Interview with Nicholas Martin
A few weeks before rehearsals began, Producing Associate Adam Immerwahr sat down with Director Nicholas Martin to discuss She Stoops to Conquer. The current Artistic Director of Williamstown Theatre Festival, Martin’s Broadway directing credits include Match, Butley, and Hedda Gabler. He received an Obie Award for his production of Betty’s Summer Vacation.
AI: This is not the first time that you’ve been at McCarter—as an audience member or as an artist—can you talk about your history with the organization?
NM: I grew up near Princeton, quite near, a half hour away, in a town called Roosevelt, New Jersey—a Jewish kid of the 1940’s. My parents took me to the theater and so I saw pretty much everything at McCarter for many years, fifteen years or so. There were memorable visits, the two of which I remember the best are Mae West in Diamond Lil and John Garfield, way past his prime, in Golden Boy. Some of the first work I did—in fact my first Equity job—was with the Association of Producing Artists repertory company at McCarter. I played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, my mother’s favorite performance of mine, and a lot of other good plays.
AI: She Stoops to Conquer was written in the 1770s, what is it about the play that speaks to us now?
NM: Well, it’s one of the funniest plays ever written—that should speak to us today. It’s a surprising play in—I don’t like to use the term relevant, great plays are all relevant—in terms of the immediacy of its language. It has an energy— it’s the energy of a writer and characters who are absurd in many ways, in many ways, but the writer is not afraid to show us his affection for them as well. It’s what Chekhov did too, in another manner and with Russian temperament. A writer who’s generous enough to give you foolish people, like we all are, and have a real affection for them is rare. Certainly rare today.
AI: What are the unique challenges of She Stoops to Conquer, and how will this production deal with those challenges?
NM: The challenge is in not making it in any way a historical relic, but at the same time being faithful to both the period (to a certain degree) and to the text. I like to do the play, I’m not an auteur. On the other hand, the great Charles Ludlam said: “Historical accuracy is not an entertainment value,” and I take that at least half-seriously. The designers and I are paying attention to the confused identities of person and place within the play. That will be reflected in the clothes, in which we’ll use modern fabric but in the silhouette of the period; in the set, which has remnants of the house, because that’s an important figure of the play in all the scenes; and even in the performances. But I’m not a believer that there’s such a thing as style; I believe that the language, the situation, and, frankly, the costumes provide the style. So I’m taking certain liberties with the period in this play—but none with the text.