Relentless Pleasant … and Focused … and Smart … and Ambitious … and …

For a dozen years, Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions has made you laugh … then think … hard.

Founded in 2006 by the brilliant Ms. Jake Lipman, Tongue in Cheek Theater’s mission is to produce and create thought-provoking comedic works, that – through the ease laughter brings – opens the mind to new ideals. Each of their productions have garnered well-deserved accolades with their 2015 adaptation of the best-selling novel, The Inn at Lake Devine, by Elinor Lipman (praised by The Huffington Post) and the 2014 premiere, and subsequent 2017 revival, of Buffalo Heights (nominated for multiple awards at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity) lead the pack.


With Susan Gross Miller at the Planet Awards 2018. TIC’s play, Ruby, was nominated.

Now Lipman and co. present the world premiere of the comedy she penned, RELENTLESSLY PLEASANT, performing at Theatre 54 @ Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor, October 10-27, 2018 on Wednesday-Saturday nights at 7:30 PM and Sunday matinees at 2:30 PM. Ms. Lipman directs as well. 

The plot exemplifies the humor and “aha moments” TIC productions provide. We are brought to the launch of HER(E) SHE, a new all-female co-working space. Co-founders, Alison (Deanna Henson) and Gina (Maria Maloney) and the staff are hard at work, everything is looking great … Until a series of unforeseen calamities threaten to derail the space – from their keynote speaker canceling, to a #MeToo incident. Can these women lean in to the conflicts while maintaining their composure?

“I wanted to create a feminist piece about women and work, and I wanted it to be funny. I started with two sources of inspiration. Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” talks about women lacking the confidence to sit at the head of a table in meetings, and A.R. Gurney’s play The Dining Room offers a series of comedic interactions set entirely around a dining room table. By setting my piece around a conference room table in a new female-only co-working space, the table becomes both an impediment and a soap box for the characters’ ambitions.”

Ms. Lipman, we want to hear more.


Jake Lipman in BUFFALO HEIGHTS (2017)

Tell us about yourself as an artist.

I moved to NYC to be an actor, and discovered after getting an MFA that I was going to need to produce theater to ensure I was working on projects I really loved. I discovered I was good at producing. What’s more, I enjoyed it. One of the best things about founding my own production company, Tongue in Cheek Theater Productions (, is that I have been able to delve into all aspects of theater-making: writing, directing, devising, and yes, acting. I also love casting, and designing the art for my shows, and working with all kinds of other creatives. It’s never boring, and always edifying. I love being a multi-hyphenated artist.
What was your inspiration in writing this play?
After the 2016 election, I felt lost. How could someone so bright and qualified be passed over, in favor of a man with little curiosity or merit? This got me thinking about something Mary Sue Coleman said: at work, women have to be “relentlessly pleasant” to get ahead. These two ideas were on my mind when I reached out to a group of women theater artists to talk about women and work and power dynamics. We met a handful of times, and these sessions were cathartic and a lot of fun. We told stories of bad bosses, good bosses, money, negotiating, apologizing, and ambition. From those sessions, I started writing a play that was both feminist and funny. The Puffin Foundation awarded me a grant to develop the piece, and I workshopped it over the last nine months, often pulling these same women back into the room to read the play aloud. The resulting play, RELENTLESSLY PLEASANT, is a set in an all-female co-working space on the eve of its launch. A series of calamities threaten to derail their hard work and feminist ideals.
This is very timely, but how do you think it will be viewed in 10 years?
Frankly, I did not set out to write something ‘timely.’ I wanted to write something personal and deeply felt, and I have. I drew from my own experiences as a woman at work, and the stories of those around me. How do we want to be perceived, how we have fallen short or reached our goals, who has helped us, who has impeded us? I’m excited to have audiences see RELENTLESSLY PLEASANT and to see and hear how they respond to the stories of the 8 women onstage. In 10 years, I hope this play seems of a bygone era.  What if we had equal representation as leaders of organizations, in government positions, and pay parity by 2028? That’s something to aim for.
What’s next for this play and what’s next for you?
We have 14 performances, October 10-27, 2018 @ Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios, 244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor (tickets: I am hoping to draw women’s groups to see the show and we are offering talk backs and podcast interviews after several performances. After this run, I am developing the script into a TV pilot and shooting it!  Lastly, I am looking to bring this play to co-working and corporate environments as part of their Learning & Development offerings — the stories and characters in this play can spark productive conversations about anti-harassment, hiring best practices, and creating a safe and supportive work environment.


