thrilled to chat with co-founders Francesco Baj and Flavio Marigliani about all things Teatro Multilingue and Goodbye Papà.
Before we dive into asking you about Goodbye Papà, first tell us a little about Teatro Multilingue and your presentation of shows in several languages?
Teatro Multilingue is a Pan-European project born in 2020 out of the idea of combining several languages within the same story; organically, in a way that makes sense. You watch one play and you “hear” it in more than one way. Why? First, our world is increasingly multilingual but our stages aren’t; and second, if we look at recent years, we find that a lot of the struggle inside and outside Europe is presented as a clash of cultures whereas if you just take one step and go beyond the opposition “mine”/“yours” or, in language, between “native” and “foreign”, lots of barriers simply collapse and new worlds of understanding open up right away. This is what we aim to explore, and that’s why our theatre has no subtitles. Thanks to a carefully devised multilingual script, we believe that theatre is a powerful enough medium to make that connection happen, to have audiences go beyond the barrier of language and, therefore, meaning. In a way, it’s nothing new: multilingual scripts were part of the commedia dell’arte and have sometimes been used in cinema and plays; what we do is, however, a little different: we don’t take language, whatever language, for granted and build layers of story telling and meaning based on this.
Goodbye Papà plays at The Alma Theatre in Bristol and then The Hope Theatre in December, what can audiences expect?
A full immersion into our work! We invite them all to come and be surprised at how easy it is to follow the story even though you don’t speak all the languages! Compared to Mrs Green, our first UK product which focused on the implications of Brexit, Goodbye Papà works on a more intimate and personal note. It all starts with a rather bizarre family story and grows into a quest for meaning through language and music. It is, we guess, the work which best represents the philosophy behind our multilingual project. It’s a monologue in English, Italian and Modern Greek, and the people that have seen it when it played in Rome and in Kingston upon Thames have told us of how easy it is to just embrace the story and “forget” the language the actor is using. Goodbye Papà may work on the personal level but it’s nonetheless an all-encompassing journey, real and imaginary, through borders, cultures and languages.
What’s the writing process within Teatro Multilingue? Does a show get written in one language and then translated for another…? We assume, but please do correct us if we are wrong, that this lends itself to a collaborative approach?
FRANCESCO: It is a collaborative approach, but no, there’s no translation involved. Once we have an idea, we either already have in mind which languages we’re going to use, or these get sorted out shortly afterwards, so that by the time I actually sit down and start working on the first draft, the script is in those languages. The balance between them is so important (for the story and for the audience) that it wouldn’t work in translation. And that’s why, when we start rehearsing, some things inevitably end up not working or needing readjusting as the actors “speak” because that’s when you really “hear” the languages at work. I don’t mean readjusting as in grammatically correct or incorrect – this depends on the story – but in how naturally the balance flows throughout the script. Also, I tend to write multilingually but I’m no expert in all of them, so a little helps is always needed!
Goodbye Papà is in English, Italian and Modern Greek – do you speak all three? 😉 Are there extra challenges as an actor when acting or reacting to multiple languages?
FLAVIO: Being born in Italy, I guess I can say that I speak Italian 😉 I’ve studied and worked with English, and as for Greek, I studied Ancient Greek in school so Modern Greek has been a fun and interesting challenge for me! I know the language, though, and actually Francesco and I met while we were both in Athens! Personal note aside, yes, using several languages may be a challenge particularly within the structure of a monologue where it’s all on you on stage, but I think of it more as a chance. As an actor, it has allowed me to focus on what real theatrical communication is and how far that can go beyond speech itself. The gestures, emotions and body language that accompany a word very often carry more meaning than the meaning of the word itself, and this helps to blend and unite what you’re saying in whatever language that is. An actor’s body, and voice, also change according to the language and this is important to notice and embrace as it broadens the spectrum of your expressive possibilities: there isn’t only one way to say one thing.
How do you find the casting process? Do you look specifically for multilingual speakers or do you work with a cast to learn the lines in a language they don’t know?
It depends, to be honest; each project is different. If we need a “native” speaker, we look for one; otherwise we much prefer to go for the actor and what they can bring to the story with their own personal background. Sometimes, it’s just a question of how they “sound.” Apart from the balance of languages, one piece of feedback we often get is how beautiful it is to hear a particular accent or intonation and how that alone gives more meaning to the story being told. And this can be “native” or “foreign”, we don’t really pay too much attention on that, unless the story demands it. We don’t aim at purity, rather at clarity and how organically each sound blends into the story. As for the actors being multilingual, you know, the secret is not so much in how many languages they can speak, as in how in sync with the multilingual project they are or can grow to be. Exactly what Flavio was saying about being an actor in a multilingual project.
