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Friday, March 31, 2017

The Artists of ‘Los Otros’

Written by  Ryan Clark
The Artists of ‘Los Otros’ credit: Clinton B Photography

Everyman’s new associate artistic director, Noah Himmelstein, takes the helm of Los Otros, a new musical making its world premiere in Baltimore. I had the opportunity to chat via email with Himmelstein, McLane and Everyman’s artistic director, Vincent M. Lancisi.

Ryan Clark: Why did you pick this play?

Noah Himmelstein: My favorite kind of theater is the unconventional – and when I read the script, I was struck by the contradictions between these two characters, and finding the commonality within their differences. Like Romeo & Juliet or West Side Story, it’s the kind of tension that makes for most great storytelling. So that, combined with such an incredibly soulful and sonorous musical score – I was immediately attracted to the enormous, wonderful challenge of directing this work.

RC:How has Los Otros evolved from the 2012 debut at the Mark Taper?

NH: There’s no formula to creating new work – it’s about the creation, not the finish. Here we’ve taken a very imaginative magical-realism story and worked with the creators, Ellen Fitzhugh and Michael John LaChiusa, to produce a drastically different version, to see it anew. Michael John is maybe the most prolific contemporary composer – a remarkable force of nature.

RC:Could you elaborate on how the play explores cultural and sexual identity?

NH: Being a gay man, I often see the gay experience represented only by beautiful gay white men with perfect bodies. Being able to share such a full, expressive account of a middle-aged gay man of another race, having just as much eroticism and titillation and joy and heartbreak in the gay experience, is a privilege.

Judy McLane (“Lillian” in Los Otros): As a woman of a certain age, living in an ageist society, it’s really important to tell the story of two people who have “lived” as much as Lillian and Carlos have. Lillian is a woman who has had many different kinds of experiences throughout many different levels and ages of her life and – whether sexually, culturally, or a certain way that we are raised – each experience can affect us and influence how we think of “the other.” Our perspectives can change by the people we meet and come in contact with. This woman finds these amazing experiences and learns from them and takes from them and her life becomes richer because of it. I think these are subjects who we generally don’t see a lot of, but our elders have a lot to offer – and these two characters are people of a certain age who have lived and experienced a lot.

NH: That’s beautiful, Judy. That’s the play.

RC:The play seems to explore issues that are quite germane to what is happening in 2017 – immigration, LGBTQ issues, etc. When Everyman’s season was announced, it was before the 2016 election. How has the election impacted your work on the play in rehearsal?

JM: The timeliness of this piece has been in the forefront of my mind. When I read Los Otros after the election, I thought how much we as a society need to be embracing “the other” in a new way, walking in each other’s shoes. This political climate is almost forcing us to do it, as this play is, saying, “Look at the other side. Look at The Other. Who is in there?”

NH: Yes – and how everybody else has influenced each of us. Our lives would be far less rich without the unconscious influence of “the other.” To say that we aren’t influenced by anyone else is a lie.

RC:It is fair to say that Chita Rivera is a gay icon! Judy, what was it like to work with her? What did you learn from her? How has she influenced your work as an artist?

JM: She is a gay icon! But she is also an icon just in general. Philip Hernandez (who plays “Carlos” in Los Otros) and I both worked together with Chita in Kiss of the Spider Woman. I get emotional when I talk about her because of what she taught me about how to lead a company. Besides being a star – a brilliant performer – she’s really a gypsy at heart. She taught me how you come, you show up, and you do the work – it’s about that one common goal of bringing people together for a show, no matter who you are. But there was also always a jarful of peanut M&Ms, and she was always accessible, we were always welcome – the door was always open. She led with grace – and that’s what I learned that from her and have drawn from at many times in my life – especially with Mamma Mia for 11 years! One time I asked Chita if she would attend an animal shelter benefit I was producing, and she came in a heartbeat. She is incredibly good-hearted and brings both the fun and joy and the moral work ethic and discipline – an amazing leader.

RC:Any scoops on next season at Everyman?

Vincent M. Lancisi (founding artistic director): We’re thrilled to open our 2017-18 season with a production of M Butterfly, a compelling theatrical masterpiece examining the blindness of the human heart. Subscriptions for the new season– which includes six plays in total, a combination of new and classic work– will be announced in just a few weeks.

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