The fourth and final reading in the 2014 NewTACTics Festival of New Plays, Matte O’Brien‘s The Wonderful Mr. & Mrs. O’Leary, will be heard 7 PM June 25-26 at the TACT Studio in Manhattan. David Alpert directs Aaron Ramey, Alice Ripley, Sebastian Thomas and Cassidy VanVonno.
Earlier in June, NewTACTics — a program of Off-Broadway’s TACT/The Actors Company Theatre — gave voice to Kenneth Jones’ Alabama Story, Jeff Talbott’s A Public Education and Thomas Gibbons’ Uncanny Valley.
Here’s how O’Brien’s new play is billed: “Ellie and Patrick McDowell are a pair of restless siblings who occupy themselves by navigating their mother’s insecurities, her latest boyfriend’s shifting moods, and the doldrums of their small Louisiana town. All hope of escaping the reality of their situation seems lost until an after-school job materializes — babysitting for The Wonderful Mr. & Mrs. O’Leary. This darkly comic play reveals the power of imagination in the indefinite space between childhood and adulthood.”
On the TACT website, O’Brien said in a playwright’s note: “The inspiration for The Wonderful Mr. & Mrs. O’Leary came from a small portion of a radio interview I heard while living in Scotland. For some time, I had been wanting to write a play that explored the lives and language of children on the cusp of growing up. In the snippet of this interview I heard, a woman mentioned that she and her brother, when they were children, invented an imaginary family to tell their parents they were babysitting for in order to go out and play with their friends. This seemed like the perfect backdrop for the play I’d been mulling around — and that’s how The Wonderful Mr. & Mrs. O’Leary came into existence.”
O’Brien (whose first name is pronounced “Matty”) grew up in upstate New York, just outside of Albany. “I was fortunate enough to have a bunch of great regional theatre companies around me — The New York State Theatre Institute, Capital Rep, Park Playhouse, The Young Actors Guild,” O’Brien told me. “My parents regularly took my sisters and I to see plays and musicals. The first one I remember seeing was a production of Peter Pan, when I was in first grade; I distinctly remember thinking: ‘I want to do that.’ Even at that early age, to me, the theatre was this magical place where the rules of the outside world did not apply — people sang and danced and, if you believed strongly enough, you could even fly.”
How does O’Brien approach readings of his plays?
He explained, “As a playwright, you spend so much time in your room, alone, creating these characters and stories — this little collection of words on a page — very two dimensional. You’re never certain whether it’s good or bad — or even if it makes sense. Then comes the moment, like this week at TACT, when you hand them over to a director and a group of actors and pray for the best.”
He continued, “You sit in the back of the room with your draft of the script, a gallon of coffee, and a laptop; and you listen and you wait — overanalyzing every sentence, every word. And you think, ‘Why do I put myself through this?!’
“I was doing just that the other day, while David Alpert and Alice Ripley were exploring one of the monologues I’d written for the character of Colleen. They went back and forth, discussing it for a bit, then Alice began to deliver it. Suddenly, I was that little kid again, back watching Peter Pan fly for the first time. It was magic — there was a little glimpse of magic there. It’s those moments, when all your neuroses and insecurities subside for a moment or two, as you hear your work come back at you through the prism of a great performer, and you think, ‘I had a part in that — I had a part in making that magic.’ There’s nothing like it. Then you turn the page and realize scene three needs a rewrite.”
Read more about the work of director David Alpert at his official website.
Matte O’Brien is a writer/director based out of New York City. He began his theatrical career as a performer over twenty years ago. He is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and has performed Off-Broadway, on national tours and at regional theatres across the country. As a writer, he has had numerous pieces produced throughout the United States and Europe, including White Noise, a rock musical produced by Whoopi Goldberg and directed by Sergio Trujillo, which had successful commercial runs at Le Petit Theatre in the French Quarter of New Orleans and the Royal George Theater in Chicago. O’Brien received a Jeff Award nomination for the Chicago production. His musical The Lost Boy: a tale of a drowning in Neverland (formerly Peter & I), written with composer Matt Vinson, was recently produced Off-Broadway through the Araca Project at the American Theatre of Actors. His play THE MEANING OF LIFE… and other useless pieces of information played the 45th Street Theatre Off-Broadway in New York City. He has also written and directed workshop productions of Morning Has Broken and Becoming David; the latter starring Tony Award nominee Lorraine Serabian. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. He has directed a wide range of plays and musicals in both the U.S. and U.K., featuring Tony and Olivier Award winning talent. He served for three seasons as the artistic director for the Colonie Summer Theater and is a founding member and the producing artistic director of Rope Swing Entertainment in New York City. His most recent endeavors have included writing and directing the critically acclaimed play As Flies to Wanton Boy at The Arches in Glasgow; and staging the world premiere of Catherine Grosvenor’s The Tinderbox, which toured London, Glasgow and Edinburgh. O’Brien holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University and a Masters in Directing Classic and Contemporary Text from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.