Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Casting Director's Notebook: Eve Pomerance on Mysteries of 911

Mysteries of 9/11:

The Casting Director's Notebook

by Eve Pomerance

I have always wanted to cast something for New Dramatists, so it was a big honor to get to work on two readings, "Bronze Star" and "Blanket of Dust." The material really spoke to me. Somehow with a Trump Presidency, I felt more open to this subject matter. Questioning 9/11, and looking at the US's own role, actually felt like within realm of possibility, rather than a wacko conspiracy theory.

The two plays were very well written, which also was an incentive to want to help. I found myself filled with passion fueled by the recent election, which helped in my pitches to actors, who like myself, felt they were in the dark when it came to a completely different take on 9/11.

The first people to sign on were Johnny Ventimiglia, well known for his work on Sopranos and BlueBloods. Then came Brandy Burre from The Wire, which I felt was a really good fit for Diana, the lead in Richard Squires play, Blanket of Dust. I called Lynn Cohen from Hunger Games and told her what the story was, and she said she would like to read the script. The same thing applied to Jake Robinson, who had starred in American Odyssey. Within 24 hours, they had signed up to do it.

The truth about casting a great cast is that it is all about the material. Everyone knows there isn't any money, so they have to love the material.

In the cast of "Blanket" and "Bronze Star," we had excellent writing, with an original take on an important historical event. The 9/11 tragedy to me is personal. I volunteered on the pile and my story was included in Sarah Tuft's seminal play, "110 Stories." So for me to take on these readings required me to rethink my own life and what I had tried to make sense of, at the time. I had stood on the pile of dust, looking for human remains, while handing out masks and water.

The experience of the reading itself was also a surprise. What is an unknown is how much preparation and commitment the actors will have on the day. What was immediately apparent when we did the read-though was how well prepared they all were. A couple of them were close to off-book. Giacomo Rocchini, whom I had auditioned the previous week for another play, had managed to not only learn his lines but also researched Arabic words to ad lib, to bring color to his performance. Even though he is Italian/Persian, his performance managed to convince everyone that he was Saudi. He was so real.

Sean Haberle who is one of my favorite actors in the world because his humanity shines through, no matter if he is a corrupt and cantankerous king, or a desperate dentist trying to get investors for his new toothpaste. Sean was playing Dr. David Graham, a real person who actually met with the bombers, got tapes, handed them over to the 9/11 Commission and died of a mysterious poisoning a little while later.

Kevin Sebastian, who is a total chameleon, was nothing short of extraordinary as the head of the 9/11 Commission. He  took on a speech defect which was true to the real character and you could see his false civility – his Philip Zelikow was highly educated and knew his place in the world: an entitled man who was unstoppable.

Nail Said was also a surprise as was Thomas Hildreth. They both delivered characters that were fully fleshed out. Given that they only had a few scenes, their words resonated.  Thomas was believable as a suit who toed the line.

Johnny Ventimiglia's performance was for me one of the high points. He was mostly off book and took the audience by storm, asking them to join in, as he rapped out a political poem that was nothing short of heart-stopping. In that moment, the reading crossed over into staged theater. Everyone was engaged and completely open to the message that was being delivered. It was not as easy message, and not something most people wanted to hear. However the combination of poetry, humor and great dramatic sequences kept the audience on a roller-coaster till the very end. 

There are also casting miracles which occur only when you have good friendships with Actors: Marc Duret who is been is been a fan of from his work with Luc Bessons movies "la femme Nikita" and
Marc Duret
"the big blue" popped  into my brain to be an FBI guy.  I emailed him to tell him about the reading and said if he happened to be in nyc that part would be his. He lived in Paris so a long shot at best.  Sometimes making the request is enough. Thank you Marc.

Michael Tomlinson was another great addition. A former client of mine from ICM in london. He has a power emotionally and vocally which is undeniable. Having starred with people like Fiona Shaw, this guys is a worthy adversary and perfect for the dominating senator who leads his radical son to set fire to himself.

Tom Paolino who has a face like jack Nicholson and a playfulness to go with it was the only person who could play Jim the D.C. Lawyer, professional bully and wordsmith.

Ronald Cohen was also a surprise I did not know his work but I knew him as I was friends with both him and his wife. He was a real standout as Senator Crane. 