14 Performances:

Wed. Oct. 10 @ 7:30 PM; Thur. Oct. 11 @ 7:30 PM; Fri. Oct. 12 @ 7:30 PM; Sat. Oct. 13 @ 7:30 PM – with reception following in Shetler’s Penthouse 1 space; Sun. Oct. 14 @ 2:30 PM – matinee; Wed. Oct. 17 @ 7:30 PM; Thur. Oct. 18 @ 7:30 PM; Fri. Oct. 19 @ 7:30 PM; Sat. Oct. 20 @ 7:30 PM; Sun. Oct. 21 @ 2:30 PM – matinee; Wed. Oct. 24 @ 7:30 PM; Thur. Oct. 25 @ 7:30 PM; Fri. Oct. 26 @ 7:30 PM; Sat. Oct. 27 @ 7:30 PM

$20 tickets: ($25 on Sat. Oct. 13 performance with reception following)



by Albert Camus

Reviewed by Robert Viagas


Albert Camus’s absurdist drama Caligula chronicles the last three years in the brief and twisted life of ancient Rome’s most off-the-rails emperor as an examination of the prerogatives and perils of ultimate power. Medicine Show Theatre’s Off-Off-Broadway revival of the 1944 play refrains from drawing specific links to any current American politicians, but if you find yourself thinking of a certain resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, well, that’s all on you.

02_Caligula_092The poetic script draws a vivid picture of life in the First Century A.D. Roman court, where aristocrats are held hostage, taunted, and often executed on the young emperor’s gruesome whim. His absolute power corrupts him absolutely and, with so many of his old friends and spouses abruptly dead, he has nothing left but to secretly aid in the plot to assassinate…himself.

02_Caligula_050Richard Keyser presents an intense and frightening Caligula. He toys with his victims like a cat with a mouse, often employing a sneering sarcasm as a prelude to the knife. Among the best of his victim are the stoic Cherea (Janine Georgette) and his genuinely loving but corrupted Caesona (Demetrius Blocker), both cast non-traditionally.

02_Caligula_069The new translation by company member Chris Brandt walks a careful and smart line between being too stiff and unnatural, and too contemporary and colloquial. Caligula’s warped reasoning is articulated with a terrible clarity.

02_Caligula_088Also in the cast: Diana Westphal, Samuel Muniz, Christopher Cunningham, David Elyha, Alex Miskin, Mario Peguero, Perri Yaniv, and Joe Rivera.

02_Caligula_029The new translation by company member Chris Brandt walks a careful and smart line between being too stiff and unnatural, and too contemporary and colloquial. Caligula’s warped reasoning is articulated with a terrible clarity.

02_Caligula_028The rarely-revived drama was last seen on Broadway in 1960, directed by Sidney Lumet, with Kenneth Haigh in the title role and Colleen Dewhurst as Caesonia.

02_Caligula_015Directed by Mark J. Dempsey, Caligula is being presented as the 2018-19 season opener of The Medicine Show Theatre company at the Ensemble Studio Theatre space, 545 West 52nd Street, Manhattan. Performances continue through October 14.

Loretta Swit on Art (interview by Jay Michaels)


Ai had the great honor of speaking with stage and screen artist, Loretta Swit. Ms. Swit is also an accomplished fine artist with a book, SWITHEART – The Watercolour Artistry & Animal Activism of Loretta Swit to support animal welfare programs, highlighting Ms. Swit’s love of animals through the art she has created over the years.


