From left, Lisa Ebersole, Dahl Colson and Monique Vukovic in People Die That Way at the Paradise Theater
Just over twenty years ago, Tom Noonan founded the Paradise Theater on East 4th Street in order to present his own work and that of company members. Noonan has mounted 53 plays since then, including award- winning productions like What Happened Was and Wifey. This seasons Paradise opener, People Die That Way is a play by newcomer, Lisa Ebersole, who also directs and performs in her own piece.
I love the immediacy of theater, the unpredictability of what actors bring to the stage every night, says the 27-year-old who studied film at NYU before she began taking Noonans workshops. This is my first full-length work, although I did three monologues this summer at Paradise. I wrote it in eight weeks, but we worked on scenes in class. Im drawn to stories and characters that are human. My process is to feel something as an actor and put that down, rather than a formulated idea from pure emotion.
People Die That Way is a drama about five people waiting at Port Authority for a delayed bus to Washington, D.C. Theres a young couple in a troubled relationship, a woman obsessed with a childhood acquaintance whos just reappeared and another couple dealing with the stress of having a baby.
The essence of the piece is all about connections and missed connections among people, Ebersole says. Some of my work is autobiographical, and Ive been in several of these situations. Its a really difficult time to be an adult. There are struggles with going home and being time-warped back, completely growing up, independence and just not knowing what comes next. My mother was married at 27, and I dont feel anywhere close to that. For women especially, its now very difficult to choose what to do. And its about being single in New York and being involved with your work. The pressures and transience of life here make commitment difficult. Its hard to connect, plus its hard to leave once you do.
Striving for realism, Ebersole reports there are cell phones going off and lots of noise in her play. Two hours of noise was recorded at Port Authority itself, and the audience is seated together with characters in the bus station set.
Its all happening in real time, she notes, so I hope they get a sense that theyve been there, and really relate to the characters with the scenes played out-not in an abstract way, but relevant to their lives. For me, the title means that people die when theyre stuck, not doing anything in life or in a bus station. People Die That Way is about taking risks, giving of the self emotionally so something in your life can change.
Biggest personal risk for Ebersole in this production?
Both lead actors quit just before Christmas, she laughs, and I had to totally recast the play! Also, the risk of directing and acting in something Id just written. You want to let yourself go, lose yourself in a scene. But as director, you must pay attention to everything all the time. As a writer, most interesting to me were the different stages I went through. Thinking it was good, then giving it over to the actors, and allowing it to live. You do your job and then let it go. Now Ive become actor/director, and it could be anybodys words.