InterAct’s Alumni-Packed Production
In a new play opening tonight at InterAct Theatre Company, you’ll find Penn alumni sprinkled across almost every page of the playbill’s “Who’s Who” section.
Two out of the five-actor cast are alums: Annie Fang C’19 and Claris Park C’17. Director Maura Krause C’10 went to Penn, too. The music composition PhD in charge of sound design? That’s alumna Melissa Dunphy Gr’14. Add Seth Rozin C’86, who cofounded InterAct and still serves as its producing artistic director, to that list, and you have a multi-decade mix of Penn theatre talent all united in a single, Philly-based production.
Admittedly, Krause didn’t set out to hold a mini-Penn reunion by directing Man of God at InterAct. First came an attraction to the script itself. Written by Anna Moench, the show follows four Korean-American teenage girls who, on a mission trip to Bangkok, discover a hidden camera in their hotel bathroom and realize that someone has been watching them.
“I really love shows that create a lot of problem-solving questions,” Krause says. The play further appealed because of its four main characters. “We don’t see a lot of plays that focus on teenage girls and take their experiences seriously,” she says. “This play asks you to invest in the emotional roller coaster they’re on. And it’s not just four teenage girls, it’s four teenage girls of color, who are also often pushed to the side by mainstream narratives.”
When Krause held auditions, “I just cast who I thought would be best for the parts,” she says. The fact that two of her actors turned out to be fellow alums was a happy surprise—and a testament to the rising number of Penn grads who are sticking around Philadelphia after graduation and carving out careers for themselves in the city’s professional theatre world.
Krause herself is among that cohort. At Penn, she double-majored in English and East Asian Languages and Civilizations while also running and performing with the Underground Shakespeare Company. (Her favorite role: Lady Macbeth.) As graduation approached, she realized the thing she’d miss most about Penn was theatre. After a stint in DC, she returned to Philly in 2012, became a season apprentice at InterAct, and gradually embedded herself in the city’s contemporary theatre scene.
Today Krause is artistic associate of Azuka Theatre, where she landed a Barrymore Award nomination (often called Philly’s version of the Tony) last year for directing the play Boycott Esther. A few months ago, she directed Tiny Beautiful Things—a play that explores writer Cheryl Strayed’s time as the advice columnist Dear Sugar—at Arden Theatre Company. (Krause remembers that show as “an extreme challenge—how do you dramatize advice columns?”)
In directing Man of God, she faced a fresh set of artistic decisions and hurdles: from balancing silly moments with weighty ones, to staging action sequences, to navigating the show’s numerous twists and surprises. The play has been produced only once before, on the West Coast, and Krause carefully avoided any exposure to that version while developing her own take.
Less than one year out of college herself, Fang plays a Korean-American teen named Jen in the show. Man of God marks her first time working with Equity actors—professionals who are members of the theatre labor union—and it will be “my most professional credit” to date, she says.
“She just graduated and she’s burst onto the [theatre] scene,” Krause says of Fang. “She’s really talented.”
Fang says she felt a special connection to this particular show. “As an Asian-American, there are a lot of elements embedded in the text related to cultural influence that really resonated with me,” she says. “This is one of the more specific projects I’ve had that allows me to really get in touch with that part of my identity very intentionally.”
“It was also an opportunity to work with this theatre company that I have so admired,” Fang adds.
From the time Rozin founded InterAct in 1988, the company has focused on “providing challenging, thought-provoking theater,” as Rozin previously told the Gazette. Describing itself as “a theatre for today’s world,” InterAct’s current mission statement underscores its dedication to seeking out “new and contemporary plays that explore the social, political, and cultural issues of our time, and to improving the regional climate for new plays.”
Man of God isn’t the first time Penn alums have worked together on a production in Philly, and it won’t be the last, as Krause’s next project proves. This spring, she’ll direct A Room at the Flamingo Hotel for Azuka with Park as her assistant director. Fang will also perform with Azuka in an upcoming play called Ship before appearing in Inis Nua Theatre Company’s production of Folk.
“I think more and more interesting, radical, exciting theatre artists are coming out of Penn,” Krause says. When she first moved back to Philadelphia after college, “I had that feeling of, where are the Penn alums in theatre?” she remembers. “Now there are so many more Penn people in theatre, which is so exciting.”
—Molly Petrilla C’06