While she is known [well] for her role as “Hot Lips” Houlihan in the landmark series, M*A*S*H, Ms. Swit is a versitile stage and film professional with credentaisl that include a scene-stealing “Pigeon sister” opposite Don Rickles and Ernest Borgnine in an L.A. run of “The Odd Couple” and “Agnes Gooch” in the Las Vegas version of “Mame” starring Susan Hayward and (later) Celeste Holm.  Broadway aidiences saw star-turns  in Same Time next Year, The Mystery of edwin Drood,  and regional productions of Shirley valentine, The Vagina Monologues, and now in the title role of mame.

TV audiences are aware that Ms. swit’s appearances read like a list of trhe golden age of television with Gunsmoke, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, the puilot of Cagney & Lacey and hybriding stage and snmall screen in the TV version of the stage musical It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman! (1975).

You are a part of TV history but tell us about yourself as an artist?

I love watching films … oldies, new ones, classics … I’ll watch a great film over and over.
I love giving Master Classes. I love Q&As after a performance. I love the rehearsal process … love it!  I miss reading the way I did when I had more time.  I love dailies; it’s like going to school … watching yourself and learning.   

That was the most diverse answer to that question … ever. thank you!

You have some wonderful stage credentials including Same Time, Next Year and The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Broadway and multiple powerful roles across the country’s stage. Tell us about your relationship to live theatre. Also, NY v the rest of the country: how does the theatre differ?

My relationship to live theatre …  I’ve always felt to be a love affair.   The audience and the actor(s) taking a journey together, inseparable. Especially in the case of a one-person play like Shirley Valentine or Eleanor Roosevelt. It can be a remarkable experience to bond with the audience…….laughing together….crying.   Feeling together. I love touring.   I’ve worked in many of our most beautiful theatres, some of them converted opera houses……..others layered with posters and memories of great players….

Lets discuss M.A.S.H. and television …

Always a pleasure to talk about MASH.   We were blessed with the genius of Larry Gelbart and the wisdom and expertise of Gene Reynolds.   That’s for starters! Then we enjoyed a collection of incredibly gifted writers who consistently turned in literate, interesting, intelligent scripts … with a cast of actors —  beginning with the original six right through the departures and arrivals — who bonded at “hello” and became a  devoted family.

In addition to that was our ensemble who also felt a strong sense of family and connection. And our crew who worked hard, enjoyed laughing at us and with us.

Do you keep in touch with any of your co-stars? 

It’s deeper and more meaningful than “staying in touch.” We are family in its most sincere form.

That is truly wonderful to hear on so many levels. Aside from M.A.S.H., your name was on the credits of some of television’s most memorable series. How has the industry changed over the years?

Over-all, technology has made much of it highly impersonal, and that’s sad because it’s contrary to how personal it is for an artist to offer himself/herself and isn’t permitted to do that anymore. Putting yourself in a script– reading it for the producer-director-writer. Very personal.  Winning or losing.  I think today artists feel they never got up to bat.    

Sadly, I agree. OK, do you think a series of its style depicting Vietnam or the Middle East Conflicts work today?

I think social media, all the news, videos, etc. cover it already.  Just put in a relationship or two and maybe you’ve already got yourself a pilot. Know what I mean?

I do. The hand-held phone has become the world stage – go and bad.
What do you still desire to do in your career? A particular part? Directing or producing?

More of the same!   A lot more !  As for a part, yes, I’ve read a few projects I’d love to do. And I still enjoy re-visiting characters like the great Eleanor Roosevelt.

That’s great. May we all have your vitality and interest. I read that you are still a supporter of Gene Frankel Studios and return to speak there on occasion. What’s your advice for the next generation of actors?

I love talking to students………anytime, if I’m available. I think what applies to all generations is the hard work to develop a good solid craft. It’s a tough, demanding road filled with hopeful competition. All you have is yourself. The more secure you are in your work, your craft, the stronger it makes you. There’s more, of course, but I’ll save it for our chat.


Hagins’ canon strives to form a more perfect union

40665935_1780873718677532_2257364575177408512_n.jpgThe Long Rail North, as part of New York International Fringe Festival – FringeNYC (a production of The Present Company), showing on Saturday October 13th – 4:45 pm; Monday October 15th  – 9:30 pm; Saturday October 20th – 7:00 pm; Tuesday October 23rd – 4:45 pm (Talkback directly following); Saturday October 27th – 12:15 pm. Tickets: $22      For tickets or

The Long Rail North centers on Pvt. Thomas Morgan, a black union soldier, who must escape via train with a young southern white girl named Molly Barnes that he rescued from a plantation fire of a nearby Civil War battle. Exhausted, with limited resources and even fewer allies, Morgan (played by Xavier Rodney) continues traveling north getting Molly to safety – despite her racist view of him and his race. Regardless of his good intentions, both union and confederate forces pursue them.


Michael Hagins is simply everywhere. He won awards at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity; turned some gents into swashbuckling jousters in Two Gentlemen from Verona; and put a war romance in the “Basement” of the Gene Frankel Theater. This is just the tip of a long dramatic iceberg of hot tickets. What all his work has in common is a sense of unification – color and culture butting heads to form a more perfect union. Long Rail North is another in the Hagins canon of powerful prose, thought-provoking messages, and when needed, rousing fight scenes.

Ai sat briefly with the prophetic and prolific author… only a second, we’s already working on something else!

Michael, why did you write this?

I wrote The Long Rail North when I was 20 years old and in college. I’ve been fascinated by the Civil War, and after watching Glory for the 20th time and doing research on the 54th Massachusetts, I had the idea of telling one man’s story doing everything he can save a white person, and a little girl who can’t defend herself properly. From then on, the play grew over 15 years from a one-act to a screenplay and eventually to the 5 person play going up in FringeNYC.  Unlike most works I’ve done, I’ve always known how the play moves and how it ends, and that’s because it all just clicked for me.  I remember when I finally put the final touches on this script 4 years ago, I felt like I could finally say “It’s ready to be seen by human eyes.”

How does this play resonate today – feel free to be political.

There are so many ways that this play is relevant today. Can a Black man travel with a white woman – let alone a 12 year old girl – and not be afraid of being stopped or accused of doing something illegal? Can a Black man feel welcome in the South or even certain parts of the North? Do people still think people are inferior because of their race or upbringing? In the Civil War, both Union and Confederate armies didn’t think much of Black men and women, who were willing to risk their lives to fight. In the Union, Black soldiers were paid $3 less than white soldiers, and most were encouraged to quit or change jobs and become doctors or scouts or cooks. In the Confederacy, laws were passed that any Black soldier who took up arms against the Confederacy and captured would be put back in slavery or even executed, and not treated as a prisoner of war. And in my story, one Black man continues to fight both sides, not caring of the consequences, showing bravery and courage and fighting against those who find him inferior, all to save one little girl, who happens to be white.

21685917_10159336474210440_558813078447782431_n.jpgYou are prolific and prophetic. In 100 years, what do you want history to note about your canon of work?

I would love for this show to continue to be a piece of historical fiction that talks about the taught ignorance not only in the Civil War but the times after that. As for my work, I’ve gone on such a range from comic sword-fighting shows to racial engaging work, and while I’d love for the fun works to continue to be lighthearted and fun for those seeking that, I also hope that my plays can open peoples’ eyes on the lone Black man facing and persevering so many trials and tribulations.

Tell us about fight choreography? Good/bad/why/ etc.

