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TIGERS BE STILL director Sam Gold featured in NY Times

Roundabout Underground’s TIGERS BE STILL opens this Wednesday, October 6th at the Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre.

The New York Times
September 28, 2010

Arts & Leisure

Awkwardness as the Avenue to Success

JOSEPH, a high school principal, is on the phone trying to cancel his wife’s yoga magazine subscription, his measured calm giving way to mounting irritation and then to anguished rage as he lays out the reasons she no longer wishes to receive the publication. What he doesn’t say is that his wife is dead.

That scene, from Kim Rosenstock’s play “Tigers Be Still,” is both heart-wrenching and funny. Who hasn’t felt his sanity tested while navigating the menus of automated customer-service lines?

The careful balance required to walk that tightrope of sharply observed reality while eyeing the mess of human suffering underneath is a specialty of the director Sam Gold. The uneasy line between humor and pain is his comfort zone.

“It’s theater of awkwardness,” Mr. Gold said in an interview between preview performances of “Tigers Be Still,” which opens Wednesday as part of the Roundabout Underground series devoted to emerging writers.

“I truly believe in awkwardness as a new naturalism,” Mr. Gold said. “As a neurotic New York Jew, what feels like real life to me is so much more awkward than what I always see onstage.”

Awkwardness is not the impression one gets when talking with Mr. Gold, 32, who scored a hat-trick last season with glowing reviews for his productions of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” and “The Aliens,” and Stephen Belber’s “Dusk Rings a Bell.” What he projects instead is composure and intensity, with hints of sly humor. His crisp work uniform is dark jeans and a sweater, his serious face framed by chunky glasses, a tidy beard and a semitamed mop of curls.

Ms. Baker says that despite his formidable caffeine intake, Mr. Gold is preternaturally serene.

“He has this remarkable ability to stay calm and communicate confidence to the actors and the playwright when everyone else feels like they’re in some dire situation,” she said.

Collaborating with Ms. Baker and Mr. Belber, Mr. Gold showed uncommon skill at revealing the minutiae of real people experiencing real life, rendering the most delicate of plays emotionally robust.

In his review of “The Aliens” in The New York Times, Charles Isherwood praised the “keen sympathy” of Mr. Gold’s direction. “Acting with even a trace of falseness would be exposed by the terse simplicity of Ms. Baker’s dialogue,” he wrote.

There was as much happening in the silences as in the dialogue of Mr. Gold’s productions last season. The characters and their words were given breathing space to a degree that felt almost radical in the age of the rapid-fire quip.

“It’s trust,” he said. “If you’ve taken a lot of shortcuts and compromises, you better keep that thing moving so the audience doesn’t have time to realize what the shortcuts are. But if you’ve done something full, you can have the actors just stand there and we can read on their faces all that we’re going to need to learn for the next minute.”

While the close-up is a shortcut to emotional penetration more readily available in film and television than in theater, Mr. Gold achieves a similar kind of intimacy on the stage.

“I’m interested in the drama of extremely small situations,” he said. “So the questions that Kim’s play asks — like ‘Can I get out of bed in the morning?’ — to me are really interesting dramatic questions, as opposed to whether or not I’m going to fulfill the prophecy of sleeping with my mother.”

His rapid ascent Off Broadway has landed Mr. Gold back-to-back assignments this season for three of the city’s leading nonprofit theater companies.

Following “Tigers” for Roundabout, he will direct “The Coward” in November for Lincoln Center Theater’s LCT3 program. A comedy about duelists in 18th-century England, the play is by Nick Jones, co-creator of the pirate-puppet rock musical “Jollyship the Whiz-Bang,” one of the shows that put Mr. Gold on the New York directing map. For Playwrights Horizons in the spring he will stage Bathsheba Doran’s “Kin,” which examines 10 years in a relationship through other people in the couple’s lives.

For Ms. Rosenstock, the opportunity to work with Mr. Gold had been a long time coming. While he was in the Juilliard directing program and she was an associate producer at Ars Nova, his production of “Edward II” in 2006 caught her eye. She was instrumental in bringing him on board to direct “Jollyship” at the theater-cabaret space, but Ms. Rosenstock had left before the show’s acclaimed run in 2008. When the producer Robyn Goodman, curator of Roundabout Underground, suggested Mr. Gold for “Tigers,” the playwright jumped.

While taking classes at Juilliard, Mr. Gold also served as dramaturge for three years for the Wooster Group. He attributes his sense of rigor to that experimental troupe’s uncompromising leader, Elizabeth LeCompte, who he says taught him to defend his taste and fight for every detail.

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