BREWED – Bumps and Bruises

I’m beyond thrilled that BREWED is coming to the Fringe. To me, it’s what the Fringe is all about. It toes the lines between fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. And yet, it’s about family. It’s about traditions and obligation. It’s somewhere between comedy and tragedy. It’s honest but strange. Like the black sheep, it resists labels. The first draft of the first version of BREWED came about in 2006. At the time, I was following something of a prompt/challenge for Rhino Fest in Chicago: it was Samuel Beckett’s centenary year, and every show in the festival had something to do with him, drew some inspiration from his work or his life. The play of Beckett’s that stuck in my head that year was Footfalls; I wanted to create something that had a similar feeling of circuity and ritual. Thinking nonstop about loops and circles ultimately conjured the image of the endlessly stirred pot at the center of BREWED and at the center of the sisters’ lives.

I started with the image of Paulette at the pot, stirring and staring. Alone. Angry. After spending some time with her, I wrote the stage direction that was the single most play-altering stage direction I’ve ever written: Babette enters in a makeshift wheelchair. She has no legs.

I directed that first festival run of BREWED myself, a 30-minute whirlwind of overlapping text and mystery. Anna Lucero helped me produce as stage manager and assistant director, and I had seven wonderful performers who helped me make some sense of the thing: Shelby Mattingly, Eliza Shin, Sarah Gitenstein, Erin Pakowski, Amanda Traxler, Debbie Strecker, and Casey Cunningham (Casey and I are married now; BREWED was one of the first projects we ever worked on together). At that time, the “witchiness” of the sisters was more heightened, Nannette was not an athlete, their talents were less defined, and their history—still murky in its current state—was even fuzzier. Conspicuously absent from that first version of the play was the tradition of violence and ritualized fighting that shapes the lives of this family and how they relate to each other. That all came later. In fact, when Danielle O’Farrell was first introduced to this play in a reading in 2008, the sisters only sparred with their voices. I can only imagine what it was like for her to read it again, years later, with all of those changes in place.

In 2013, BREWED had its first full production, a joint effort by The Ruckus and Tympanic Theatre Company in Chicago. Anna C. Bahow directed the stellar cast of Erin Myers, Dana Black, Stevie Chaddock, Susan Myburgh, Charlotte Mae Ellison, Meredith Rae Lyons, and Elise Mayfield. As I sit here and write this (May 2, 2016), it’s been a year to the day since Erin passed away. Many people reading this won’t know who Erin Myers was (though you should), but she’s exactly the kind of actor BREWED was written for. Tough as hell. No bullshit. Ready to play. Her fingerprints are all over it.

It’s hard to say where the physical violence in the play came from exactly. At some point, a few years after finishing the full-length version of BREWED, it struck me that these sisters would not settle disputes by arguing. They would do it with their fists and their knees. They’d head butt and arm bar. They’d ground and pound. It dawned on me that BREWED wanted to be a difficult play to perform, not the kind of play that could ever be phoned in, not the kind of play performers did to look good on stage. Stage combat should always be safe, and no one should get hurt performing BREWED (though people have), but if there are some bumps and bruises along the way, it was probably done right.

BREWED has brawled in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, and New Orleans, and now, I’m so happy to bring it to the Fringe. You and me, NYC.

– Scott T. Barsotti, playwright 

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