John Tillinger directs Alan Ayckbourn’s “Things We Do For Love” at Westport Country Playhouse
Instead of partners in crime, playwright Alan Ayckbourn and director John Tillinger are partners in comedy. Not only do they share a sense of humor, which will be evident onstage in the Westport Country Playhouse production of “Things We Do For Love,” August 19 through September 7, they also share British backgrounds and acting chops which they’ve both abandoned.
“I hated acting,” Tillinger said in a telephone interview between rehearsals, “I couldn’t find the freedom that I can in directing. I am much more fearless as a director and sure of what I’m doing.”
As for Ayckbourn, when he tried to get a role the director told him that if he wanted a part, he’d better write it himself. And so he did; some 78 plays including “How the Other Half Loves,” “Relatively Speaking,” and “Absurd Person Singular,” all of which Tillinger directed.
“John has a special gift for releasing the bubbles of inanity, comic helplessness, pain and humanity in the champagne bottles that are Ayckbourn’s brilliantly funny comedies,” said Playhouse artistic director Mark Lamos “And ‘Things We Do for Love,’ is one of his richest and most surprising.”
“Seriously funny, sad, moving and very sexy,” is how Tillinger describes the play in which fastidious Barbara’s orderly solitary world is thrown into chaos with the arrival of her longtime friend Nikki and fiancé who ignite unexpected and violent passions. It is not recommended for people under 16.
For frequent Tony Award nominee Tillinger, who has directed such hefty dramas as “judgment at Nuremburg,” “Night Must Fall and “Inherit the Wind,” comedy is a special challenge and delight. “I tend to keep the rehearsals light-hearted,” he explained, “by telling stories that illustrate what I’m going for, rather than showing them.”
But of course, having been an actor, he is not only sympathetic to what his cast is struggling with, he can also demonstrate what he wants. “When I was directing Dianne Wiest in Arthur Miller’s ‘After the Fall’,” he recalled, ”I was able to show her how to walk and talk like Marilyn Monroe.”
The comedic collaboration between these two theater giants, which takes place mostly by e-mail. is partly based on their mutual recognition that Americans don’t always understand British humor. What makes Ayckbourn so accessible for us, according to Tillinger, is his “ability to convey the truth of human emotions and the messes we get ourselves into.”
-- Gloria Sugarman
August 13, 2014