ELYSA GARDNER: Welcome to Stage Door Sessions, by Broadway Direct. In this podcast, we have in-depth conversations with Broadway’s brightest, bringing you what’s new, what’s noteworthy, and what’s coming next to a stage near you.
I’m your host, Elysa Gardner, and today we’re bringing you a special edition, recorded live at this year’s BroadwayCon on January 25th. At that time, we spoke with a power-trio consisting of acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Bess Wohl, along with Priscilla Lopez and Ashley Park, two of the stars of Bess’s Broadway debut, Grand Horizons, now at the Hayes Theatre. Bess’s previous plays include the critically acclaimed John Gassner Award winner Small Mouth Sounds, Make Believe, Continuity, American Hero, Barcelona and the musical Pretty Filthy. Her work has been developed in New York and around the country in prestigious venues such as the Goodman Theater, the Geffen Playhouse, Williamstown Theater Festival, where Grand Horizons premiered, and Second Stage, which is producing this new play on Broadway.
Priscilla is a Broadway legend, having originated roles from Diana Morales in A Chorus Line to Camila Rosario in In the Heights. She won a Tony Award for her performance in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and has also appeared in plays by Sarah Ruhl and Nilo Cruz. And she’s probably the only performer who stepped into principal roles in both the original production of Pippin on Broadway, and the revival, more than 40 years later.
Ashley is well on her way to an eclectic career, having followed up her much-praised performance as Tuptim in Bartlett Sher’s revival of The King and I in the Lucille Lortel Award-winning KPOP and, of course, Gretchen Wiener in Mean Girls, a role that earned Ashley nominations for Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle and Chita Rivera Awards.
We spoke with Bess, Priscilla and Ashley at the New York Hilton Midtown, and addressed a range of issues, regarding not only the play but their experiences as multi-talented, multi-tasking women in their field and in life.
ELYSA GARDNER: Welcome to a very special edition of Stage Door Sessions, brought to you by Broadway Direct. Today we are coming to you—as you all know already—live from BroadwayCon, and we have a very special program featuring the talent of a new show that just opened on Broadway Thursday night. It’s a wonderful play; it’s very, very funny, and also very thoughtful and thought provoking. In this play, we meet a woman who has been married for a very long time, for about 50 years, and she is not quite as content as people assume she is, particularly her two sons, her two grown sons. Ashley, you play her daughter in law, Jess, and Priscilla, you play a woman named Carla, and I will not say anything about her role in the play, because I don’t want to give any spoilers. But you can tell us what you want to about her.
First of all, welcome to Stage Door Sessions, thank you for joining us for this panel.
ASHLEY PARK: Thanks for having us.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: It’s a pleasure to be here.
ELYSA GARDNER: Thank you all for being here. You can all hear me clearly right, am I talking—okay, alright—because these are the pros when it comes to using a microphone correctly. Bess, your last play, Make Believe, focused on children, that was your last play correct?
BESS WOHL: Yes.
ELYSA GARDNER: And here you’re dealing with the inner lives of characters who are obviously much older, at a very different stage in their lives. What was the impetus for this, I’d read something about your having friends whose parents were getting divorced or separated at much later stages of life, so what made you think that this would be a good subject to visit, and I want to hear from Priscilla and Ashley about their characters, and how they fit into it.
BESS WOHL: Yes, it was initially because I had several friends whose parents got divorced at an age that wouldn’t, you know, was pretty uncommon, you know mid-70’s, 80, and as I dug around I realized that there was a cultural phenomenon happening called grey divorce, it even has a name, and it made me start thinking about love, and commitment, and how love sustains itself over time. And then at the same time I was newly married, so I was sort of questioning, what does marriage sort of mean for myself, and can I see myself being married for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, and how would that work? And also as you said, I had just worked with children, and I’m always curious about telling stories that I haven’t seen before, you know, putting characters at the heart of a play who might normally be pushed to the side. Children, I had realized, were always sort of running through for one scene, and not really the point of the play, and I felt the same way about older people. I had often seen them portrayed as having dementia, Alzheimer’s, or you know, being sort of the side action, and I really wanted to put them center stage, so that was another piece of what was interesting to me about taking this on.
