Tim Ruddy's new play The International originally premiered last fall at Origin Theatre Company's 1st Irish Festival as a workshop production. The play looks at an ethnic-incited conflict through the eyes of three different people in three different parts of the world. Actress Carey Van Driest plays a Muslim farm woman experiencing the clash firsthand. Despite the production's workshop status and brief rehearsal period, director Christopher Randolph and Van Driest were singled out by the festival's voters and ended up taking home several awards for the work-in-progress, including Best Playwright and Best Actress, respectively.
While The International is currently receiving a full off-Broadway production at The Cell, TheaterMania talked to Van Driest about understanding the ubiquity of media, embodying another woman's grief, and pulling a show together despite all odds.
What is the history of The International?
The play is a three-person interwoven monologue that is inspired by the events of the 1995 Bosnian-Serbian conflict. I got involved when it was part of the Origin Theater Company's 1st Irish Festival in September. [Director] Christopher [Randolph] grabbed actors he knew and trusted and saw in these roles, and handed me the script and said, "Hey, do you want to read this role? I think this should be a good fit for you." I read it and [had] sort of an immediate visceral connection to the character. I said yes immediately. And then we did four performances of it during the 1st Irish Festival, and that was it.
What is your character's story?
Her name is Irena Hasanovic. She is a Bosnian farm woman. She happens to be Muslim. She is from a town called Mocavic, and it's an itty-bitty town. The town has seven families and they've been there for generations. They all know each others' worlds. They all do each others' chores. They all raise each other's children. This is her life. And over the course of the play her entire— not only her world as she knows it— but her identity is completely taken away from her.
How do you connect with her?
It's a good question because Lord knows, I can say very humbly, I'm very fortunate. I've never been in a war zone. So my job is to find a place to start to connect with the basic emotions through research and then imagination, and through the words Tim has written. He has written in such a vivid way that [it makes] crafting this world, this town, and these people, very easy. When these people are as real as they've become to me, my job is to be in that place so that as Irena loses bit by bit these people and these places, and these things and this identity, it's painful to me as well. And hopefully that allows the audience to watch the character struggling with the pain.
Did you know much about this period before you became involved with The International?
I did not. I actually spoke with [Tim] very recently and I said, "There were other wars prior to this one that had been televised, [but] why this one in particular?" One interesting fact that he mentioned is during that period in time, personal technology had become so prevalent that people all over the world were able to make home movies and send them immediately to somebody, rather than just the news footage. When I went back and I looked at what was available, I found that since then, even more documentaries and news stories and footage have come out. It's astounding, and I think this is part of Tim's point: There's so much available.
What made you want to stick with the play?
The play itself kind of came together…against all odds…during those four performances. We had our three actors and we had our director and we had a playwright. And then in the middle of the very short rehearsal process, we lost an actor because they adopted a child, so they had to drop out. So the director had to step in as the other actor and of course the play was still being developed up until the last minute. And it was a workshop production, which means we did this with chairs and music stands. Nobody was off book, no sets, no lights, no costumes really to speak of.
I don't even think we were really aware until that first night when we did it in front of an audience how powerful it was. That feeling was so overwhelmingly exciting. I think everybody involved went, Wow, OK, we knew we had something special, but this needs to happen again. We want more. We want to give more to the audience members. The icing on the cake is that [now] we are doing a fully produced reincarnation of it. The play is fleshed out now, so it's fully breathing. And then we have five weeks to share it with people who are going to come and experience something I truly believe they've never experienced before.