Playwright’s Corner: Rob Keefe
If you attended last season’s new play festival PlayFest at Orlando Shakes, the name Rob Keefe may sound familiar to you. His dark comedy The Cortez Method made a big impact on patrons who were both surprised and inspired by the play’s issues of fertility, home improvement, prescription drugs, and family dysfunction. “Our audience’s reaction to the reading was passionate [and] the post-show discussion was charged,” said Director of New Play Development Mark Routhier. The response was so great, the play will return to Orlando Shakes for its World Premiere as part of Harriett’s New Play Series at the end of this month.
In Keefe’s play, middle-aged Sara is desperate for a baby and her husband (Bill) will do anything to make her happy. When Bill’s brother (Walter) turns up unexpectedly, everything begins to unravel. What follows is a darkly comic roller coaster ride ending with a half-finished kitchen full of blood of Biblical proportions. With such a twisted new take on the American dream, you may find yourself wanting to know more about the man behind it.
Rob Keefe, who was born in Turkey and raised in Kentucky, received his BFA from the acting program at Boston University. After spending a summer training at the National Theatre of Great Britain, he worked as an actor in San Francisco and it was at that time that Keefe began writing short pieces for fellow actors. Theater companies took notice and agreed to produce his work, including Thrillpeddlers in San Francisco, which he still occasionally writes for today. The company even toured some of Rob’s work to Burning Man and Rio DiJaniero, Brazil. Rob currently resides in New York City with his wife and kids.
OS: What is your favorite play and/or playwright and why?
RK: I like Brecht, Eugene O’Neill, and Naomi Wallace. They’re all really different writers, but what they have in common for me is characters I can latch onto. I like flawed characters and sinners. I also read as much fiction as I can.
OS: In The Cortez Method where did the correlation to the famous explorer Hernan Cortez come from?
RK: In my play, Walter’s interpretation of what Cortez did is based on a myth. He does what he thinks is an important dramatic act and gets it wrong. He wants to make a point that there’s no retreat but all he really does is screw himself up. Walter is someone with nothing to lose and when he collides with Bill and Sara, things get kind of volatile.
OS: In this play you combined really dark subject matter with witty sarcasm. Comedy, drama, dramedy – how would you label it?
RK: I’m not sure how to categorize this play except to say it’s a “dark comedy”. It straddles the line between dark and funny, and pretty much takes place in real time. [This] is interesting to me because we get to witness things happen and unravel. The minute Bill enters that kitchen we are on a roller coaster with him, and with the cast we have at Orlando [Shakes], it promises to be quite a ride. When the sun comes up, it starts to get dark.
OS: Each character in Cortez is desperate for something. Which of them are you rooting for to succeed?
RK: Even more than desperate, all four characters have a clarity born from experience. They’re at points in their lives where what they want is very clear and they are very specific about achieving their goals. A couple of them are delusional as hell, but everybody has a pretty good idea of what they want. Desperate only happens when something or someone gets in the way. I like them all, even though they’re not always pleasant.
OS: Why is this play relevant to today’s audiences and what do you want them to take away from the production?
RK: I think anyone who’s ever been married, had siblings, or renovated their kitchen can relate to this play. I think it’s a very American story because it’s about class and the options that may or may not be available to you based on your background. Everybody on that stage is trying to improve themselves in one way or another, but they don’t all choose the best or most legal route.
The Cortez Method runs from August 29 – September 22, 2013. Routhier, who performed the role of Walter in a New Orleans workshop and originally brought the script to Artistic Director Jim Helsinger’s attention, will now take on the role of Director for Orlando Shakes’ upcoming World Premiere production. “I’m looking forward to digging into this play and finding more of its humor, its darkness, and its depth with our talented cast,” Routhier said. The production features actors Paul Bernardo as Bill, Riley Clermont as Walter, Suzanne O’Donnell as Sara, and Melanie Whipple as Odette.
Tickets and further information available at www.orlandoshakes.org or by calling the Box Office at (407) 447-1700.