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Raising the Goodbar

Arian Moayed talks about Waterwell's new music-theater adaptation of Judith Rossner's famed novel, Looking for Mr. Goodbar. logo
Arian Moayed
(© Tristan Fuge)
Arian Moayed is now best known for his work opposite Robin Williams in last season's Broadway hit Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which earned him a slew of honors. But for the past decade, he's also been an integral part of experimental theater company Waterwell, whose latest show, Goodbar, opens the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival on Wednesday. TheaterMania recently spoke with Moayed about the project.

THEATERMANIA: Why did Waterwell decide to do a show based on Judith Rossner's best-selling novel Looking for Mr. Goodbar? ARIAN MOAYED: The project began in a roundabout manner. Two of our ensemble members, Kevin Townley and Hanna Cheek, are also in a band called Bambi, and when Waterwell was commissioned a couple of years ago by Freedome Bradley at Summerstage to do a new project for them, we went to Bambi and said, "Do you guys want to work together on something?" And they're like, "we're working on this concept album based on the book Looking for Mr. Goodbar." So we started talking about that.

TM: How did the narrative structure develop?
AM: Although we watched the movie many times, the narrative really comes from the book, which was based on a true story of this woman who lived in New York City named Rosann Quinn who was a teacher of deaf children in the morning and the evening she was someone who partied and had sex a lot and did a lot of drugs. The book says it's okay to do both of those things and that it's about choice. That's what our main character Theresa (played by Hanna Cheek) is going through. All she's trying to do is make the choices she wants to make. There's nothing wrong with being a sex fiend party animal in the evening. When we were structuring the show, we tried to follow the timeline of the book. And we always had bullet points of what's going to happen.

A scene from Goodbar
(© Rob Kalmbach)
TM: How large a part does music play in the show?
AM: The music is the primary narrative structure of the story. We're calling this a live concept album. In the 75-minute show, there's like five lines of dialogue -- and there may be even less as we're developing it some more. It really is just 20 songs in a row that help tell the narrative. The music is like from a glam punk-rock band; it's loud and dangerous. The performances are very abrasive, and it's just something that's very exciting.

TM: You're also incorporating video in the show as well, right?
AM: Early on, we also decided that we were going to shoot a video to be played behind the show that would help to tell the narrative while fitting into the concert structure. When you go to big shows at Madison Square Garden, you always have a huge live video element. So we got our famous celebrity friends to portray some of the characters in the book. We have Ira Glass playing the professor, and we have Bobby Cannavale playing Tony, one of the men that Theresa hangs out with. Moby's in it too, and so is Annabella Sciorra. There's also a Buddhist quote that's the first image you see in the video in the entire show, which guided us. It goes, "Death is certain. The Time of death is uncertain. What is the most important thing?"

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