One of the first of the new year’s festival season plays opens right away at the Hudson Guild Theater January 2nd as part of the New York Theatre Festival’s 2019 Winterfest competition. The play is ABOMINABLE FANCY by Stephen Bracco, directed by Heather Lanza. As with most festival productions, this is a very limited engagement that plays for only 3 performances: Wednesday, January 2nd at 6:15pm, Saturday, January 5th at 8:30pm, and a final matinee on Sunday, January 6th at 1:00pm.
We had a chance to chat with the playwright to get some insight into this full length production featuring a talking liver (a puppet played by puppeteer, Chris Palmieri), and an alcoholic birthday girl!
Q: When did you start writing plays? How did the "Theatre Journey" begin for you?
Stephen Bracco: I started off as an actor, but at some point the desire to write my own plays was greater than my love of performing. Then I switched to fiction for a decade, until about ten years ago, when I got back into performing and also writing for the stage. I sometimes think I should call the plays I write "Ironies" instead of "Comedies." A puppet is an ironic device, for me, and as a playwright, I at times need that ironic distance in order to proceed with writing a play.
Q: Have you produced before? Give us a sense of your producing background.
Stephen Bracco: Abominable Fancy is my first full-length play I've produced. I've had a great time the past few years staging my short plays with all the great short-play festivals out there. While staging a full-length play can be a massive campaign, it's also a democratic process in which everyone has a valuable contribution to this temporary community we've created. There is some top-down buck-stops-here structure to it, and I've struggled with my over-large producer's hat. I've learned that the producer role was most rewarding when I acknowledged that I was there, like everyone, in service of the production, not necessarily my own cherished visions.
Q: Tell us about Abominable Fancy. When did you begin writing it, how has it evolved to the point that it's now opening at Winterfest?
Stephen Bracco: My first idea was a magical Fancy and her talking cat, which I ditched when I could not come up with a compelling story. So I surfed a few of my favorite online puppet stores and found the liver puppet. The story then came together: Fancy is an alcoholic, and she turned her therapist into a liver, primarily as a means of control, but also so she'd have a companion who will never leave her, even though they continue her therapy and he pleads with her to stop drinking.
Abominable Fancy also gave me a short-play Saint Fancy in which I gained insight into the relationship between Fancy and Dr. Joey the talking liver. Saint Fancy won us best director in a short-play festival.
Q: Why did you write the play? What is it about this story that inspired you to write it and why?
Stephen Bracco: I have to confess that on one level, I wrote Abominable Fancy to teach myself how to force characters to change in dramatic and compelling ways. So I chose the device of having identities switch bodies, so the characters are forced to see themselves anew. I (perhaps foolishly) reinvent the wheel every time I start a new play, and gain much of my inspiration from ideas that grab ahold of me and do not let go. And there has to be some emotional risk involved for me. If a play wants to see life, it had better call me to my desk every day.
Q: Why the Winterfest? How did you get involved and what motivated you to submit?
Stephen Bracco: Another confession: I am a black-box snob. I moved to New York long, long ago in order to be an "Artist" and in those years I developed a love for the city's little black box theaters--there used to be more!--in all their rawness, odd shapes and the occasional architectural hilarity. However, after seeing friends' shows at the New York Theater Festival, I'm proud to say I grew up a bit and realized my potential audience members really don’t necessarily share my nostalgic affection for the black box theaters of my youth, and just want a convenient location to go see the play. The Hudson Guild Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood is a great location, and the New York Theater Festival is so popular, I'm glad I am staging my play with them.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this play? This story? This production?
Stephen Bracco: I no longer have any control over the story. It's in the capable hands of our director Heather Lanza, and our actors and designers, which is the whole point of this collaborative endeavor. The production is a living thing with lots of moving parts, so for me it's a lesson of releasing it out into the wild.
As far as this production goes, and its relatively tiny budget, I would like to convey to our audience that we came together not so much to expensively re-create a New York City penthouse loft, but to invite the audience to imagine a penthouse loft out of the humble tools at our disposal. If we're successful, the audience will believe in the penthouse loft, and believe that livers can talk, and, most important, believe in the magic of Fancy's world.
Q: What's next for you?
Stephen Bracco: Another play with a puppet! A psychological drama which I'm intending to stage in New York this summer. What happens when a therapy puppet asserts it has achieved consciousness and free will independent of its puppeteer? The play is called Simius and the puppet is a big beautiful ape, so I'm hoping to draw some audiences into our humble show from folks who couldn't get into King Kong on Broadway.
The production features Ali Bill, Chris Palmieri, Steven Schroko, David Ventura, Kurt Bantilan, Erin Richardson, and Madelyn Murphy.
Sound Designer and Stage Manager is Victoria Preis, and Costume Designer is Deanna Frieman.
For more information, tickets and details about the cast and crew, please visit: https://madmimi.com/s/bd3a8d