Nan is a cis actor/maker, an intersectional feminist, queer, and debatably white/nonwhite? These days, she has trouble watching fresh work that doesn’t address the current political climate and/or its repercussions for minorities.

Rutledge is a queer man of color involved in Philly theatre

Nan

What do you have in your pockets?

Rutledge

Disclosure: I worked on the production side of this show, and have worked with many of the design team and Azuka in the past. I also have a barely-above-nil knowledge of bicycles, or roughly where a man becomes dangerous with knowledge. What’re in yours?

Nan

I’ve seen a couple of Azuka shows, and I’ve worked with a couple of the cast members. And I also know just about nothing about bikes. I also saw the final preview.

Rutledge

I attended the opening night performance.

Nan

What was your first knee-jerk response to the show?

Rutledge

My initial response once the house lights came up was that I had a decently fun time watching really pretty excellent performers doing a solidly play-shaped play.

Nan

Agreed. I was happy that such a thoroughly well-written new play came from Philly. I don’t think there was anything objectionable in the production for me at all, other than the fact that it solidly fails to pass the Bechdel test. If there’s a test based on people of color talking to each other about things other than race, it didn’t pass that either. But other than that it was solidly good work and certainly enjoyable.

Rutledge

Same. Nothing was particularly out-of-joint with our current times, though no special effort was made to address them, either.

Nan

I actually just googled, and it’s referred to as the “race bechdel test”, apparently. And, correction on my part, one of the criteria is POC talking about something other than white people.

Rutledge

Oh, good to know. I hadn’t known that.

It is a male-dominated play, and the interactions between the characters are marked by that between all the men, between Izzy and all the men, etc

Nan

For sure.

Your point about not addressing current events is really interesting though. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt a little strange seeing something that’s here and now (though I’m not sure it was set in the present day?) that really didn’t address any contemporary issues?

Of course new plays don’t always have to, but I guess in the absence of that, I found myself wondering what exactly the playwright really wanted to talk about that made them create the work, if that makes sense.

Rutledge

According to the playbill, it’s set in 2012. A simpler time? Although the number of seasonal changes suggested to me it should have spanned two calendar years. I’m also curious as to what story the playwright wanted to tell, and we can’t divorce its current production from the times in which it was produced.

Nan

Gosh, I didn’t connect the dots on the seasonal changes. Two years is a longer time than it felt like.

I really enjoyed the work, but I’m not sure exactly what the heart of the piece is: Balancing money and one one’s own ideals? Being true to yourself as a human but also having a job and a boss and having to make money?

Rutledge

The struggle of honest, small business versus the forces of vulture capitalism?

There’s quite a bit people can pull from the overarching story based on what feels like a sharply-focused, character-driven comedic drama.

Nan

Of course they start out really interested in identity and belonging in terms of insiders/outsiders of small social groups. I was actually really interested in Kevin Glaccum’s director’s note as far as “why do this show here/now”? I feel like he was sort of saying that these are in fact difficult times, especially to be in the arts, but that he’s going to keep “doing what he does best” and I guess in light of that the show felt a little bit like an elaborate distraction from the real world.

Rutledge

Azuka’s basic mission is to show stories of underdogs. Shitheads basically fits that. But how are they defining underdogs? Which underdogs’ stories are they trying their best to tell?

Nan

Mm. I guess ideally it would be the small business owner/boss, the underdog of vulture capitalism, as you say.

Rutledge

Here’s a fun-loving group of kinda-messed-up-but-not-really folks toiling away in a Chelsea bike shop, but they all kinda end up fine anyway?

Nan

Yeah. I ended up feeling like the piece was much more concerned about the characters themselves? There’s a lot of meat to the play but I really think it’s Akeem Davis’ play, so I guess he would really be the underdog.

Rutledge

Though (spoiler alert) Spider’s final act could be easily seen through a lens of racial violence. Except that Spider’s motivations for attacking and robbing Alex (Akeem Davis) is kind of unclear and a weird twist.

Nan

Yeah. It’s interesting, I did not see that coming at all.

Rutledge

Like, Spider’s not mad that a black bike mechanic has a nice bike he’s trying to sell.

Nan

But I saw the show with my partner, and he said he totally saw it coming?

Rutledge

Is that moment supposed to be a “you never can tell where danger’s a-comin’ from?” I suppose one can see it coming, but I don’t find it dramaturgically sound/interesting.

Brandon’s plot to steal the bike for themselves and “fuck the shop” was, I suppose, made to be a head-fake on how the bike gets stolen. But with such an unclear picture of who Spider is or what he wants, as built up in the preceding scenes, his robbing Alex feels like a twist for twist’s sake–to me, anyway.

