|Jillian Lauren and D.J. Mendel in Cattywampus.|
Deemed a "master of mayhem" by The New York Times, Cucuzza is a Los Angeles-based theater artist, filmmaker, actor, and acting teacher known for his dark humor and imaginative physicality. In New York, he spent six years at Richard Foreman’s Ontological Theater, where he mounted many highly-acclaimed original plays and was a co-founder of the Obie Award-winning Blueprint Series festival for emerging theatre artists. Since 1997 he has been a company member of Elevator Repair Service (ERS), with whom he most recently originated the role of Tom Buchanan in GATZ—a staging of the entire text of The Great Gatsby that was placed on multiple “Best of 2010 Theater” lists, including The New York Times.
|D.J. Mendel and Jenny Greer.|
Cucuzza has always been drawn to the raw power in Strindberg’s play, in which the well-bred daughter of an aristocrat in 1888 Sweden begins a sexual power play with her father’s servant, transgressing class boundaries and social mores. “I’m drawn to dark comedy, high drama, comic opportunity and almost schizophrenic power-switching, and Strindberg has all of these elements.” More specifically, Cucuzza was drawn to the working class character of Jean. “I was raised in a very small rural town in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. I’ve rarely seen the working class people I grew up with represented with integrity on stage; you get a lot of folksy hicks or insulting caricatures. When I got my hands on Miss Julie, I saw it as a canvas upon which to draw this modernized and Americanized version of Jean.”
Though the play had power, Cucuzza found it outdated and unrelatable at its core, and set out to solve the problem by rewriting it line-by-line. He couldn’t help but imagine the characters transported to his home of Appalachia—specifically, transforming Jean into a gritty blue-collar car detailer, and setting the play in the break room of a Pittsburgh car dealership on the night of its going-out-of-business party. “I distilled the dialogue, cut out repetition and lyricism, infused it with Pittsburgh slang, modern idioms and Americana, and out-and-out changed some of the themes that simply don't exist today, most evidently changing Julie's domineering father to her husband” (cheekily referred to as “The Count”) “and replacing her famous pet bird with a kite,” he says. Overall, his intention was to create an “emotional bluntness” that he associates with middle America. The re-write draws on current economic paranoia and the American dream of escape, which, for Julie and Jean, takes the form of driving to Florida in a Ford Pinto.
|D.J. Mendel, Jillian Lauren and Jenny Greer.|
As a fairly recent transplant from New York, Cucuzza noted how excited he is that SCR is taking steps to bring together its dedicated audience with adventurous artists via Studio SCR. “I've done a revision of the play to suit the Nicholas Studio and hope that it lands with force with a whole new audience.”
Cattywampus premiered at Cal Arts’ NOW festival in 2011, and then performed at the Obie Award-winning Incubator Arts Project in New York. It was called a “raw and raucous” updating by The New York Times, and “One of the Best Plays of 2011” by Stage and Cinema: Los Angeles.
Cattywampus will be presented in the Nicholas Studio three days only, June 22-24, rounding out the 2012 Studio SCR line-up. Learn more or buy tickets on our website.
Photos by Steve Gunther