LIKENESS by David Caudle
Q & A with the Playwright
What's your Florida connection?
I grew up in Miami. I was actually born near Kansas City, but flew to Miami five days later and lived here all throughout my childhood, as well as on and off in my adult years.
How many plays have you written?
I'm currently working on my eighth play that I consider viable. But I only recently started getting produced professionally, so we'll see how many of those eight are deemed viable by others.
Did you write this play for school, workshop, theatre, etc?
I started writing LIKENESS in a class at Primary Stages led by a really fun, smart playwright named Dan O'Brien. Then I continued its development at the fabulous New Harmony Project in Indiana. Now that I'm a member of the Writers Group at Primary Stages myself, I've had two readings there to hone the script. In a reading of the very first draft, which was just for me to hear it, with no audience, the role of the governess was read by a wonderful actress named Kate McCauley. She saw potential in the play, to the point where she removed herself from the cast and organized two readings at the Barrow Group in New York. It was an incredibly generous thing for her to do. She's about to read a role at Primary Stages in my new Miami-set play, Visiting Ours. I've been really lucky the past few years, meeting people like Kate who've been so supportive of my work and are dedicated to theatre in general.
Did anyone you know inspire the characters?
The governess role just mentioned is named after a great friend, actress and director named Carrie Preston. She directed my short film, Feet of Clay, recommended I apply to New Harmony, and has generally been another one of those amazingly supportive people that make it harder for a struggling writer to give up the fight. The lead character, Farraday, I suppose is inspired by myself. I'm also a painter, but on another level, Farraday's journey of self-realization as an artist is similar to what mine has been. I'm sure most artists can relate. Tons of obstacles. The rare opportunities often come at too heavy a price. Other opportunities are kept at bay by self-doubt and defensiveness. Farraday does not always navigate this minefield with the grace he would like. Neither have I. But I hope I'm getting better.
What inspired the plotline?
I was hired in New York to paint a reproduction of Michelangelo's Flood painting from the Sistine Chapel. There's a female figure in the lower left corner that is about to be inundated by a large wave. The way she was painted, made me think Michelangelo must have been angry at the model (who was a man, as his models usually were.) It inspired me to write a play about an artist who takes revenge on his subject by placing her disadvantageously in a painting. I soon lost interest in the revenge idea-where do you go from there? Revenge is wrong. End of story. But I really fell for the character of the artist, Farraday. I loved his flaws, and wanted to give him a chance to strive for better. So the story took a major turn.
Please tell me about some of the symbolism in the play.
The portrait is an obvious symbol of identity. The artist paints the portrait of the girl. How he acquits himself in the task determines who he is and who he will become. How the portrait looks supposedly reflects the girl's identity. In writing the play, I was working toward also painting the girl's portrait gradually through my words. First, we only hear about Miss Westerley from others. We form a mental picture. Then we see her, but she's obscured by her high fashion, and we don't hear her voice. Then, she speaks but is abrasive and unreachable. The increasing urgency and conflict finally bring out something of her true self, for us and for Farraday to behold.
The barn, where the painting takes place, is symbolic of the Colonies themselves. Mr. Westerley sets Farraday up there, so that the artist won't have to "carry his mucky gear through the house." The work that will enrich Mr. Westerley, then, is to be done in a remote location under inferior conditions. This mirrors the situation of any empire's colonies, as well as any third world country whose citizens toil under appalling conditions in industries that provide the citizens of wealthier countries with affordable luxuries. It should remind us that, though we have no colonies per se, we Americans have become what we revolted against.
What is/are the dominant theme(s)?
Revolution is a clear theme. The play takes place in 1765. The revolution was a ways away. But this was the time when the Colonists were beginning to question more strongly the authority of their homeland. Farraday and Miss Westerley question the authority of their fathers. Farraday has basically already been cast out of his home. But he can't let go of the bitterness. He still secretly needs his father's approval, until he finally approves of himself through the experience of painting Miss Westerley. Only then is he really an independent man. Miss Westerley, too, grows up. Just as the Colonies found their strengths, grew up and asserted their independence.
Another theme is the crippling effect of Fear. Nowadays, we have color-coded guides to tell us how afraid we ought to be. Then, too, fear was used by the British government to keep the Colonists from questioning their actions. The taxes were undisguisedly described as protection money, basically. Against French, Indians, pirates, etc and etc...
What do you hope is the "takeaway" for the audience?
I hope that people will go away believing, at least for a night, that Love can empower us to conquer fear. And I don't mean romantic love necessarily. Just Love. I hope even more that the audience will have come into the theatre believing this already. If all I do is echo this belief, all the better.
Who did you work with in Miami?
I actually used to design the sets at Dade North. And I studied theatre at the Kendall campus... uh... a few years ago... I recently read Christine Dolen's article about the state of small theatres in the area, and she was right. South Florida is blessed with a ton of dedicated, talented theatre artists. Joe Adler has kindly hosted some readings for me at GableStage, where I've had the benefit of some great actors: Pamela Roza, Angie Radosh, Todd Allen Durkin, Tara Vodihn, Barbara Sloan, the list goes on and on. David Kwiat directed two of those readings. He's really intelligent and intuitive. Jim Tommaney at Edge theatre produced a couple of my one-acts, that Marj O'Neill Butler did a really nice job directing. And last year I had the great fortune to have The Sunken Living Room produced right here at New Theatre. Rem Cabrera helped me get it to Rafael de Acha after its New Orleans premiere was cancelled by Hurricane Katrina. I'm so grateful to Rafael and Kimberly for embracing the project and receiving me graciously. Eileen Suarez made me feel so at home, too, and like I was in very capable hands. I know Ricky J. Martinez championed the co-production of The Sunken Living Room as well. This is my first time working with Ricky as a director and I'm blown away. In the rehearsals, I wanted to just sit and watch and learn. He's as respectful as he is talented, which is great for everyone in the process. Ricky and I first worked together in Downstage Miami, along with Lauren Feldman, and we all three formed a really strong simpatico. Speaking of Downstage Miami, I can't say anything about South Florida theatre without mentioning Rem Cabrera and the incredible contribution he made to me and to the entire arts community here. He just moved to Chicago. We lost a treasure.
Is there anything autobiographical in the play?
I think I already may have answered this. Some of Farraday's struggles with his career, and his voice as an artist, do mirror my own.
What are you working on now?
I'm working on a play called DAMSEL, which is also set in Boston, but is contemporary. It's about a woman who realizes her husband has a knight-in-shining-armor complex and may have met her deliberately, for what she perceives as the wrong reasons. But he's been wonderful to her, and she's carrying his baby. So she has to decide whether or not to look a gift horse in the mouth, basically. There's a cliché to sum up any play, it seems. Much as we playwrights would hate to admit that.
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