For the final act, we had the actors stand up and read a poem, which following in the footsteps of the readings. Les Jamieson's “Masters of Plunder” felt almost like a memorandum that summed up all of the points made in both plays.

I was very happy to have taken part in the readings and have been thanked by all of the actors who took part. They all loved the experience of playing those roles and being mouthpieces for such controversial truths. In the end the credit goes to Richard Squires and Sander Hicks for delivering such exquisite pieces of drama that engaged the audience from beginning to end. I truly look forward to hearing more from both writers.

-Eve Pomerance
Casting Director
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Read More! Richard Squires reviews the "Mysteries of 9/11" event, here


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The High Drama of 9/11 Mysteries!

The High Drama of 9/11 Mysteries

Truth Action Project Assembles an All Star Cast for a Night of Staged Readings at New Dramatists, NYC

by Richard Squires

The invitation headline read: The Mysteries of 9/11: An evening of performance, poetry, and improv on America’s #1 taboo topic. The readings were presented on February 16th, 2017 at New Dramatists, the famous play development center near Times Square, in partnership with New York City’s Truth Action Project. Sander Hicks—an alumnus of New Dramatists and a principal coordinator for Truth Action Project—was the moderator as well as the guiding force behind the evening’s events.

Founded in 1949 by Michaela O’Harra, New Dramatists is one of the country’s leading playwright centers and a nationally recognized new play laboratory. In the 65 years since its
founding, 600 new dramatists have passed through its doors, creating work that has laid the foundation for contemporary American dramatic literature. Current playwrights and alumni have won 19 Pulitzers, including 5 of the last 9 prizes.

The response to the invitation was so enthusiastic that the event was moved from the reading studio to the main stage of New Dramatists, where it attracted a capacity crowd of 90 people. Part of the excitement was due to the superb quality of the cast, which included Brandy Burre, star of The Wire; John Ventimiglia, The Sopranos; Lynn Cohen, The Hunger Games; Marc Duret, The Borgias; Jake Robinson, American Odyssey; and Kevin Sebastian, Blue Bloods, to name a few, all assembled by casting director Eve Pomerance. 

But something else was in the air as well. The political mood in America is desperate; people
see the direct line between 9/11 and the current administration. The fog of propaganda that seduced the public into a state of willful and contemptuous ignorance is dissolving to reveal the painful truth.

The evening began with a forty minute reading of seven selected scenes from the completed playA Blanket of Dust, by Richard Squires. When the daughter of a US Senator loses her husband in the World Trade Center, and she investigates the
reason for his murder, she finds herself at war with the United States. Brandy Burre read
the protagonist Diana Crane, with John Ventimiglia as her partner, Andrew Black. Burre’s performance—even in a reading—brought members of the audience to the verge of tears.

After a brief intermission four scenes were read from Bronze Star, a work in progress by Sander Hicks. Bronze Star explores the suspicious death of whistle-blower Dr. David Graham of Shreveport, LA, who fruitlessly warned the FBI about his contacts with two of the 9/11 hijackers, ten months before the actual event. Giacomo Rocchini and Kevin Sebastian gave particularly strong readings as the snarky, comic Arab operator Mohamed Jamal Khan and the devious neocon, 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow. 

The readings concluded with a group performance of Les Jamison’s epic poem, Masters of Plunder. A question and answer session with Hicks and Squires followed, moderated by the evening's excellent director Mahayana Landowne, followed by a lively reception that was still in full swing when the building closed an hour afterwards.

Given the general hostility toward any public discussion of the issues of 9/11, New Dramatists and Playwright’s Lab director John Steber should be praised for acting as though the exercise of free political speech is the most natural thing in the world.
And the evening proved, to this writer at least, that the performing arts can and should play a role in the debate. The forensic evidence that’s been amassed over the past 16 years and disseminated through articles, conferences, books and documentaries has built an overwhelming factual case for the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center, which the establishment can only counter with evasion and increasingly ludicrous deception. Turning such knowledge into widespread, actionable belief is arguably best achieved by the arts. Oliver Stone’s film JFK transformed the debate in this country on that state crime against democracy. Theatre and feature films should play a similar role in the quest to bring the crimes of 9/11 into court.

Sander Hicks, and Richard Squires: Producers, Writers, Activists.
For More Information: Email Sander Hicks, Producer.