ELYSA GARDNER: Right, and tell us what you can, Ashley and Priscilla, about how your characters figure into this.
ASHLEY PARK: Well, Jess, she is married to the eldest son of the two kids, and Jess is a therapist, and she’s eight months pregnant, and me Ashley, I’ve never been pregnant, nor have I ever been married, but I think that—
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: You’re an actress.
ASHLEY PARK: Yes, that is what acting is, I guess. But, she comes with the two boys, and they come and try to figure out what’s going on, very early on in the play. And through it, and through the relationships and the situation at hand, I think she starts to see what her present and what her future may look like in terms of her own marriage, and yeah, so that’s kind of how she figures into it.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: And my character is Carla, and Carla is a resident of one of these communities, and she’s kind of a free spirit, I don’t see her as having any sort of agenda. If she had an agenda, I think it would’ve been just to have a good time, and to be positive and find the good things in her life, and share it with people. And what I’m realizing now, I just realized—should’ve realized this sooner, because I am in that generation—and I have a lot of, not a lot of friends but, friends who have lost their partners, and are now single women and trying to figure out what are they gonna do, and looking at 55 and over places, and things like that. And realizing how their lives socially have to change, and cause they’re no longer with their partner. And so, in terms of Carla, she’s sort of figured out early that maybe, or maybe she didn’t figure it out, maybe it was just the way life dealt her, but she’s always been single. So, she’s going through life and I think she kind of presents a little mirror for the character Nancy to look into and to think about herself as an individual, and doing what makes her happy, and what satisfies her, and what interests her, and what just get through life that way. Am I right?
ELYSA GARDNER: Yeah, that was a lot without any spoilers, that was fabulous.
ASHLEY PARK: It’s also kind of fun because as we’ve just opened yesterday, and as we do this show now, and throughout the previews process, we kind of figured out how each of these characters and these roles both work for the audience in terms of how they get to know this family, and what were talking about, and different ways of actually getting into the root of what, the questions that we’re asking, and it’s been very fun to feel from the inside, and hear from the outside, just how much, you know how an audience gets to know a character it’s sometimes the people who aren’t closest to the characters and the core of the story, right? Whether it’s the daughter in law, whether it’s other people who live around them, so it’s a fun adventure in that way with a new play and discovering those things.
ELYSA GARDNER: Priscilla, you mentioned that they’re in a senior living facility, which is the title of the play, and I know that Bess, you did some research, while writing the play, before writing the play, and I read that some of the reception involved that there were two women who saw the play of a certain age who said, finally, a play about women our age that’s not about Alzheimer’s. So, do you feel like you’re filling a certain void here, or has that occured to you?
BESS WOHL: I really do, and I didn’t quite realize it when I started, I always start my plays with just some question, or artistic impulse that I don’t even really understand, and then the writing of the play and the making of the play with the actors for me is a journey of sort of trying to understand what I’m doing. You know, I don’t know where I’m going when I set out, which is part of the scary but also exciting part of it. I realized as we were making it and as I was hearing these comments, you know that was actually a comment that was overheard in the ladies restroom at one of the performances, you know, there is a void for talking about these stories, the material that exists about older people, but women especially, does not really often give them the full scope of their humanity. And I don’t think we do that as a society, and I think people are discarded when they reach a certain age. So, the play’s doing that. But again, I don’t think I ever could have set out to do that, but I’m incredibly moved to know that that is happening.
ELYSA GARDNER: So you’re getting feedback like that from people?
BESS WOHL: Yeah.