Fight choreography is a point of pride to me, because it allows the actors to engage in physical activity night after night without bumps and bruises. So many plays, both classical and contemporary, involve some form of stage combat, and safety needs to continue to be tantamount whenever such works are done. My show is lucky that we only have 5 nights of performance. Some Broadway shows perform 8 shows a week, and 2 a day in some cases, and without good fight direction, how could anyone do those many shows and not get hurt?

What’s next for this play and what’s next for you – in case they are separate questions.

I hope that The Long Rail North goes further. I’d love for this amazing cast and crew to move on and perform in a much bigger theatre. Every person involved is working so hard to bring this dream of mine to life, and all I can do to repay them is continue pushing for The Long Rail North to be picked up by producers and give it more life than just the month of October. As for me, as I continue advocating for this cast and crew to go further up the ladder, I will continue to write new work and find new ways to keep living the dream here in New York City.

“Jilted to Perfection” & “Common Ground” Two Musicals at NYNW Theater Fest

Reviews by Robert Viagas

Jilted to Perfection by Debra Cook

Imagine a Wooster Group-style autobiographical monologue—think Spaulding Gray or Eric Bogosian—but presented as a stream-of-consciousness solo musical, and you’d have an idea of Debra Cook’s funny and poignant Jilted to Perfection, getting a showcase as part of the New York New Works Theatre Festival.

Subtitled “A MorMom’s Love,” her journey moves nimbly from her divorce, her struggle to transcend the Mormon world in which she was raised, and an unpromising romance with a Scientologist actor/director who believe she is his soul-mate.

Seated at a keyboard, Cook relates her self-described “squirrely” odyssey through life, swerving from one idealistic disaster to another, always trying to answer the questions, “Is it true that when you’re in love, you see all their brokenness and mess and love them anyway? Love them more?”

And then, out of the blue, in the final section, “The Good Fight,” Cook introduces a surprise guest performer, an angelic blonde waif (McKinslee Mitchell) who joins her on stage for a precociously powerful performance of a song about finding your destiny. The show ends with a surprise finale that I won’t spoil. But it is only one of the many unexpected and wonderful twists in this marvelous mini musical.

Directed by Kathy Morath, Jilted to Perfectionis being presented as part of the New York New Works Theatre Festival at The Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42ndStreet, Manhattan. It was included in an evening of short plays and excerpts that included Glitched, How Alfo Learned to Love, Your Words Are Your Offering,and Flower of Iowa. A second performance is scheduled for Sept. 15.

Common Ground by Granville Burgess

The circumstances surrounding an historic 1863 meeting between President Abraham Lincoln and black former slave Frederick Douglass are the focus of Common Ground, an earnest new musical getting a showcase at New York New Works Theatre Festival.

Douglas, a gifted and outspoken abolitionist speaker who had helped recruit “colored” troops for the Union during the Civil War, was outraged that Lincoln was taking no special action against the Confederacy for torturing, murdering, or re-enslaving those troops when they were captured by the South, as opposed to white Union soldiers who were just incarcerated.

Judging from the seven songs performed in this sampler, composer Stan Wietrzychowski (Street Songs) and lyricist/librettist/director Granville Wyche Burgess have framed the story in the melodramatic style of the mid 19thcentury operettas. Baritone Gary Harger (Lincoln) and tenor Robert Mack (Douglass), serve the score well with their lush, trained voices. Mack is especially moving on “Let Me Begin.” The writers make the most of the fact that Lincoln’s eventual killer, John Wilkes Booth (Benjamin McCormack), was a prominent actor known for his starring performance in Shakespeare’s assassination drama, Julius Caesar.

The show’s atmosphere is serious to the point of stiffness at times, though the game song, “What If?” gives the characters a chance to ask some of the difficult questions of the oft-told story in a light-hearted way.

Common Ground is being presented as part of the New York New Works Theatre Festival at The Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42ndStreet, Manhattan. It was performed as part of an evening of short plays and excerpts that included Life or Not by Cayla Berejikian, Law of the Jungle by Sam Downey, The Kitty Bomb by Kevin Daly, and A Pitch From Satchel Paige by Loren and Jim Keller. A second performance is scheduled for Sept. 13.

Creating “Common Ground” with Granville Wyche Burgess

The New York New Works Theatre Festival in association with Quill Productions are proud to present Granville Wyche Burgess’ musical play about the first time our nation faced a civil war.

Based on fact, COMMON GROUND concerns a meeting between Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln regarding his responsibility toward a belief in political and social equality for African-Americans.

COMMON GROUND, a musical presentation, also features a disgruntled John Wilkes Booth likening his current political issues and values as “Playing Brutus to His Caesar.” It dramatizes the question that still haunts a nation founded on both slavery AND equality – for all: what is the answer to injustice? Vengeance or Common Ground?

COMMON GROUND will run at the Acorn theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, NYC. Its limited run is September 6 & 13 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets available at


OK, that’s the press release, now let’s have the real story. We were fortunate enough to get some time with thoughtful and thought-provoking author, Granville Wyche Burgess.


I’ve always been struck by the phrase “Art is the movement toward hope.” It captures the essence of my belief as an artist and as a person. Cynicism and negativity won’t be found in my work. There is plenty of drama, plenty of conflict, plenty of anguish and remorse and sorrow, but there is always, if not a happy ending, at least a positive one, an ending that points towards a better tomorrow. In my life, I have walked in a gentle rain of blessings with occasional lightning strikes, and I write from those blessings. Frankly, I have to watch myself, because I can sometimes be overly sentimental and too simplistic. I am constantly challenging myself to look for more nuance in my characters, to say less in order to say more, to not always spell out so clearly what a character thinks and wants. Perhaps that is why, after beginning my career writing serious American drama, I have been drawn to write musicals, which usually can’t delve as deeply as drama and, when they do, have the emotion of music to heighten the feeling. But I also like writing musicals because I have discovered a latent joy in writing lyrics and, I’ve been told, some talent for doing so. I love the challenge of saying something clever or meaningful or funny or poignant in a very few words and in rhyme. I’m a long way from the wit of Cole Porter or the intellectual sophistication of Stephen Sondheim, but I am enjoying the journey immensely. And it’s just plain fun to go around singing songs I’ve written! While many people grew up knowing they would be in theatre, I had no idea. My artistic journey unfolded as a complete surprise, and that has been one of its delights. And I try to be more than just a theatre artist. I try to be an artist at love, an artist at patience, an artist at understanding. If I’ve learned one thing from all these years as an artist, it’s that you’ve got to be who you are. And this is who I am: an artist of hope.


I majored in American history and founded a nonprofit, Quill Entertainment Company, whose mission is “Teaching America’s Heritage Through Story and Song,” so I have long been drawn to dramatizing American history. After completing a musical, Battlecry, about the Battle of Gettysburg and musicalizing “The Gettysburg Address,” I felt an urge to write about Abraham Lincoln, who has always been one of my favorite Americans. And so I began reading about Lincoln and discovered, to my amazement, his relationship with Frederick Douglass. How could I have never known about this?! What an overlooked American. The more I read about Douglass, the more I admired him. And the more drafts I wrote (eleven to date), the more Douglass began to take over the story. About the sixth draft, I discovered my theme: Common Ground. And finally, in the last draft, I figured out a way to have Douglass be the protagonist. I have known that this would be the story of a friendship from the moment I read that Douglass crashed Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball, was barred at the door, and Lincoln insisted that he be allowed in. And then he introduced him to everyone as “My friend, Douglass.” To me, that signaled that Lincoln was acknowledging Douglass as his equal—a startling fact since he had said that he had never met a black man who was equal to a white. That much, and more, is based on history, but writing this musical has been a constant struggle for me to let go of the history and just write the drama. In the beginning, I tried to write the Lincoln/Douglass scenes based on what they actually wrote about their meetings, but that didn’t produce the drama I needed. Fortunately, my collaborator, Stan Wietrzychowski, kept reminding me that our job was to write entertainment first and history second. I have read dozens of books in the writing of this musical, so there is a great deal of history in it, but not so much that the storyline was hampered. Historians will have plenty to argue about in this piece, but I hope they and everybody else will have plenty to enjoy.


