REP RADIO – INTERVIEW with the Cast & Director of
Rep Radio’s Kristen Scatton catches up with the cast and the director on Opening Night.
CRACKING THE CODE
“Set in an idyllic, middle class suburb in 1959, The Cryptogram centers around John, a precocious ten-year-old boy, his mother, Donny, and their family friend, Del, as they await John’s habitually-delayed father on the eve of an important father-son camping trip. At the risk of giving too much away…things kinda go downhill from there.
The Cryptogram is a wonderful anomaly for Mamet, even though recognizable themes of duplicity, manipulation, and the dangers of buying into the “American Dream” surface throughout. Y’know, happy stuff. All delivered to you through the playwright’s impeccable (and impeccably strict) language. Mametspeak, as it’s come to be known in the hipper circles of the literary world. Hm, that’s right. Actually, his language in The Cryptogram will probably seem a bit toned down or sparse to most (even to you Mamet die-hards)…more reminiscent of Mamet’s predecessor Harold Pinter. (pause) What will really surprise the audience, I think, is that Mamet noticeably abandons his familiar and feral, machismo-soaked haunts to show similar agendas and subterfuge at work right in our own living room…where we would expect to be at our safest.
I felt creating the gloss of the perfect family at the rise was crucial to the storytelling. Mamet gives us a few central and totemic objects in the play that support creating a mythology of the perfect American home. The illusion of safety, certainly heightened by our nostalgic idea of the 1950’s, is slowly chipped away and ultimately betrayed by the inescapable and terrible truth of what lies beneath these totems. The title refers to the most obvious of these deceivers, Mamet’s favorite…words, words, words. (long pause) The Cryptogram is a journey from security to uncertainty, from a warm hearth to the cold wilderness, from community to isolation…as experienced by a ten year old boy venturing toward adulthood. Mm. I wanted the design to capture this progression in all of its haunting beauty.”
– Allen Radway (Director of The Cryptogram)
Set Rendering of The Cryptogram by Meghan Jones
“Immediately after reading the script and discussing the playing space with Allen, I knew that the staircase needed to be the focal point of the design in a thrust staging. I also began to incorporate the sense that the playing space is its own island, and began to break off the floorboards as if we are being disconnected from central truths of the (Walnut Street Studio 3) space. I brought this thought into the ceiling by introducing a disconnected weight from above – that asks our eyes to follow certain paths that stop, connect, and even end short. All these elements combine to give the environment a skeletal feeling of a house. I am incorporating the idea of selective realism by using late-1950s architecture along with period set dressing, minimally, which gives a haunting environment for Simpatico’s The Cryptogram to take place.”
Photo Reference for Meghan’s Design
The Cryptogram Score Sample
“After a couple of reads of this script I felt that a journey had been embarked upon that had no certain destination: whether it’s good or bad. Sort of like a musical suite that has many movements, light and heavy, but you just don’t know how it will resolve when it’s all said and done. Beautiful and haunting all at once. The ‘haunting beauty’, as Mr. Radway put it, is what the soundscape needed to embody; the low rolling undertone of danger against the sweet soaring sound of peace and serenity. Also in visualizing the show as I read and thinking about the time period we’re dealing with, I was immediately drawn to some of the themes that one would find in episodes of The Twilight Zone where loneliness, despair, fear of the unknown and mind trickery are at their height. Our young John is the character most susceptible to these human conditions so the musical transitions are aiming at being a mirror image of his feelings. In honoring the sound of 1959 I chose to go with some scoring by composer Bernard Herrmann who is lauded for his scores in The Twilight Zone series. My hope is that the music will speak to John’s episodic journey as he pieces together the clues to resolve some of life’s mysteries.”
– Larry Fowler (Sound Designer)
An interview with Conrad Sager, who plays John in The Cryptogram.
What’s biggest challenge of working on this play compared to other productions you’ve been in?
John’s character is hard to portray because he’s kind of weird, but also very smart. He has these questions that he really needs to have answered. No one is answering them for him, and no one really understands what he is going through, and so he is really stressed – which is why he can’t sleep. It’s just the way he acts because of all of this, that is not easy to portray.
What’s it like working with two adult actors and no other kids in the cast? What have you learned?
When I first started, I expected it to be different. It turns out, it really isn’t that different because in other shows I’ve done, I would rehearse scenes when there were only two or three other adults. It feels like that, except every day. I’m used to it. I am learning about how to act in an unhappy more dramatic show…most of the show is quite disturbing.
Is it strange being in a show that you’re not old enough to attend yourself?
Being an actor, it’s a given you come across shows like this. Sometimes it can feel a little strange but it doesn’t really affect me that much.
Photo by Edward Sager