UTILITY: A Preview With Georgette Verdin (Interrobang Theatre Project)

By Cesar Gonzales | cesar@viastage.com

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CHICAGO (April 8, 2019) — In the play UTILITY (Rivendell Theatre thru May 4, 2019): “Amber is doing everything she can to keep her head above water, but no matter how hard she tries it never seems to be enough. Money is tight, her marriage is in turmoil, and she’s juggling two jobs just to make ends meet. As she struggles to plan her eight-year-old daughter’s birthday party, Amber must stay strong as she feels increasingly invisible in her own life. Meticulous and heartbreaking, Utility offers an empathic glimpse into America’s’ working poor. Winner of the 2016 Yale Drama Series Prize.” according to a news release.

“Comments Managing Artistic Director Georgette Verdin, ‘This play fits snugly into both Interrobang’s mission and our 9th season, whose theme is: identity/crisis. It’s important to remember that in large swaths of our country, whether it be small towns decimated by dying industries or inner cities, the concept of identity is frustratingly wrapped up in the fight for basic survival needs. And while Trump’s election has given many of us so much to be saddened by and infuriated about, I’ve come to believe that liberals are often entering into one-sided conversations with people we imagine to be like the characters in Utility. People who, in reality, are preoccupied with keeping food on the table, and the electricity flowing. If if we really want to shift the needle and get our country headed in a direction that feels inclusive, we’ll have to reach out to the marginalized in all corners across all cultures and employ radical empathy.’” according to a news release.

Excerpts of a ViaStage interview with director Georgette Verdin:

ViaStage:

Could you share with us some ways that you think UTILITY is topical in today’s socio-political climate?

Verdin:

“… What I love is that UTILITY, it’s not a play about being poor, but obviously economic hardship is a container that the play lives in, … the play is actually about Amber grappling with this lost sense of self… and I think what the play does beautifully is remind us of our shared humanity despite circumstantial differences, which I think is very poignant right now given the sort of divisiveness in our country in the ways we all feel so divided. So, I think it’s important to do art that reminds us… that we make progress when we acknowledge that we’re far more similar than we are different… and I think that UTILITY really does that.”

ViaStage:

In terms of how people can be more empathetic, is that just kind of a sentiment that audiences can walk away with, or do you think action can be taken?

Verdin:

“… I do think that action can be taken, … I think it’s remembering… to stay open to people and to be curious about people who are different than us… I think that it’s important that we seek out opportunities… to be around people who are different from us… that we be curious about them, … that we learn about them… It all comes back to that notion that if you do that, you’re going to recognize what the similarities are, … and that those are going to be undeniable… We have a responsibility to make connections and sort of bridge gaps where we can, … put ourselves in other types of experiences…. We need to be reaching out to marginalized communities across all cultures… and socio-economic backgrounds because… that’s how we make progress… we don’t make progress by continuing to let the divide happen…. I think it’s the only way forward, honestly.”

ViaStage:

Do you think Amber would just like people to understand what she’s going though?

Verdin:

“I do. I think Amber does not feel ‘seen’ by the people in the play… Similarly, I think that there are other characters in the play as well who also don’t feel ‘seen’… A question that I’ve been asking myself, that we’ve been talking a lot at rehearsal is: What makes us feel ‘seen’ as people?… I think that what Amber comes to learn… maybe people are seeing her but they’re not necessarily seeing her in the way that she would prefer them to see her… We tell ourselves stories about people in the way that they respond to us, and we’re not always right about those stories that we have of other people.

ViaStage:

How old is Amber?

Verdin:

“…she’s 31, … but she’s got great kids, 2 jobs… she’s got an incredible amount of inner strength, … but also she’s tired, just really, really tired, and she’s having to sort of tap into these, like, inner reserves to be able to sort of do what she has to do… We really get to sit and see what a day in this life is like, … and we can really feel… the length of these days for someone like Amber… and just how much this takes out of her.”

ViaStage:

Would you say that Amber was, once upon a time, much happier?

Verdin:

“… I think she thinks so… She’s very quick witted, and she’s got a great sense of humor, … I think that she feels that she’s lost some of her… fieriness, … I think it’s clear that it’s still there, it’s sort of caked over a little bit with exhaustion… she’s feeling a bit of a stranger to herself… this isn’t necessarily the life that she thought she would be leading…”

ViaStage:

But at the same time, she’s only 31, so she has a lot of life to live…

Verdin:

“For sure, and I think that this is… a hopeful play. I think there is a lot of hope in the play… And even though we don’t see any… grand scale changes, I think that we start to see the beginnings of some shifts that might lead to something down the line.”

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