Nan

Yeah. I feel like the choice to have Spider assault Alex and then fast forward to corporate drone misery was sort of the defining choice of the play. It was set up as if there was going to be a more traditional peak in action and then denouement, but instead there’s the “out of nowhere” twist and then complete change of tone, scene, everything. And then what follows feels more like an epilogue, in terms of content.

Rutledge

This was a world premiere, and I also know that changes to the text occurred throughout the rehearsal process. Maybe more can change? Does it need to?

Nan

I think if anything were to change I would have liked more insight into Spider? But I think the dramatic structure, though unusual, is very successful.

Rutledge

Yeah, I still had a good time with the whole experience.

Nan

For sure.

Rutledge

We’ve delved into the text quite a bit; is there anything else you’d like to add, or should we move on to design?

Nan

Let’s talk design! I thought the set was really lovely.

Rutledge

The set was astounding. I loved it

Nan

Talk about really successful distressing, too.

Rutledge

The most ambitiously-realized set design I’ve seen at Azuka. At the opening night performance’s curtain speech, Kevin Glaccum (artistic director) specifically thanked by name Joe Daniels, Azuka’s technical director and builder of the set [Ed note: Also Amanda Hatch, props master, who helped dress the set with all the bikes and tools and things]. I thought that was a wonderful gesture, to acknowledge the workers whose actual labor went into supporting the creation of art

Nan

That’s awesome! I’m so glad he did that. It’s so rare to have specific acknowledgement of that kind. Good. I also think the play would not have been as successful with anything less fully realized, so I’m glad it worked so well.

Rutledge

Yeah! And Apollo Weaver made really smart design decisions on top of the aesthetic beauty of it. The placements of exits and entrances helped with dynamic staging and also felt really true to the world the characters inhabited.

Nan

Absolutely. And it felt very Manhattan.

Rutledge

I’m not as familiar with the boroughs of NYC myself.

Nan

I lived in NYC for a while and admittedly didn’t spend a lot of time in Soho but it felt very successful to me. I also felt the costumes did their job very well.

Rutledge

Yeah! They easily revealed much about the characters and also their tracks through the story

Nan

One pet peeve: in Izzy’s first entrance the night I was there she had one clip-in hank of green hair going completely the wrong direction from her own hair. But other than that, the rest blended fairly well, and I appreciated the choice.

Rutledge

Oh no! I didn’t catch that on opening night. Actually I don’t remember Izzy having unnaturally-colored hair at all. Either that was cut for opening or my eyes are really going.

Nan

It was a nice subtle mossy green, it’s possible that it wasn’t noticeable when styled a little more carefully. Do you have any other design thoughts?

Rutledge

The lighting design was competent, I thought. I really liked the use of templates for texture on the large stage-right wall for transitions. For such a straightforward play as Shitheads, there’s not a lot of opportunity for whiz-bang flash, nor is there really any need for it.

Nan

Mm. It was very functional, which I appreciated.

Rutledge

It did successfully solve the problems of a diagonally-oriented set for lighting

Nan

For sure. Sound?

Rutledge

It was also fine. I liked the choices of music for transitions. Maybe it was subtle and I didn’t catch it, but I felt like I could have used some more city soundscape every time the front door opened.

Nan

Agreed. The moment in which Spider was trying to demonstrate the sound his bike was making– I think they used a small special under the counter, and it was a bit noticeable. But I also can’t imagine a better way to do it, so I probably shouldn’t complain.

Rutledge

Yeah, that was noticeably a Sound Cue. But the stage manager did a great job of calling it.

Nan

I’d just like to say how fantastic I felt Akeem’s performance was. Really beautiful honest work.

Rutledge

Oh yes, Akeem is a force on stage. And Charlotte Northeast for me also. She gave so much humanity and truth in her portrayal of Izzy, and was also just consistently hilarious.

Nan

Absolutely. She really brought a lot of herself to it, I think. Really lovely work. And the rest of the cast as well.

Rutledge

I’d only seen David Pica in some readings before, but he did great work with Spider (in spite of my personal criticisms of this character from a textual standpoint)

Nan

Absolutely. Pica is ridiculously talented. I think a lesser performer would have struggled with the role because there’s not much to it, but he navigated it really beautifully.

Rutledge

He’s definitely one to watch for in the future for me

Nan

Agreed. He’s always a tremendous pleasure to watch. And I haven’t seen Harry Watermeier before but he tackled the self-consciousness and then complicated problem with authority twist really elegantly.

Rutledge

Yeah! This was an excellent cast. They worked together so well

Nan

Yes! Really beautiful work all round.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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