‘Fifty Ways’ explores what it takes to truly leave your lover

 

After Nina (Vivienne Benesch) ingests a sleeping pill, she fights to stay asleep in Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of Kate Fodor’s Fifty Ways. Zoe (Leah Anderson) attempts to rouse her, while Nina’s husband, Adam (Michael Gaston), tries to help. Photo by Eric Shea.

Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer

Paul Simon taught the world that there are 50 ways to leave your lover. Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan.

Playwright Kate Fodor re-examines what it really means to leave your lover in her play Fifty Ways, aptly named after the Simon hit.

“The famous chorus is almost ironic in the context of the rest of song … about someone who is really struggling with the idea of leaving his lover,” Fodor said. “We all hurt each other and leave each other in all kinds of different ways — emotionally and psychologically — but at the same time, it’s an enormous decision to actually end a marriage.”

Fodor’s play explores the complexities that tie and unwind a married couple in Fifty Ways, which previews at 8 p.m. tonight at Bratton Theater and opens at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bratton Theater. Fifty Ways, the first play commissioned by Chautauqua Theater Company and the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, marks CTC’s first world premiere.

The play stars five cast members including Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch, two guest artist actors, Michael Gaston and David Aaron Baker, and two conservatory actors, Leah Anderson and Josh Tobin.

Though it is Fodor’s first world premiere on the grounds, Fifty Ways is the third of her plays CTC has produced. 100 Saints You Should Know and Rx debuted in recent years as part of CTC’s New Play Workshop before premiering in New York City to national acclaim.

CTC Resident Director Ethan McSweeny directed the world premieres of three of the four works in Fodor’s canon, including this weekend’s.

“I think this is Kate’s finest and most mature play to date,” McSweeny said. “Everyone who encounters this play thinks that Kate stole something from their life and put it in this story. It’s because the situations she’s writing about are relationships and family. And the forces that conspire to keep people together or drive them apart are really universal.”

The play’s primary couple Nina and Adam—played by Benesch and Gaston—have been married for many years, but the depth and breadth of their love is called into question as forces threaten their union.

The precarious position of the duo is relatable and startlingly humorous. Though the play deals with serious themes, it is peppered with the comedy and wit that derives from average people dealing with life.

Two interlopers for the couple are Grant, their 15-year-old son, and Zoe, Nina’s 20-something common-law stepsister. CTC conservatory students portray both characters.

Tobin

Josh Tobin — Grant

Audience members may recognize Tobin from last year’s CTC conservatory crew. He played Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost and performed in the Late Night Mask Project.

Tonight, he takes on the new challenge of breathing life into 15-year-old Grant.

“Fifteen is your transition from the point where everyone helps you to actually saying, ‘Wait a minute, I can contribute,’ ” Tobin said. “It’s when you see your parents as mortal human beings who are fallible … and that’s hard to do in life.”

Though Grant is a teenager and Tobin is entering his third year of graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the two share a closeness to their father.

“What jumped off the page is this could have been me at 15 … it’s been a fun lean back into my adolescent days,” Tobin said.

What separates Tobin from Grant is Grant is called to make tough, mature choices to contribute to his turbulent family dynamic on stage. Much time has gone into exploring Grant’s tumble into adulthood.

Tobin also took a tumble — into the arts, as theater became a reoccurring outlet throughout his childhood, adolescence and college life.

“In fifth grade, I was in Comedy of Errors. I got to carry a sword, and it was the most thrilling experience of my life up to that point,” he said.

Tobin’s penchant for theater moved beyond carrying a fake weapon on stage, and though he tried other majors — in history and psychology — during his undergraduate career at Davidson College, he wound up back in theater.

Storytelling draws Tobin to the arts, and the chance to work with talented peers at CTC drew him to Chautauqua for the second time.

“It’s incredibly exhilarating, and exciting and nourishing to be around the conservatory members,” Tobin said. “We’re all in the same gigantic boat: actors-in-training about to enter the business.”

Anderson

Leah Anderson — Zoe

One of Tobin’s fellow actors-in-training is Anderson, who attends graduate school at the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company consortium. Acting in new work is one of her favorite facets of theater.

“You have a lot of creative input when you are creating a character for the first time,” Anderson said. “And there is such a sense of collaboration, because nobody really knows what is going to happen. And nobody knows what we are going to create together.”

Anderson, like Tobin, connects with her character, Zoe, a violinist and recent Juilliard graduate in her mid-20s. Though Anderson is in her late 20s, she relates to the emotional rollercoaster that decade has brought to both of their lives.

“She is in this part of her life where she can do anything she wants to and it’s so overwhelming,” Anderson said. “My 20s were incredibly tumultuous, and no one really warned me. It was sort of five years of existential crisis. I didn’t know what I was doing … or what I should be doing.”

A Yale undergraduate, she took years in the middle of her education to travel the world and tried to find what makes her most happy. Right now, it’s theater.

“In theater, what’s important is the communal sense of empathy,” Anderson said. “Life is hard, but it’s hard for everyone. In some ways that’s horrifying, and in some ways very comforting.”

Anderson, a self-described introvert, first found herself in theater when she lived in California and needed an evening activity. It allowed her to break out of her shell and give her whole body to a work.

Her love of learning draws her to Fodor’s work, which is incredibly rhythmic.

“What draws me to it most is the poetry of the play,” Anderson said. “It’s important to have work that stretches the bounds of how we exist in the normal world.”

Tonight’s play takes topics many people know well — relationships, love, marriage — and explores what it means to be inextricably bound to others.

And perhaps audience members will probe the deeper questions of what it means just to drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.