Sara Fellini, creative director of spit&vigor theater company, talks about THE BRUTES, currently playing as part of The Planet Connections Theater Festivity.


Q: What inspired you to create spit&vigor?


A: My producing partner, Adam Belvo, and I, both came out of working with ad hoc, lo-fi theater companies that had disbanded for various reasons (folks moving away, professional obligations, school, etc.) We wanted to create theater that was engaging and vital, and to produce plays both canonical and new that did not have cut and dry messages or subject material. This meant finding (and writing) plays with characters that had complicated, elaborate emotional lives and backgrounds, whose storylines did not have simple explanations, jingoistic messages or neat endings. We wanted to explore work that lead us to the deeper aspects of humanity; we are interested in how messy humans are, in performing work that shows mankind in its totality, for better and worse. So, we decided to start making the work we wanted to see ourselves.


Q: What would you say spit&vigor’s mission statement is?


A: spit&vigor is makeshift, skin-of-your-teeth, ad hoc theater, all about building pieces with a strong backbone of human vulnerability and connection. We are committed to producing theater that brings people together and challenges them, intellectually and emotionally. We choose to present scenarios without easy answers or alliances, with all the real complications of life lived fully. We believe in healthy conflict and unsatisfying resolutions. We think that this type of art is especially necessary at this moment, socially and politically.


Q: Can you tell us a little about THE BRUTES?


A: THE BRUTES takes you backstage of a historic performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar featuring the renowned theatrical Booth family – brothers Edwin, Junius Jr. and John Wilkes Booth. This was the first and only time that the three brothers shared a stage together. The backstage drama becomes the focus of this portrait of their tempestuous relationship fraught with political conflict ending in an American tragedy.


In short, THE BRUTES is a deeply intimate portrait of a family divided. The piece is staged in the Round with minimal set pieces serving as a theatre and a dinner table. Civil strife, family devolution, and a country sharply divided – today or 150 years ago, the parable of this drama remains strong.


Q: What has the process of directing THE BRUTES been like for you?


A: We have an incredibly creative and innovative cast, so the process has been thrilling. Everyone has brought fantastic ideas and insights to the table, and the script is so rich with nuanced characterizations and deep and real personal relationships that it’s been a treasure hunt as well as a collaboration. We put most of the scenes up quickly and naturally, which is unusual in the round but the script flows so beautifully that it just worked out, and then we had time to find minute adjustments throughout the play that really give life and humanity to all the characters.


Q: You are also acting in the show, how would you describe your character?


A: Asia Booth Clarke is the older sister of John Wilkes Booth, who, along with her older brother Junius, tries her best to keep the family together even amidst the brutal rivalry between her other two brothers (Edwin, who supported the North in the Civil War and was the most famous actor in the country at the time, and John, a lesser-known actor who ultimately became the assassin of Abraham Lincoln). Asia directs many of the Shakespeare scenes from the sidelines, and narrates a few passages in a liminal space, so she has a lot of sway in the piece. Asia is very flawed in a human way – she openly flirts with other men in front of her husband and sometimes relishes the violence of the men around her, but the love she has for her brothers even when they make terrible mistakes is at the heart of the play, and she has incredibly poetic and beautiful things to say about memory, and art, and family.


Q: What type of person would/should come see THE BRUTES and why?


A: I think this show would resonate well with all Americans – the Thanksgiving dinner argument is a hallmark most families would identify with. More specifically, I think this show is the right show for now, because we tend to get so caught up with our own political teams, that it makes it hard for us to see anyone outside our bubbles for anything other than their labels, and we can lose each other for fighting over what amounts to petty differences. This show demonstrates how complicated relationships can be, and how things can spiral out of control if we don’t take the time to try and see people for who they are and understand why they think the way they do. It also shows how easy it is to become radicalized to the point of doing something drastic, dramatic, and how we need to take care, to take care of those in our societies most at risk for militancy by offering alternatives.


A portion of the proceeds of this show will go to the Southern Poverty Law Center that helps to fight the kind of hatred represented in John Wilkes Booth, and we will additionally have a place to donate at the box office.


For more information about THE BRUTES: