Mark Pritchard has some unusual research planned in the lead up to his directorial debut at Red Stitch Actors Theatre
“Over the summer I’m going to go and stay with both my grandmothers, just to try and get inside that world a bit more.”
Pritchard is directing Amy Herzog’s new play 4000 Miles, a living-room drama about a feisty ex-communist grandmother, Vera, and Leo, her wastrel grandson son who turns up out of the blue at her Brooklyn apartment after completing a calamitous 4000 mile bicycle tour across America.
Herzog, who lives in New York, has based the character of Vera on her own grandmother whom she lived with for a time after graduating from college.
“That’s what is most interesting about the play,” says Pritchard. “She has obviously spent a lot of time with an older person, which often doesn’t happen.”
Pritchard, known more for experimental and participatory theatre events, jumped at the chance to work with Red Stitch, probably Melbourne’s premier company for the kind of complex naturalism Herzog works in.
“I don’t often do naturalism,” he admits. “You learn how to do it at drama school, but you don’t often get the opportunity to do it – or to do it well -- in the real world. You’re always doing things in warehouses and other odd spaces, with lots of external noise and things that just make naturalistic drama really difficult.”
Herzog is certainly writing some of the more original naturalistic theatre going around. The way she contrasts Vera’s strong ideological principles and Leo’s slightly dippy new age feelings produces an odd sense of estrangement between the two, one that is only gradually overcome as the play progresses.
“Family dramas are often about wealth, about class, about exclusion and inclusion, and often focus more on a more contained unit that is threatening to fall apart,” says Pritchard. “But Vera and Leo are not even blood related – there’s an adoption in there somewhere. And there’s this real sense that the family has already been atomised.”
In the end, thinks Pritchard, the play is actually more about rebuilding the idea of family, more than documenting its disintegration. “Family seems to have been this really forgotten idea,” he muses.
Lest he, too, forget, Pritchard is looking forward to spending the summer reconnecting with his own grandparents. “I feel like I just don’t know my grandmothers as much as you wish you know this lady by the end of the play.”