I have spoken a little about this above. What drew me to writing this story was the knowledge that no one had dramatized the Douglass/Lincoln relationship before—it’s always exciting to do something first. And I saw in their friendship a chance for me to address a subject that has always spoken deeply to me: the injustice done to our African-American sisters and brothers. The horrible aspects of racism, our country’s original sin, are obviously still with us today. I care so much that we treat each other with dignity and respect, regardless of skin color. So an important part of my thought process was: I want to speak as eloquently as I can about the need for racial healing in our country, the need for us all to live up to our founding ideals. As to why a musical? Because I love writing lyrics and I enjoy the challenge of structuring a story that allows room for song to advance the plot. But I also believe that our story becomes more powerful when set to music. It never occurred to me to write it any other way than as a musical.


Yes, this is my first festival ever. It has been a delight to work with my wonderful company in bringing our excerpt to life. And I have really appreciated the support I have received from Gene Fisch and all the NYNW staff. This is a professional, class-act all the way and I am proud— and grateful—to be a part of it.


I haven’t really had the experience yet because we have had our time onstage. But in meeting just a few of the artists involved, I have learned yet again that artists are incredibly inventive in what excites their imagination. We all live in the same world, but it sure does strike us all differently. Thank God!


I have been commissioned to write a play based on a book about Maine. The second in my trilogy of Amish Romances, published by Chickadee Prince Books, comes out this September and then I will embark on writing the third book! Another novel, The Last At-Bat of Shoeless Joe, comes out next October. And how’s this for an audacious dream?: I would like to get Batttlecry revived so that one day, along with COMMON GROUND, I can have two musicals about the Civil War running in repertory on Broadway! A guy’s gotta dream…

CommonGround-flyerFINAL (1)

R. K. Rich offers a tough topic for laughs


Personal Safety, Inc. (PSI) is proud to continue the conversation aimed to de-stigmatize mental health issues such as depression and suicidal ideation though over-the-top humor of Suicidal Life Coach  by R. K. Rich.

It’s life coach Fred Sigman’s wedding day. His fiancée is histrionic, mercurial, and already planning their annulment! No wonder he’s depressed! Believing that laughter is, indeed, the best medicine, this play employs over-the-top humor to address the serious realities of depression while offering strategies to help loosen the grips of despair, hopelessness, and helplessness.

Mr. Rich recently shared, “everyone has always said, ‘write about what you know,” so I did.  While it seems to be under control now or for now, I’ve battled depression for several years. The more I was willing to share my struggles, the more I found others who were suffering in silence and in shame. I felt compelled to be a part of the solution or at least to try to be! That is what underlies this play.  I’ve created a world that allows me to share the best parts of my life coaching practice and my quirky sense of humor. I know that laughter has been the only thing that saved me from the deepest levels of darkness.”

Suicidal Life Coach is part of the New York Theater Festival – Summerfest, an ongoing series of new works at the Hudson Guild Theatre.

The playwright took some time to chat with Ai about his challenging work.

21034498_10155610026347716_809453637328274988_n.jpgTell Us About Yourself as an Artist.

I believe that it’s better left to audiences to truly define the art of another. The words that people use most often in response to my work are quirky, hysterical, clever, heartfelt and vulnerable. The one common thread sewn throughout all of my professional endeavors is that I do my best to help people get from where they are to where they want to be.

Tell us about what was the inspiration of the play.