ASHLEY PARK: I think it’s so fitting of you, though, because also something I’ve realized in working with Bess is that another thing that people have said a lot to me after this show, not only people of all ages feeling like it’s very personal to them, every single person who’s come to see the show, who has talked to me afterwards has felt that it was written personally for them, which is like an amazing thing. And I think another interesting thing is that everybody who has seen it has been like there’s no, like, antagonist. And I was like, well, with real humans, I don’t think that any villain or antagonist is the antagonist in their own life. And if so, that’s what the problem is, you know? And so, and I think that, she just she finds such, she’s such an empath, and it’s so amazing that that’s the kinds of stuff that she likes to write about, as people who may not be seen or heard in a certain way, or not even know that they haven’t been represented until they’re at the play. And they’re like, wow, I’ve never been given this opportunity to share in a story in this way, and I go to the theater all the time. And I think that’s something that’s prevalent in her characters as well, as you really feel like you get to know where each character is coming from. And she takes such care with each person onstage and brings like, humanity to all of them. It’s really, really cool.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: I think the other thing, too, is that we’re all living longer. So when you hear 55 and over, I mean I passed 55, uh, some time ago. But I still don’t feel the results of, you know, being my age. I’m 72 years old. And so I’m just like; I’m freaked out about it, I can’t believe it. I think 70 was the first birthday that I truly went, what? What’s happening? You know, every time before that, it was all fine. So, what I’m trying to say is that since we are living longer, and age is changed, that someone, you know, close to their 80s can have those feelings and want to—before you leave this earth—to be satisfied in certain ways and accomplish things that you’ve never been able to. I actually a long, long time ago had a close friend whose mother, and this is probably 30, 40 years ago when she turned 85, she left her husband. And I thought, oh my god! I mean, I couldn’t even fathom that, you know? But I guess she thought, well, I don’t have much time left that this was something. But I think age is really changed, and Bess has written this beautiful play and seeing many sides of how it affects everyone in the family, you know, so, thank you.
ASHLEY PARK: Also to be candid with like, you know, having been in, you know, Broadway shows, usually especially with subscriber audiences or not for profit, Lincoln Center, Second Stage, you know, we kind of know as actors, matinee audiences are usually like an older crowd, and usually it might be a quieter audience. I am telling you, it is so insane. Every day I look out and it’s not that, you know, we can’t really see the audience so we can after awhile, you know, and to see a lot of elderly people in our audiences and to hear the noises and like the ahhhh and the laughter and the raucousness and be like, what? What? Am I at foot—am I at a One Direction concert? Like, at a Sunday matinee of Bess Wohl’s Grand Horizons. It’s amazing, it makes you emotional.
BESS WOHL: Yeah. I think that was another reason I was interested in writing the play. There’s a lot of talk among theater artists of like audiences are so old, and look at all these old people that came and look at all the walkers that are, you know? And I just, every time I hear something like that, I’m just like, it sounds so snotty to me. Do you know what I mean? These people came. They got out of their house. They came to the theater. They care. They, you know, I can’t get out of my house some days. And so I just always try to go to the thing that’s like, what’s the received wisdom and how can we, like, poke a hole in that and look at it differently? And part of me in writing this play was like, what if we made a thing for the people that everyone’s been sort of discounting and talking down to and complaining about, like, what if we gave them a thing for showing up? And so, as Ashley said, our matinee crowds have been some of our best houses.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: They are, today will be great.
BESS WOHL: Which is not what you would expect.
ASHLEY PARK: We feel so appreciative.
BESS WOHL: It’s been really great to see the result of that.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: So listen to this; so, Grand Horizons, you see the walkers. Right next door you see all the strollers for Frozen.
ASHLEY PARK: [laughs]
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: So it’s a spectrum of life at the theatre.
BESS WOHL: It’s the cycle of life.
ASHLEY PARK: Oh my god, it’s true.
ELYSA GARDNER: The circle of life.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: Yes, exactly.
ELYSA GARDNER: And the characters in this play, I think, address a lot of the different and conflicting roles that women play in in ways that transcend age or generation. You know, Jess, you’re pregnant. And at one point, I don’t want to give away too much, but you have a wonderful line about, you know, I’m going from being a babe to being a mom. Something along those lines, I’m going from babe to mom. And Priscilla, your character has a wonderful conversation with Jane Alexander’s character about sex and marriage from very different experiences. So that’s something that really struck me, that it addresses the woman’s experience, a woman’s experience in ways you don’t always see very frankly.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: And the people enjoy hearing it. [laughs] You know, it’s so it’s because it’s kind of like, I think my character Carla, she just expresses what her life is. And probably a lot of women have experienced the same thing, or haven’t, and there is a certain surprise and delight on both sides, you know? The, oh my god, OK. That sounds great, if you’ve been there and if not, you go, oh, well, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. You know, just to engage in, have a sexual life. That’s what people expect. I mean, and it’s funny because in the play, the sons, when there’s any sexual talk, they just, they don’t want to hear it, they run away. And, you know, I have children, grown children, and it’s the same thing. You can’t say anything. It’s like, I don’t wanna hear it, Ma, I don’t want to hear it. And so it’s just interesting how they may be having their life, but they just can’t imagine, you know, their parents. And so, this play deals with all of that, too, in a very funny way. In a very human way.
