‘Rules’ aren’t meant to be broken, but explored
NYU Rep Company
July 16-19 at 8 p.m., July 19 at 2 p.m., July 20 at 7 p.m.
721 Broadway, 5th Floor
$15 suggested donation, 212-712-7938
By Sandra Larriva
During her time as a student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Lynn Silver was often called Olympia, a reference to her teacher and award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis. Nearly 30 years later, Silver still finds many similarities between herself and her mentor.
“We have the same sensibility,” Silver said during a phone interview. “We‘re very down to earth, gutsy, focused. We have passion, a temper, a sense of humor.”
Beginning July 16, Silver will present her newest work, about a mother and daughter, a play she wrote with the idea that Dukakis would play the mother and she, the daughter.
“I only aspire to be as great an actress as Olympia is and be given the opportunity to do that,” said Silver. “That’s where the idea came from.”
“Rules” is one of nine plays being presented by Studio Tisch, a place where alumni of NYU’s Graduate Acting Program produce and present work, this summer. Studio Tisch began in 1989 as a gathering space for alumni and is, as of this summer, officially sponsored by the Grad Acting Alumni Association, a support system for alumni that includes programs such as the Grad Acting Alumni Fund and a writers forum.
“It’s been a really exciting year for alumni at NYU,” said Giovanna Sardelli, the artistic director for Studio Tisch. “Studio Tisch was always driven by alumni from the graduate acting department but we never had a formalized group. Now we have that.”
Silver graduated from Tisch in 1980 with a Master of Fine Arts but has no formal training in writing. “I never took a writing lesson in my life,” she said. The first screenplay she wrote began as a means to put the pain of separating from her husband down on paper. The result was “The End of Cinderella,” which was performed at the West Bank Downstairs Theater in midtown. Her fourth work, “Rules,” was born nearly 10 years ago and has been under Dukakis’s supervision throughout its development.
“I became involved not with what the play was about, but rather the structure of the play, the movement of it,” wrote Dukakis in an e-mail.
While the actress is no longer part of the cast (Silver will play Claire, the mother, and Jocelyn Greene will play Colby, the daughter), she read the role of Claire in four public readings and will continue to mentor Silver “as long as she wants me to do so,” Dukakis said.
“Rules” begins with a game of Boggle and evolves into a lawless world in which Colby is trying to get through a painful divorce and Claire is recovering from alcoholism while trying to get Colby off the couch and on dates with multiple men, one of which Claire ends up falling in love with. In fewer words, “Rules” is about “a mother who has no boundaries and a daughter who can’t live without one,’’ Silver said.
The title and the theme around which “Rules” revolves came to be during a game of Boggle in Silver’s apartment nearly ten years ago. Silver had modified the rules of the game to include two-letter words in an attempt to make it easier for her 12-year-old daughter to play. Silver’s friend, however, refused to play unless it was by the book and even sent Silver a copy of the rules days later, circling the part that said, “words must be made up of three letters or more.”
“You tell me a rule, I’ll be defiant,” explained Silver. “This one,” she said, speaking about her friend, “won’t take a day off work.”
After that night, Silver grew interested in determining what it is that makes people controlling and what lies underneath their inability to break the rules. Nearly ten years after the Boggle episode, Silver thinks that the answer is fear, one of many emotions explored in her latest work.
The cast members represent three decades of Tisch graduate actors who branched out into diverse careers. Peter Rini, plays the cardiologist who falls in love with Claire, graduated in 1994 and has since co-starred in TV shows like “Law and Order,” “Sex and the City” and “ER,” and, most recently, played the lead role in the film “The Narrow Gate.” During rehearsals for “Rules,” Rini “sees the evolution of the program through each actor.”
Greg Jackson, who portrays five different men in the play, feels that an “unspoken theatrical language” develops when he works with other NYU alumni. “Of course we are all from different years in the program but there’s that shared experience of going through the three years of training and all the ups and downs of that that we all have under our belts,” he said.
In addition to their shared acting background, the cast members of “Rules” have something else in common: the belief that rules have a purpose but are not unbreakable. “We come to this world with so much of our own baggage,” said Greene. “We all need our own boundaries and rules to feel safe.” Her character’s boundaries are represented onstage by cardboard boxes. As Colby learns to be free, the boxes are cleared away; she takes away the last one after a liberating skydiving scene with one of Jackson’s multiple characters.
“Rules can protect you and they can also limit you,” said Jackson. “It’s all about knowing when to break them and knowing when not to.”