Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Your production, Gifted, recently launched its world premiere at the Sacred Fools Theater Company. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the show’s premise?
Bob DeRosa: Gifted is a romantic dramedy with a magical twist. Ash is a young woman who can tell the romantic fate of any two people she sees, but can’t tell the same for herself. It’s romantic, funny, bittersweet, at times heartbreaking, and ultimately cathartic.
Rebecca Larsen: From my perspective, the show’s premise hides this deeper truth that every person I know has an odd and inexplicable sense or skill. What drew me to the show in the first place is that as far as I can tell, almost all exceptional people struggle to incorporate the things that make them unique into their lives - it’s as if we all see our greatest gifts as making us weird, dangerous, or bad. That is a topic of conversation that feels important and exciting to me.
BD: Bob, the genesis of Gifted has been one that is long in the making, starting as a screenplay nearly 20 years ago. What can you tell us about the story’s evolution into its current form?
BDR: Back in the '90s, I was a struggling filmmaker living in Orlando, waiting tables at a family restaurant. If you ordered a side salad, most of the time I could guess what salad dressing you wanted before you said it. I wondered, what if this was my super power? I couldn’t fight crime or anything. What a waste. Eventually, this idea morphed into a story about a girl with a gift who wants love but is so afraid of it. I first wrote Gifted as a screenplay that helped launch my screenwriting career when I moved to L.A. in 2001. It got me some work and was almost made a couple of times. I ended up writing two movies (Killers, The Air I Breathe) and worked in television (White Collar), but people always asked me whatever happened to Gifted. For most of my time in L.A., I‘ve also written theater at Sacred Fools Theater Company in Hollywood. A few years ago, I adapted Gifted as a play with the guidance of the Sacred Fools New Works Development Program. Rebecca was one of the curators of that program, and she was so keyed into this story that I knew when the time came she was the only one who could direct it. We submitted the play version of Gifted for the current season at Sacred Fools and were accepted. And here we are!
BD: Rebecca, as the director, what can you share about your approach to bringing the story to life?
RL: I feel like every artist has an inner voice that is always right if you let it be. Mine is very, very bossy. Every time I read the play, my inner muse said, “Put it in the round,” and every member of the production team (including me) tried to talk her out of it… but I think she was right. So, most of my process involved humbling myself to this tyrannically perfectionistic alien who lives in the back of my head, while acknowledging that every person in the room has one of these muses as well. And if we can get them all pointed at the same goal at the same time? Well, that’s just magical.
Photography by Joe Hernandez-Kolski
BD: You have a tremendous cast and crew involved with the production. What can you share with us about the creative process of working with the team on stage and behind the scenes?
RL: At the first rehearsal, I told the cast, “I know exactly what this play feels like, if you need it. Otherwise, let’s find it together.” After that, I always felt like my biggest responsibility was to make sure that the audience was given something cohesive, and that we removed as many obstacles to understanding as possible. My personal aesthetic is “elegant simplicity” which is why you don’t see a ton of extravagant set pieces, or flashy effects. It felt like this play wanted a straightforward and unapologetically theatrical aesthetic. All of the best acting moments came from the actors playing. All of the best technical elements came from the designers following their instincts. I just invited all of these elements to flow in roughly the same direction.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
BDR: When I tell someone what the show is about, usually, their voice gets low and they tell me about some gift they possess. I think this play shines a light on the fact that we’re all gifted and connected by the struggle to know what to do with our gifts. I hope people go out afterwards (maybe next door to the Broadwater Plunge!) and have a nice long conversation about their gifts. And maybe that’ll help them feel a little more connected to everyone in this crowded, crazy world.
RL: I think what an audience member gets from Gifted will depend on where they are. People who are in what I call “portal relationships,” which is a relationship that may not be everlasting, but rather something you have to go through in order to discover yourself in a deeper way, might recognize themselves as ready to move on. People whose parents did not know how to love them properly might find a narrative jumping off place to reclaim the parts of themselves that were sacrificed early and often in an effort to avoid abandonment. People who are ready to let their most sacred freak flags fly might find themselves in the flag aisle at Home Depot with their new tribe.
BD: What makes Sacred Fools an ideal venue for Gifted?
RL: Most simply, Sacred Fools is willing to participate in the growth of our artists, and I could not be more thankful for that.
BDR: Sacred Fools has been my artistic home for over a decade now. They do fearless, engaging work that entertains and enlightens. I’ve written so much stuff there, but this is my first full two-act play, and I can’t imagine a better home for it than Sacred Fools.
BD: The show will be appearing through February 29, 2020. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
BDR: No plans as of now. We’ve been putting all our hearts and souls into getting this run ready. It would be a dream for the show to play in other cities, but for the moment, I’m grateful that we get to play in a world-class theater amongst our friends.
RL: Oooohhhhh! GOOD IDEA!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Gifted?
BDR: The show is open now and runs through February 29th. Tickets and more info can be found at Sacredfools.org. Come on out and bring a loved one!
*Header image by Jessica Sherman Photography