The original inspiration for the play was borne out of a harsh reality – I was (and am) a highly-paid life coach who alternated from helping clients at a high level to laying on the floor in a deep depression. My phone alarm would go off five minutes before a session, and I would jump up, pull myself together for the hour-long session, listen, focus, and help my clients, then right back to the floor. While I have never been suicidal, and this line is mirrored in the show, there were many nights where I hoped not to wake up the next morning. As I used (and use) humor as a coping mechanism, it was obvious to me that there was a story to be told with such an extreme juxtaposition of behaviors.

So your coping mechanism is humor. What does that look-like in a play? What’s your thought process?

Charlie Chaplin has been quoted as saying, “Pain plus time equals comedy.” That has always resonated with me. The goal, therefore, is to have the amount of time between the pain and the comedy be as little as possible. I also think that if we can look at the darkest experiences through a filter of light or humor, it becomes accessible in ways that dealing with a serious topic super seriously does not. While I don’t put Suicidal Life Coach in the same category as Life is Beautiful — I can only hope to write something so brilliantly well – I aspired to tackle depression in a way similar to the way Life is Beautiful found a way to be comedic against the backdrop of the Holocaust. There’s such a stigma attached to mental health issues that I wanted to start or continue the conversation, hopefully create work that is good enough to give me just enough of a voice to say, “I’ve struggled with depression, too. It’s okay. Ask for help. There are answers. I made it through, so can you!”

I see this a lot but never asked the question. What’s it like handing over your show to entire group of people and won’t see it until almost showtime?

Knowing that the funding for this play was coming from the non-profit (Personal Safety, Inc.) that I head, I couldn’t justify spending a ton of money on hotels for myself in or near Manhattan. So it was a given that I would work remotely with the director and the team from the beginning. That said, I have, according to some, been a bit of a control freak in the past. I can neither confirm nor deny such rumors except to say, “they’re true!” Luckily or by design, I studied the art of collaboration as part of my coursework in grad school. I had the opportunity to interview Broadway people like actors Lisa Brescia, composer-lyricists Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lippa, music directors Stephen Oremus and Alex Lacamoire (should I bend down to pick up those names I just dropped?). One of the common themes was you have to believe that everyone in the room has a reason to be there and to let them do what they are there to do. Fortunately for me, I found a director, Joe Langworth, who is so amazingly talented and such a wonderful person that it made the process seamless. We worked remotely for a couple of months; he also served as the dramaturg. I trust and trusted him completely from day one. As a result, it was surprisingly easy to hand off everything but the writing (and producing) to him and the team he assembled.

I’m told you’re a 3X newbie: Your first play in your first festival and your first production in New York!! What’s going through your head.

While I have written screenplays for years, Suicidal Life Coach is the first play I have ever written. On top of that, the New York Theater Festival is my first festival and my first production in New York City. It’s everything you’d imagine – the entire spectrum of emotions from “OMG, I have a show in an Off-Off-Broadway theater” to “what if it’s horrible?” to “what if it’s horrible and no one attends?”  Okay, the last one might not be as bad as “what if it’s horrible and sold out?!”  Kidding aside for 15 seconds, it’s been a wonderful few months since learning of its inclusion in the festival.  The collaboration with Joe has been such a gift.  It’s very exciting!!

What made you want to write a play and what have you learned from the experience?

There is nothing more powerful, in terms of entertainment, to me that live theater. There is a magic that happens when people are engaging with people that doesn’t happen in television or film. If something goes wrong in TV or film, you re-shoot and save the outtake for a gag reel. If something goes wrong on stage, you have to deal with it and make it work. That energy and those connections are magical to me as an audience member. I hope that holds true as a playwright!

What’s next?

I’m working as a librettist-lyricist on two musical projects one of which is top secret; the other is a modern day Cyrano inspired story! But, with a little luck, more of my work and collaborations will grace other stages in New York City, regional and community theaters. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to move Suicidal Life Coach Off-Broadway!

IN REHEARSAL: SUICIDAL LIFE COACH (Photo credit: Lia-Shea Tillett)