ASHLEY PARK: And I think, in terms of Jess, the amazing thing has been, first of all, that I think we’ve gone through so many different iterations of what the what the core of Jess is, and what the trajectory of that character is. And I’ll speak to that in a second, because that’s its own amazing thing. I mean, Leigh Silverman and Bess Wohl, there’s just no other pair like them in terms of guiding, and supporting, and endorsing, and enhancing actors in like a work space, it’s just truly a dream. But I think something about Jess, like when I said earlier I’ve never been married, I’ve never been pregnant. I do think all the time, you know, people ask us, how do you do a show eight times a week? And the only way I’m able to do it is truly if I find a role or find something within a role of the spine of that character that aligns so, like so ferociously with my own, that I like have to do it eight times a week. Do you know what I mean? And I think for Jess, especially when you said she doesn’t want to be put in a box, she just you know, she wants to be seen as who she is, not a babe or mom or all of these different labels. I think when I say that every night, that’s Jess in the moment, and also what we’ve put, a lot of our own personal stuff into it. In terms of, you know, I grew up and I never wanted to be like, the Asian girl. I wanted to be the nice girl or the sweet girl or the smart girl, you know. And I worked really hard on trying to build up different parts of myself so that I would never, I would always surprise people and not be put in a box, right? And I think as a woman, too, we have to navigate in a certain way, that I never even realized that I did before. And at the end of the day, what I love about, you know, all of us too, is I think we really take our work so seriously and don’t take ourselves as seriously, in a good way. And I think that in, yeah. Really I just feel very strongly about it and it’s like not very often that we’re given the space to connect in that way with characters that we play, and so, yeah.
BESS WOHL: And just I’m glad you asked that question about the feminism, the women in the play. And I’m glad to be here with these two incredible women, because that’s another thing I didn’t know about the play when I started. You know, I didn’t know what a radical act it is for older women to be talking about their sexuality in a frank way. I didn’t know how uncomfortable that would make people. I didn’t know how much it would be received as a joke. And the play is a lot about jokes. You know, it’s about humor. But part of the point that I think we’re all making in the play is like, yes, you’re laughing at this, but this is a radical act of self-determination for these women. And there’s a moment in the play where one of the women asks to be seen as a whole human being. And I think that’s what all these characters are asking of each other in different ways. To me, feminism is not just about women. It’s about, can we as a society see each other as whole people? You know, no matter who we are, old, young, you know, all different races and colors of people and all different kinds of people. So to me, the play has this sort of radical feminism at the heart of it, but that’s really about recognizing each other’s humanity, which I think is essential for a marriage to sustain, and also essential for us as a society.
ASHLEY PARK: The reason I think it’s so feminist as well, and we’ve talked about this, is that I think with this feminist awakening that’s happening, especially in the arts and stuff like that, I think that at least in my experience, a lot of people who are trying to write strong feminist stories and characters are making them just that. Are saying they’re smart and strong and tough and all these things, but they have no action and they have no discovery with that character that shows that. And I think that one of the things that Leigh and Bess said when we came over to start rehearsing for Broadway was, we have to also give these, what makes female characters strong and complicated and complex is flaws as well. And I think that a lot of people are trying to write perfect female characters, which is its own anti-feminist thing, right? So I think that that is a really, really interesting and amazing thing, too, that all the female characters in the show are challenging each other, how we’re seeing each other and how the men are seeing us, and also being challenged in how they’re relating to men, and what they’ve allowed different people to get away with until this point in their lives.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: I think one of the things that I like about the play, having been married forty eight years, that you realize or you learn through the play that one of the most important things is communication. And that’s true of just life anyway. But especially in a marriage and a partnership, it’s about communication. And the play starts out with no communication, and it ends with agreeing to communicate. But you see, you go through this entire journey in the meantime. I like the idea that the couple in the play do come to a new understanding in a sort of a realization that this is really important and they’re going to try hard. And when Ben says love is communication. Love’s commitment, you know, I love that. And I don’t know, it’s just, it’s like an old story, but it’s brand new. The whole thing of marriage. And the good thing about staying in a relationship for a long time is that you have a history. You have a history with this person and they’ve known you being this person, and then you become this person, and then you become this person, and you keep evolving and you’ve got like an eye witness that you can share this with. And it just truly does, when you get past all the, you know, the stuff in it, it helps you grow as a human being, because in order to stay that long, you have to change, can’t be the same person from here. You have to change and make compromises, and it’s just, it’s a good journey. And I think the play, you know, says that and promotes that. That marriage is a good thing.
ELYSA GARDNER: I would agree with that. And well done. Wow, 48 years.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: I know I started, I got married at 12.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: A child bride, I was.
ELYSA GARDNER: I think what you say about gender dynamics is also very key in this play. You have some wonderfully talented male actors, Michael Urie, James Cromwell, a lot of wonderful male actors, four, right?
ASHLEY PARK: Four, Ben and Maulik.
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s right, yeah. Since a woman’s plight and her search for an identity of her own are so central to the play, has the director, Leigh Silverman, who’s a very high profile, successful woman in theatre herself, has she kind of, you know, made that a big part of the production? I mean, it’s there in the text, but has sort of that been something that she’s helped you all go through?
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: I think with how she’s helped me, is she’s, I’ve worked with a lot of directors, and she’s so simple. She can say so much with one word. And I go, oh, right, that’s what it is. You know, and so when I try to accomplish the note that she’s given me, it becomes simple because I’m just thinking one thing. And she’s always been very clear and she has such a way of expressing things. And I always feel that she has such an energy, and she physicalizes.This is how she goes: and then it’s like this, and then it’s like this. So she becomes very physical. And so, that’s her passion of just getting into the words and getting into the action and getting into you. She’s been a joy to work with and I think she’s wonderful, and I think she’s responsible hand-in-hand with Bess in bringing this beautiful play to this beautiful place it’s in.
BESS WOHL: Yeah. Leigh, you know, is one of very few female directors who have a lot of Broadway experience, and she’s very passionate about lifting up other women. Also, our design team, Jen Schriever, who did our lights, Palmer Heffernan, who did our sound, Linda Cho who did our costumes, we’ve got a very heavily female design team. And so, you know, there definitely is a sense, I don’t think that, you know, women should be running everything, but just that women have a voice to, you know, to use. And Leigh lets everyone use that. At the same time, I’m really glad that you mentioned the wonderful men in our cast. Because to me, you know, when women are allowed to rise, everybody rises. And a lot of my play is about what happens when Nancy, Jane Alexander, steps out of her sort of expected role as mom and wife. That sort of gives everybody permission to start stepping out of their role. And suddenly, you know, Ashley’s character, Jess, is wondering if she can liberate herself from the idea of babe, and the idea of mom. And suddenly Ben’s character is, you know, questioning his relationship to his marriage, and love and commitment. And suddenly, Michael Urie’s character is questioning his role in the family and his experience. And so, you know, it sort of opens a door for everybody. And I think that’s a lot of the journey of this play. It’s not just one woman coming into herself. It’s a whole family reimagining who they are to each other and also who they are to themselves.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: And that’s why there’s something in it for everyone, because you get an older point of view, you get mother’s child, child’s mother, husband, wife, friends, friends. [laughs] So there’s something in it for everyone. And I think that’s why everyone loves the play so much, because no matter who you are, in what age group you’re in, there’s something for you to truly enjoy and identify with.
ASHLEY PARK: Right, and I think in terms of Leigh, too, this is my first time working with both a female writer and, if you will, director at the same time on a project, you know, attesting to what you’re saying as well. You know, we have like Carol and Mandy, we have women really believing in the skills and the heart of other women. Believing in Bess and Leigh and in them in turn, I will say to the days end, like I can’t believe that Bess and Leigh wanted to take a chance on me, you know, letting me be part of this. And like, I’m very humbled by that. And I just think that in working with the female writer and director, it’s very funny, I will tell my friends this, I didn’t realize how—and this isn’t negative against any other teams that I’ve worked with—but how much in a room, especially in creating new projects, I had to try to fill in the blanks for myself and try to create an arc and something that made sense for whatever female lead or female supporting character was, how they could support the other characters, it was just like a lot of filling in the blanks. And I didn’t even realize that something I had to do and that was what was part of my process. And from our first table read and Williamstown—I—the first week in Williamstown was a lot of them figuring out things for Jess. And it wasn’t just about, oh my gosh, I got more lines like let’s add, oh my god, I want more from my character. I was so happy just to be in a play and just to be working with these people, like being in this room that they could have taken away all my lines and I could’ve been wallpaper and I’d be like, great, I’m learning, it’s fine. And if that was true for the character, then that’s great. But it was just so crazy to me that their priority was to explore what the outside perspective, like character was feeling and doing, and what my map through the story and how I fit in. And I don’t know, I just I had really never felt so taken care of, and not just as Ashley, but like we get very close to our characters. Like, I was just so happy. I was like, oh my God, Jess is being so taken care of. Now I don’t have to worry about anything. I can just do the best work that I can do. And that’s like a dream for an actor.
ELYSA GARDNER: Ashley, you were making a really good point about the strides made for women in the arts and generally I think the increased awareness that we’ve seen in recent years from everything from the Me Too movement, to the sort of quest for more parody generally. And I wanted to ask you about how you think that’s resonated with audiences, but I think it’s also again, you know, what’s so interesting about this play in particular is that you do see these complicated women characters and complicated male characters, and the sort of tension and the love between them, and how their relationships sort of, how they struggle and how they strive to communicate. So how has that resonated so far with the audiences you’ve seen and also at Williamstown?
ASHLEY PARK: What I would say is I think that more than any show that I’ve been in, I think like the best. kind of theater, really, asks questions and provokes questions and it doesn’t say, here’s the answer, right? And that’s something that is important to Bess, too. And what is cool, especially with women watching this show, and anybody watching this show is that they see conversations unfold in the way that they do in real life. With Bess’s writing, it’s so much of it is situational, you know, it supports what is happening internally and externally with the characters and their relationships, but also gives the space to the actor to explore different ways of perspectives of going around it. Like one laugh that I’ve—the only laugh I think I’ve gotten every single show—has been with the words; OK, Period, OK, Period. And that’s not funny on its own, out of context. OK. OK. You know? But like, in where she puts different words and how she interweaves conversation and subtext and gives space for that, is what I think a lot of people, especially women and a lot of young women, are like, that is, I feel so … I’ve had a lot of friends say for the first time they forgot, it was like, me, doing the show. And that’s not really a testament to my acting, I think it’s a testament to the characters, too, you know? Seeing, oh my god, this isn’t just like, I don’t feel like the show is scripted. That is like the best kind of compliment. They really feel like they’re watching a documentary unfold a little bit and being like, oh my god, now I have to evaluate how I communicate.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: Yeah it’s like, when you’re not on stage, you’re in your dressing room, and so you’re hearing the show over speakers, so you know what’s going on in the show and you know when to get up to do your role. So, a lot of the show I hear, and I really get to hear the rhythms, and I love those rhythms. And a lot of the way it’s written, and rhythmically, helps with comedy, it helps with all the emotions because it’s all about rhythms. And she’s got them down.
ASHLEY PARK: In terms of audience, though, like what you’re asking, I think that something that we can feel on stage at least is, I think with any show, it’s not like a statistic, but it usually takes an audience—especially nowadays with everyone on their phones, everything like that, in their own lives, in their own heads—about 10 to 15 minutes to really warm up to the story and warm up to how the story is being told. Like the rhetoric and the language that we’re using. And what is cool about this show, and like other shows that I’ve been in, and mostly because, with a musical is it’s own thing too, people have to get it attuned to like, OK, now I’m listening to music and also like story through that, is that you can feel right away, with the first scene how it’s done, and also into the second scene, that people are already feeling. Their ears are already attuned to how we’re talking. And so they’re listening right away, and then they get invested much faster, which is really cool to feel on stage.
ELYSA GARDNER: There is a music to the dialogue and that’s about the highest compliment. I think that’s what distinguishes my favorite playwright’s work, certainly.
BESS WOHL: Thank you.
ELYSA GARDNER: And you mentioned also, Ashley, about, you know, you’re an Asian-American, and sort of how that informed when you were growing up. And then Priscilla, your parents came here from Puerto Rico, is that correct? And I assume, Bess, that you wrote these roles to be open to people of all races and ethnicities. There has been in the arts, a push for more racial and ethnic diversity. And I’m wondering if you’ve all been encouraged by that. Just generally.
ASHLEY PARK: Yeah, of course. That’s a much bigger question, and I think inclusion is good no matter what it is. For me personally, it’s always been important to me that I don’t not get cast in a role because of my ethnicity, but also that I don’t get cast in a role solely because they want somebody ethnic. And that’s just my own personal thing, and something that I’ve loved, yes. Like I’m so happy that we have such an amazing, diverse cast. But I also think it’s lovely now how these characters have shaped and stuff that, I think that Priscilla Lopez is the best person for this part. No matter, whether they wanted someone white, Hispanic, you know, anything. Same with Maulik. And I think that I understand why I am suited for this role. And it’s what I bring to the table despite, or in spite, of how I look. That make sense? Yeah.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: Now, this is interesting for me. When I started, there was not a large Latino know population in the theater. I mean, we had our stars; Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, José Ferrer, but that was about it. So, I started as a dancer, so I didn’t have to speak, so it wasn’t about that. It was about what I could do physically. And then, you know, life went on, I worked for eleven years, got into A Chorus Line, and suddenly Deanna Morales makes this splash on Broadway. Which at that time the whole Latin thing was happening and, you know, the Latin movement, that whole thing was going on. So in those eleven years, I did many roles. I was never eliminated from anything because of the name Lopez or whatever, in New York City, anyway. But after Deanna Morales, suddenly, put me in a place where I had never been, which was Latin. I have spent more than 10, 15 years being everybody’s everybody’s mother, which was fine because I have a Latin mother. But the thing was, can you do an accent, can you do an accent, can you do an accent, and can you do an accent? So this play, I’m so happy to do it because I’m just a person, you know? I’m just a person. And I am proud to be a Latina. You know, I love it, the whole thing. And I’ve done some beautiful work, as you know, and Anna in the Tropics is one of my favorite plays, and I loved that play because it represented Latinos in a beautiful way. You know, successful family, business family, classy family, family with problems. So it was a beautiful, beautiful play. And I love Nilo Cruz and he always has, especially for women, he writes beautifully for women characters. So I’m not, it’s not sour grapes. I’m just saying it’s been wonderful grapes. And the wine has been fabulous from those grapes.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: What I’m saying, it was just interesting to me how suddenly, it was very, you know, it happens especially more in television and film, because they just, that’s just the way it is. So this is a wonderful thing that when I read it, and it said she was from the Midwest, I went, yeah! You know? I was like, OK. And it was such a gift for me to be able to be somebody else, you know?
ELYSA GARDNER: Well, I think we’re a little past noon, so I’m going to ask one more question and then maybe if we have time for a couple of of your questions in the audience, if you’re all open to that. But I was going to ask you about, you know, I’d spoken about how the many diverse and conflicting roles women are called on to play and form this play. How has it made each of you think about the different roles you play in your lives? The roles you juggle?
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: You mean as a real person?
ELYSA GARDNER: As a real person, yes. Offstage.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: Well, I started out as a child of parents, and then I became a sibling, and then I became a friend of my contemporaries, and then I became someone in the world. And then I became a girlfriend, then I became a wife, then I became a mother—I’m going to be a grandma! This March! I’m so happy. So I’ve been many roles, I guess, and there is a time for everything, and life tells you when that time is. And you just have to go with it and not freak out about it. When I turned 40 to about 50, those years, because I wasn’t the young chickie anymore, but I wasn’t the, you know, what they thought a mother should look like. So that was a time I had my children, and I was so happy and I didn’t work for those years. And I’m so happy I didn’t work, because if I was offered it, I would have done it. But I raised my children and I’m so happy that I was there for them. This one here, this one here. I met her, she was pumping for her newborn baby. Well, she’s written this play. And I called her Wonder Woman, because she, I mean, it’s unbelievable. So the point is, you can do everything. You just have to let life lead you in terms of what is presented and not freak out about it and give everything its due. So you don’t feel like you’ve, you know, not given its due of where, you know, your life has brought you. So I think everything is possible.