Just before Goodbye Papà plays theatres in the UK, you have a new short film called Making My Day coming out. What can you tell us about that and where can people see it?
Making My Day is a short film we’re co-producing and it’s part of the Film/On Demand sector of Teatro Multilingue. When we started back in 2020 in Rome theatres were all closed so we created the trilogy #Europe21, a hybrid of theatre and cinema. We found the medium of film so interesting that we decided to explore it even further. The creative process is a bit different, as in films you have to have subtitles so the work we do with languages is a bit less rigid than when we’re live on stage. The spirit, however, is exactly the same. Making My Day is also an example of commissioned work, i.e. the writer of the screenplay asked us if we wanted to turn it into a film and rework it multilingually. And that’s how it all started. Making My Day will be available online as of 27 November – if anyone’s interested they can get the details at our website.
Normally, we’d like to ask what you have coming up next but here, you are taking Goodbye Papà to Italy and Greece, tell us about that and anything else you have planned for 2023?
Yes, Goodbye Papà will go (back) to Italy and will also travel to Greece, and we couldn’t be happier about all this. We are also working on a new batch of short films, on another commissioned project (this time from the Balkans!); we have a few exciting ideas planned for Madrid, and then our brand new full multilingual show: La Reine de marbre, a modern revisitation of the commedia dell’arte with a strong social and political message. It’ll debut in Rome in March and will then start travelling around Europe. This will also be the first show in which we don’t tell the audience which languages are spoken in the play. It’ll really be: come and be surprised by the multilingue effect!
Finally, as a bit of a fun question, if you count up, how many languages do you think are spoken within the Teatro Multilingue Company?
Hmh… we’ve never really counted them! So far we’ve worked with five: Italian, English, French, Spanish and Greek. But the list is expanding. One of our actresses, originally from Colombia, is also mastering Quechua which, sooner or later, we will have to include in one of our plays! 🙂
Go raibh maith agat (that’s thank you in Irish!) to Francesco and Flavio for taking the time to talk with us. You can visit Teatro Multilingue’s website here and follow them on Twitter here.
Goodbye Papà plays Alma Tavern & Theatre in Bristol on December 8 and then plays The Hope Theatre on December 11 and 12. More
At 60, and already a renowned theater maker, Irina Brook is rethinking her work and tackling the legacy of her famous parents: “I’m only just emerging from my cocoon.”RYE, England — A couple of years ago, the theater director Irina Brook became obsessed with shadows. She kept photographing her own, and filmed others moving around her.It was a transparent metaphor for the feelings she was working through, because Brook’s parents have cast a long shadow over her life and career. Her latest work, “House of Us,” which opens in Venice on Nov. 29, is dedicated to her mother, the English actress Natasha Parry, whose rich stage and screen career lasted more than six decades. As for her father? You may have heard of Peter Brook, one of the most influential theater directors of the past century, who died this year, in Paris, at age 97.Brook, 60, is only just coming to terms with her family history, by laying much of it bare in “House of Us.” In this immersive work, which will be staged over two floors at Casa dei Tre Oci, a Venetian palazzo turned art space, visitors wander through a series of rooms inspired by Brook’s life, and her mother’s.Some are dreamlike reinventions of Parry’s bedroom and dressing room; another is a close reproduction of Brook’s kitchen, furnished with her possessions. (She shipped her kitchen table to Venice for the production.) Actors appear in multiple rooms, and private mementos, including family albums and Brook’s diaries, are on display throughout, as well as Brook’s images of shadows, transferred on oversize Japanese-style scrolls.“I somehow realized how invisible and shadowed I felt for all my life,” Brook said recently in an interview. “I’m only just emerging from my cocoon, belatedly.”Brook followed in her parents’ footsteps from a young age — “blindly,” she said — first by taking up acting, then moving to directing. Her first production, a 1996 staging of Richard Kalinoski’s “Beast on the Moon,” was an instant hit, and led to a steady, decades-long stream of gigs on prestigious European stages. Then, three years ago, she had an epiphany: Theater was “the wrong business” for her all along, she said.A lot has changed in her life since then. Brook left the Théâtre National de Nice, a major playhouse in southern France that she had led since 2014. She rented a house near the south coast of England, with panoramic countryside views. And she plotted “House of Us” — a “permanent moving work in progress” that would be so “insanely personal,” she said recently, while sitting at her kitchen table before it was packed off to Venice, “that it becomes insanely universal.”“House of Us” features video projections, as well as scenes performed by live actors.Suzie Howell for The New York TimesThe audience in Venice will be free to roam between the Casa dei Tre Oci’s rooms.Suzie Howell for The New York TimesThe installation includes private mementos like family albums and diaries, and Brook’s images of shadows on scrolls.Suzie Howell for The New York TimesThe Venice version will be the third iteration of “House of Us,” which was shown in Palermo, Sicily, in 2021, and briefly in Britain this past summer. Each has featured different performers: In Venice, 11 actors, including 10 local drama students, will perform the roles of Brook’s family members as well as characters from several plays by Chekhov, whose “Cherry Orchard” Brook and Parry once performed together.“House of Us” is a rebuttal of the type of shows Brook made for decades: “narrative, normal theater,” as she called it, including stagings of classic plays by Ibsen and Shakespeare (who was, incidentally, the playwright most identified symbolically with her father). “After I became a director,” Brook recalled, “I thought: ‘I’m not going to try and do anything new or different, because my dad’s already invented all that. What’s even the point?’”Brook, who grew up between France and Britain, performed in some of Peter Brook’s productions, but she didn’t see much of her father as a child. “As a man and as a director of his time, he was single-mindedly working, and children were not part of that equation,” she said. “We were totally invited to come and sit on a Wednesday afternoon now and then, but we’d get into trouble if we got fidgety, or fell asleep.”Her mother was often gone, too. “I adored her, but I just never saw enough of her, for all my life,” Brook said. “All she wanted to do was to act.” Still, Parry struggled at times to get work, because she also lived under her famous husband’s shadow. “I even wrote a letter to her agent as a little girl, saying: ‘Why don’t you get my mummy more work? She’s the best and the most beautiful,’” Brook said.A rehearsal for “House of Us” in Venice.Serena PeaAfter leaving boarding school in England, and after a stint in New York City in the early 1980s, an undeterred Brook experienced a taste of her mother’s suffering as an out-of-work performer. She knew she was “not really very good,” and “not really meant to be an actress at all,” she said, but she stuck with theater.“I just had no concept that anything else could possibly exist,” Brook said. “I wish that someone, when I was 19 or 20, had said to me, ‘Go to art school, go to film school.’”Instead, starting in the mid-1990s, directing became an outlet for Brook’s childhood longing for family. “I just always wanted a big table with lots of people sitting at the kitchen table enjoying themselves,” she said. “My directorship was very maternal.”Brook has also directed her own daughter, the actress and musician Maia Jemmett, 20, in several productions, including “Romeo and Juliet” and the British version of “House of Us.” Her mother’s “main focus is on making the actors shine,” Jemmett said. In addition to performing leading roles in Brook’s productions as a teenager, Jemmett also appeared in Peter Brook’s “Shakespeare Resonance” in 2020. She described her mother’s directing style and her grandfather’s as “unbelievably different.” While “there wasn’t much laughter” in Peter Brook’s rehearsals, she said, “with my mom’s rehearsals, it’s like being a child again, playing and having fun.”Yet Brook said those rehearsals didn’t bring her quite as much joy. In the years after her mother’s sudden death from a stroke in 2015, she began feeling increasingly unhappy in the director’s role, she said. “It’s like when you hold a party,” she added. “What host ever has fun?”During a difficult run of Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” in 2018, she reached a breaking point. “I went to see the show one night, and I just thought: ‘My god, they’re not my real family. Maybe they are just lovely actors,’” she said. “I think at one point I could not stand the fact that theater is so ephemeral.”“I somehow realized how invisible and shadowed I felt for all my life,” Brook said recently.Suzie Howell for The New York TimesBy then, she also knew she was unsuited to directing a “big, heavy” French playhouse like the Théâtre National de Nice, Brook said. “I went in like a revolutionary, innocent fool,” she said. She enlisted teenagers from local schools to revisit Shakespeare plays and in 2015, staged a festival focused on climate change. But there was little willingness to put in effect the structural changes she wanted, she said.Brook left Nice in 2019, without finishing her second term as the theater’s artistic director, and threw herself into collecting material for “House of Us.” The show’s first two outings, and the Venice run, are only the first part of the work; Brook calls this section “The Mother.” She plans two additional installments: “The Son,” which will focus on the loneliness of young people today, and “The Daughter,” inspired by Brook’s childhood in the French countryside.What about “The Father”?“That’s the million-dollar question,” Brook said, with a wry smile. Peter Brook was supportive of “House of Us” until his death in July, she said, but when asked if she felt a responsibility for his theatrical legacy now, Brook answered: “He was a light person, and he wouldn’t want that weight to go on now. His favorite saying was: ‘Hold on tightly; let go lightly.’”It took confronting some shadows for Brook to let go, but with “House of Us,” she is reclaiming her sense of self. “I feel like sort of a young artist,” she said. “Starting my life at last.”House of Us: Part 1 — The MotherNov. 29 through Dec. 11 at Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice, produced by Teatro Stabile del Veneto; teatrostabileveneto.it. More