Melissa is a white cis woman, a new play enthusiast, a feminist. She craves theatre that connects urgent ideas to human stories. She’s really needed to have fun lately.

Nan is an actor/maker, an intersectional feminist, queer, and a unstoppable ditherer.


Melissa: Let’s lay out what was in our pockets/what we came in. I went with my boyfriend; we were on a date, and I’d had a couple of drinks, so I was already in a great mood. I’m also big fans of Sam Henderson and Mary Tuomanen’s work. I am not particularly familiar with Jaws though; I saw it for the first time a year ago.


Nan: I haven’t seen Jaws at all, actually. But it didn’t matter seeing the show, I think. I came with my theater coworkers, where we have all worked with Mary. And we were a little late so we missed the first five minutes or so.


Melissa: Yeah I think knowing the movie allows you to access some in jokes, but the story itself isn’t necessarily about the movie


Nan: I feel like the movie is actually more of a jumping off point to discuss the relationship that the play seems to focus on.


Melissa: It’s really more of a love story.


Nan: I thought it would be a lot more “devised”, actually, but I think someone who didn’t know would not have realized.


Melissa: Yeah!


Nan: It feels very cohesive and like there is a solid script underneath with some flexibility in the transitions.


Melissa: It was also just really focused. Sometimes with devised pieces, I feel like there are extraneous ideas and moments, but this felt really tight and streamlined.


Nan: It did. I also think “devised” is often a headline for something that is not just a play, but also has movement and less linear and plot based themes? But the through line was very concise. I was curious whether “devised” for them meant more that it was born of group improv, or what the case was.


Melissa: I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I have much to say about the piece thematically. For me it was a love letter to that moment, super funny with just enough poignancy to keep the humor fresh, but now that I’m looking back to talk more seriously about it I don’t have a ton to say. Which I think is okay.


Nan: Yeah, I agree. It really didn’t have any frills on.


Melissa: It was quick and delightful and didn’t ask you to put more into it than there needed to be.


Nan: Which was actually very refreshing. I wasn’t expecting that at all, knowing it was devised! I was planning on having to get more personally invested in the way you usually do with devised work. And in terms of not asking you to put much into it, the actors were also very generous with the audience.


Melissa: Yeah, the space was really intimate, which can often feel awkward, but the audience participation came very naturally. I was seated at the table where Robert DaPonte and Mary Tuomanen had much of their tavern courtship and I never felt uncomfortable.


Nan: The whole cast had such lovely ease. I was seated in the back row and it was just as accessible from there.


Melissa: What did you think of each of them as performers?


Nan: Well they all navigated really simple sets and prop-costumes really gracefully, which I enjoyed watching.


Melissa: I agree. I never felt the need for more tech. Each of them as able to define space and character really simply.


Nan: I think, from the way it sounded, that they do have a script, but it felt incredibly easy and natural from their mouths. I especially liked Sam Henderson’s navigation of a bunch of different characters.


Melissa: Yes! I found each of his characters complete and charming, with just an accessory to define them.


Nan: He really filled out the cast with just strong and simple choices!


Melissa: There were times I had trouble understanding his busy body neighbor character Barbara, but his Hippie Man was hilarious.


Nan: Yeah, I didn’t mind though.


Melissa: And I’m a sucker for him playing bedraggled patriarchs. He played an earnest but morose father in Emma Goidel’s Local Girls at Azuka and he was great.


Nan: He did a fantastic job of narrating/officiating without it being obvious or tired.


Melissa: Absolutely. He really guided us through this world.


Nan: It would have been easy to get a little lost in the nature of the setting without that I think. I also loved his interrupting Spielberg deus ex machina moments.


Melissa: Yeah, if we’re talking about a script, those sounded like they were written by Henderson, based on the plays of his I’ve heard. Understated and funny and poetic and bleak. Moving on to DaPonte, I had never seen his work before but I really enjoyed him.


Nan: DaPonte’s energy was intense! There was no AC the night I went and he was sweating so much, but he never got blustery or unclear. He also managed to be kind of a jerk in a way that didn’t bother me in the way that the “underdog young white dude” tends to these days.


Melissa: Yeah, he was really earnest. But also at the end, when we realize who the salty New Englander is to Marjorie (played by Tuomanen), his obtuseness wasn’t forgiven.


