The Way She Says “Hello”

Catching up with Meredith McDonough is not easy.

Meredith McDonough

Meredith McDonough

“Busy” is only one of a thousand adjectives that, even together, can only give a hint at a good description of this talented theatre artist.  My favorite way to describe  Meredith McDonough during the three years she worked as TheatreWork’s New Works Director:   Charismatic.  Vivacious.  Exuberant.   Irrepressible.  Magnetic.  Ebullient.   No, none of these quite does it.  It’s the way she says “Hello” to an audience before a play is about to start but first she has to point out the EXIT doors.  Like the word “Hello” has six syllables in it –  like she can’t possibly think of a place she’d rather be – like she knows a secret and it’s delightful and she’s about to share it with you.

I was able to sit down with Meredith in Louisville on the final day of the 37th Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays and here is my impression of her now:  Charismatic. Vivacious.  Exuberant. . . .  (You get the picture.)

Meredith McDonough is now Associate Artistic Director of Actors Theatre of Louisville working with Les Waters, Artistic Director; both are greatly missed by Bay Area theatre lovers.  Meredith is an award-winning director of classic and new plays and musicals and has worked extensively in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago and California, but is perhaps best known for her role in nurturing new works on American stages. She told me that this is still something she loves to do – finding and falling in love with a script, working with the writer or creative team to make it better – asking the right questions – moving it forward – getting it on stage.

Among those she has had a huge role in personally shepherding through the many phases of the development process, her favorites include the musical  Fly by Night by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, which had its world premiere at TheatreWorks in 2011 (after a developmental production in its 2010 New Works Festival)  and which is being remounted in a current production at the Dallas Theater Center (with two new songs!) and will have its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons next year.  [Note: Meredith will fly off to Dallas to start work on that production less than 48 hours after our conversation and without possibly recovering from the tolls of the triumphant but exhausting month-long Humana Festival and the months of prep going into it.  See "Busy" above.]

Other favorite new works that she is particularly proud to have been a part of include Summer of ’42 by David Kirshenbaum at the Round House in Washington D.C. (which was the first musical she directed — and she’d like to do more of that), Rajiv Joseph’s The North Pool and Laura Schellhardt’s Auctioning the Ainsleys at TheatreWorks and this Humana Festival’s The Delling Shore by Sam Marks.

Bruce McKenzie and Jim Frangione inThe Delling Shore;  Photo by Alan Simons

Bruce McKenzie and
Jim Frangione in
The Delling Shore;
Photo by Alan Simons

A gifted and natural networker, Meredith knows everyone – or will soon.  She has had much more than an incidental role in putting many artists together and in helping get their new work read or seen — well beyond the many productions that she has personally nurtured from page to stage.   There’s a part of her that’s like a producer no matter what she herself is working on and she enjoys having a “really active hand in helping get certain plays seen and paying it forward a little bit.”

For this Humana Festival, Meredith directed The Delling Shore and two ten minute plays:  Halfway by Emily Schwend and 27 Ways I Didn’t Say “Hi” to Laurence Fishburne by Jonathan Josephson.   The latter two were shown together with one other — Two Conversations Overheard on Airplanes by Sarah Ruhl, directed by Les Waters — as The Ten Minute Plays and were one of the highlights of the weekend.

In fact, 27 Ways. . .  was hilarious and left everyone laughing and in the perfect mood for the gala Festival party that immediately followed the performance.  This little gem of a piece is billed by the author as “Based on actual events…sort of” and portrays the actor/character Laurence Fishburne on a rehearsal  dinner break at an unnamed theatre and the author’s alter ego coming in and out of the breakroom 27 times with excuses to talk to him.  Meredith had the great casting idea to use every male actor involved in the Festival and it worked very well.  She said “it was the most fun rehearsal I’ve ever had!  Just me and 26 men all trying to be funnier than each other;  they would watch and then try and one-up each other.  So much fun.”  It is quite easy to envision 26 talented men having a lot of fun at rehearsal with her too.silentskywebicon

After Meredith finishes her work with Fly by Night she’ll be back in Louisville where she is “ridiculously happy” to live right now.  Next up for her there is to direct the classic British comedy Noises Off and her head is already full of ideas on how to  put her own stamp on that.  We can also look forward to her temporary return to TheatreWorks when she comes back to California at the end of this year to direct Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky which will open January 15, 2014.

It’s great we have a champion of new works out there who is so enthusiastic about their importance in today’s theatre.  Meredith McDonough is someone I hope to keep checking in with from time to time.  Her work is always compelling and her company a delight.





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