Preview by Gail M. Burns
For the past three years or so, theatre artists David Cale and Dael Orlandersmith, along with musician Matthew Dean Marsh and director Robert Falls, have been thinking about loneliness (being alone when you don’t want to be) and aloneness (being alone by choice.) Artistic creation is often lonely work, but this team of award-winning artists has made new discoveries writing about solitude in good company.
The results so far are on view through October 29 at the Ancram Opera House (AOH) in Ancram, NY, in a collage of songs and monologues titled, You Don’t Know the Lonely One. Cale, Marsh and Orlandersmith also make up the cast.
The team workshopped the production at AOH in May, but this new iteration promises to be tighter, with 15-20 minutes trimmed off, as well as more sculpted and sharp than before.
Long-time collaborators Cale and Marsh sat down with Berkshire on Stage to talk about the show, which is not open for review.
“There’s a tenderness and a universality to what’s being portrayed in this show that oftentimes get overlooked,” Marsh explained. “And its on a theme that a lot of people grapple with in private ways.”
The show consists of vignettes rather than being a statement about loneliness. The portraits of aloneness and loneliness, in monologues written by Cale and Orlandersmith and original songs by Marsh (enjoy his song “90 Days” below), offer a multiplicity of perspectives with an underlying sense of empathy and connection.
“This is not a linear play,” Cale added. “It’s a collection of character portraits and songs, intermeshed and interwoven, I’ve not seen anything quite like it and it’s hard to put into words while you’re in the middle of it. It feels almost like a theatrical and musical collage. I wanted it to hold together like a painting, all these elements coming together to form a whole.”
“You’ll see people in various stages of their lives exploring their relationship with loneliness and aloneness,” Marsh explained. “Maybe they discover a new relationship or hobby, or discover they have a drinking problem. You see how they cope with the void that surrounds loneliness, not just the feeling itself.”
Cale explained that it was Orlandersmith who gathered them together and initiated the work before the pandemic began, but once lock-down began the material started to match the moment.
Cale feels that people are moving past the pandemic experience now and he worked to minimize the references, but Marsh posits that the team couldn’t help but be informed by the pandemic because so much of the material was formed during our national period of isolation (their first workshop was at Dartmouth in 2021). Now there is one large piece which takes place during that time, but the show doesn’t dwell on it.
“Right now the show is in a place where it feels original, not like anything you’ve seen before,” said Cale. “I’m hoping that it will resonate with people. I hope that it feels relatable, identifiable, illuminating even when the characters are very different.”
“There’s a thrill in seeing these master monologuists – Cale and Orlandersmith – at the top of their form,” Marsh enthused. “Everyone’s styles are unique and you wouldn’t think they’d mesh, but when they come together that’s where the thrill and the fun comes in.”
Both Cale and Marsh have performed or had their work presented by other artists at the Ancram Opera House many times since co-directors Jeffrey Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi took the reins. Which begs the question: Why?
“Three things keep me coming back.” Marsh said. “The serenity, the investment Jeff and Paul make in our freedom to make vulnerable work, and a tenderness in the way they take care of us and the work. I love AOH and all the people there. I’m thrilled every time I return.”
“The Opera House itself has a very good feeling to it,” Cale added. “And I think it affects the audience. The room wins you over. Some theaters are so cold physically, but Ancram is so warm that you’re starting with an advantage.”
There is interest in the show so the future looks promising, even though, as Cale points out, its tricky scheduling four such busy professionals. “Some producers are coming to see it at Ancram, so I’m pretty certain it will happen again somewhere, but I can assure audiences that this is the most intimate space they’ll have an opportunity to see it in.”
“What’s really exciting is seeing a show at this point in its creative progress,” Marsh said. “You’ll be the first to see it as we’re at the brink of finding what this is.”
You Don’t Know The Lonely One
October 20 – 22 & October 26 – 29
Thu-Sat at 7pm; Sun at 2pm
(October 21st benefit performance & opening party begins at 5:30pm)
at the Ancram Opera House, 1330 County Route 7, Ancram, NY 12502
Tickets: Student $15, Sponsored $20, General $40, Pay-It-Forward $60