Nan: Yeah. There was no apology there at all, that I heard at least.


Melissa: Like he was well meaning but his fucking up had a consequence. Much as the film did to the town. Blazed in meaning well but really fucking up these people’s lives for a time before dissipating into fame.


Nan: Yeah. I’m glad he didn’t get off the hook. On the other hand, I feel like dealing with those consequences could have potentially been fodder for continuing on with the play? And I would have liked it to be longer, I definitely wanted to hear more.


Melissa: I did wish I had seen more of the consequences for the town besides parking. But at the same time I’m not sure how much longer the show could have sustained itself. That relationship and that town are summer flings. They flare up and they’re gone. If it had felt any longer, I might have felt like it was bloated or meandering.


Nan: That’s true. I guess it may just be what it needs to be as a one-act. It ran about an hour, I think?


Melissa: Yeah about an hour. I kind of wonder what they cut, since we’ve both remarked on how streamlined the piece was.

Nan: I’m also curious if there’s a next step for the project and if so what the goal is. I don’t know where you would add and have it not become an overdone rom com. It was so nice that it never dragged at all.


Melissa: I wonder if it just exists in this self contained form. Maybe they’ll tour it or make adjustments, but like you said. It’s hard for me to see how they’d expand on it. We haven’t talk about Tuomanen’s performance yet. Mary is so reliably fabulous to me that this was no exception. And the tightness of the piece to me is probably due in large part to her prodigious skill as a deviser.


Nan: I’m not super familiar with her work, but as ever, I think her greatest strength is being incredibly effortless in her honesty but also letting everyone in the house into her personal sphere.


Melissa: I totally agree.


Nan: Her dialect also sounded awesome. Didn’t distract from her performance at all


Melissa: I think she’s from New England isn’t she? Or maybe I made that up.


Nan: She definitely sounded like she could be. I feel like it’s rare to see such good acting in devised work. mostly because the point of the work is not about the acting but about the intentions of the piece? But it was really like watching a really well rehearsed straight play.


Melissa: I think that’s a great way to put it.


Nan: I’m curious what the intentions were in creating the piece. They succeeded so well in creating a love story that is also about the making of Jaws and the community it disrupted. I wonder if that was the intention. It seems much more straightforward than what most people want to do when they go to devise a piece.


Melissa: I think the relationship is supposed to act as a microcosm of that, which I think was successful. But you’re right, this wasn’t at all what I’ve come to expect from devised pieces. I also want to know what, if anything, they wanted us to take away. I didn’t think much about the piece after I saw it but I really enjoyed seeing it.


Nan: Yeah. It didn’t seem like it had any great moral to it.


Melissa: Or any real questions. It was more of a portrait than anything. Which is totally fine. Frankly I’ve been in need of some purely fun theatre.


Nan: It’s true. I guess the sensationalizing effect of film and TV is starting to seep into theatre, in a way. It was nice to just watch a well made play with really solid actors.

Melissa: Absolutely.


Nan: I think the most unusual thing for me is that they did so much with so little, and it worked so well. It’s really reaffirming to watch work that is just about the work.


Melissa: I agree. I also just loved the generosity, as you said, of it. I was totally caught up in their world. I felt welcomed into it and completely immersed in it. It was like spending an evening with friends.


Nan: Yeah. I definitely left feeling very warm. And it was lovely to watch a piece that was so at face value.


Melissa: Completely unpretentious.


Nan: it was very refreshing in that way.



3 thoughts on “The Jaws Project- Plays & Players

  1. Yeah, this was my first devised piece, and “devised” is not what I thought it was. Some of my friends were made slightly morose by the near-absence of non-narrative techniques and wanted to see some in play. We did make movement sequences, but we ditched almost all of them. It’s a devised work in that we each wrote our own character(s), and nobody directed, and we helped one another.

    Fear is the opposite of love, and if I can punch that idea up by making it more of a structural element or organizing principle of the piece, I’ll be happy. Making structural elements do thematic work is always the best.

    Artists talk all the time about how there should be a website like this. I’ve been reading the conversations here, and I’m really excited. Philly really needs this, also you should send me to watch plays.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s