BESS WOHL: Yeah, definitely, I thought a lot about the roles that people play. And I think that the show is a lot about what roles we all play. And, you know, one thing that I noticed when I became a mom and now I have three children, so it’s a complicated juggling act between being a mom, being an artist, being just a person. You know, I noticed that in a lot of contexts, people like would call me mommy. Like, if I took my kids to the doctor, the doctor would say, like, OK, mommy, come this way. And I was like, well, what happened to my name, you know? So I think a lot about the ways that our identities can get erased. [laughs] It’s really wild, it really happens. And for a long time, I was even afraid in a context like this, to admit that I had children. Because I thought like, oh, you have to keep that part of yourself secret because no one will take you seriously. You know, I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant in a work context until I was like eight months pregnant. I wore these like giant tents, and I just sort of like carried a bag on my lap or I would like hold a file, you know, like whatever legal pad in front of myself just in meetings to sort of pretend that all this wasn’t happening because I thought like, oh, no one will listen to the words coming out of my mouth anymore if they know that I have these other parts of my life. And that’s one thing that I think, the making of this play, the meeting of other professional women who are doing a lot of different things, is sort of inspiring me to try to own all these different parts of myself and integrate them a little bit more. And understand that we all have a lot of different identities that we’re juggling, and we owe each other the respect of looking at each other as full people, and allowing people to have different identities, and to take them all, and not reduce them or erase them in any way.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: But the thing is, it’s so important to have all those identities because that informs your work.
BESS WOHL: Right. Right, right. I mean, that’s what I write about. Yeah.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: So that’s that you have to you know, that’s just hand in hand.
ASHLEY PARK: I feel like I owe every person in our company like a tuition, because I feel like I’ve gotten like a master’s degree in life from Priscilla, and a PhD from Bess, you know, like truly learning so much just about life. And that’s kind of what it’s all about. You know, that’s what art is. But I think for me, like, we’ve talked about this, I think from the beginning of Williamstown until now, somehow through Jess and through the course of this play, I’ve really found my womanhood in a very personal way. And in like, an artistic way, too. And I’m very appreciative of that. You know, I’m not a mother, and I think the world of these women so much. I think that the place in life that, like within the last year, I’ve had a lot of close friends get married, a lot of close friends get engaged, a lot of close friends get divorced. And I’ve had, you know, the first funerals for the parents of people. It feels like we’re at this place right now, at least for me, in terms of identity of like, oh, my god, am I not a kid anymore? I’m an adult now. So all the adults in my life who’ve been to this point, when did they, did they feel like a kid this whole time? So this play has really helped me in terms of whatever identity I had and came in with, or I’m leaving with, like just to focus in on what identity means to other people even more and everybody in my life. And like, I think the great thing that we discover in this play and also in life is that love is just like the root of everything. And just like trying to keep the perspective and empathy of like, what love means, different people would, no matter what identity that I’m connecting with, that day is just the best way to go.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: Yeah, but never lose the kid inside you and I don’t think you will.
ASHLEY PARK: I don’t think I can.
PRISCILLA LOPEZ: Exactly. Exactly. And you won’t. You won’t. And so don’t ever think that you have to, you know, so, yeah. That’s so important.
ELYSA GARDNER: That’s good advice to end on. Bess Wohl, Ashley Park, and Priscilla Lopez, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you.
ELYSA GARDNER: For all things Broadway, and to find tickets to your next show, visit BroadwayDirect.com. This podcast is produced by Broadway Direct, your source for all things Broadway, and the Nederlander Organization with Iris Chan, Erin Porvaznik-Wagner, Sarah Quagliariello, and hosted and produced by, me, Elysa Gardner. Thank you for listening and we will see you soon on Broadway.