La MaMa Blogs: 6 Questions: Nehassaiu deGannes & Ben Beckley

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

6 Questions: Nehassaiu deGannes & Ben Beckley

Photo by Marina McClure

Nehassaiu deGannes and Ben Beckley are two of the cast members of the upcoming SEAGULLMACHINE by The Assembly Theater. Nehassaiu and Ben took time out from rehearsals to answer our 6 Questions about the show, their dream roles and working at La MaMa. SEAGULLMACHINE begins performances on April 14th, 2018 in The Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa - a handful of $10 are still available.

1. Who do you play in SEAGULLMACHINE?

Nehassaiu: "Arkadina” and “as cast”

Ben: Boris Alexeyevich Trigorin

2. The play asks “What’s the good of making theater anyway?” How would you answer that? 

Nehassaiu: Go make theatre for the same good reason one makes bread - for sustenance, for pleasure, to have something to chew on, for the patient rigorous work of it, to break it and share it with others, for the feast, for the communion.

Ben: Theater brings people together in a room -- audience and actors -- to share a little space and time in the service of a story or experience that unfolds no more quickly than it needs to. It's a challenging proposition nowadays, because it's more convenient to find the nearest screen and retreat into the internet's vast and dizzying array of solitary (and generally more-or-less shallow) activities. Theater matters, though, because it's challenging, and it's challenging because it matters.

3. Do you have a preference: Anton Chekhov or Heiner Müller?

Nehassaiu: Why compare the two? They were up to totally different experiments, writing in very different contexts and responding to quite different socio-political and aesthetic urgencies. Since both Seagull & Hamletmachine are in part responses to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it does seem exciting to mash them together... To see what results from the conversation... or should I say, the combustion!

Ben: A playwright once told me writing a scene with half-a-dozen characters is like keeping half-a-dozen plates spinning in the air. If that's true, then Anton Chekhov is a goddamn three-ring circus. Nobody is sharper with subtext or character. Nobody knows better how to negotiate a middle path between comedy and tragedy. Nobody understands more clearly the awesomely difficult art of appearing artless. That said, Heiner Müller is a brilliant, fearless motherfucker, relentlessly, brutally confrontational in a way that still feels raw and surprising a quarter century after his death.

4. Do you have a “dream role” or a favorite role you've played?

Nehassaiu: These last few years, I’ve had the incredible good luck of fulfilling some roles on my wish list: “Cordelia” in King Lear at Chicago Shakes, “Prudence” in Danai Gurira’s The Convert, “Esther” in Intimate Apparel, along with playing a bunch of roles I didn’t even know I was dreaming to play. I’ve been secretly hoping to do Chekhov (and came close once or twice,) so The Assembly’s invitation to play “Arkadina” is definitely a dream come true. I was assigned the bandage scene in grad school and guess my acting teacher must have seen a glimmer of “Arkadina” in me then. Now that I’ve played “Gertrude,” a role most certainly in Arkadina’s repertory, I may be ready to take her on. Let’s see!

Ben: I tend to play two types of roles: shy guys with good intentions (like Ned in SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS) and brutal, brooding, melancholy men with unplumbed depths (like the title role in SWEENEY TODD). Trigorin, happily, sort of falls into both categories.

5. What is the last good book/play/film/art exhibit you’ve seen/read?

Nehassaiu: Good books I’ve read this past year include: Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, David Chariandy’s Brother and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, which I read with my niece over Christmas break. My current reading is all source material for “Arkadina:” Maupassant’s On The Water (in translation,) Camille by Alexandre Dumas, fils - both the novel and the play (also in translation,) and so on... I’ve been acting steadily since last May and am looking forward to museum going this spring! I’d love to make it to the David Bowie exhibit at The Brooklyn Museum. Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars remains one of my favorite poetry collections.

Ben: I'm reading Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you? 

Nehassaiu: Wow, when I was studying poetry at Brown U and acting in the MFA Playwrights’ plays, and in that way being catapulted into a life in the theatre, I would walk by La MaMa posters and announcements stapled to various bulletin boards. My mentors championed plays by playwrights whose work had been shepherded by Ellen Stewart. I was drawn to this Black woman, visionary, experimentalist, with a theater in NY and a lab in Italy. I would dream of one day working with her. I sadly never met Ms. Stewart, but I’ve had the privilege of working with and being taught by artists who honed their craft at her anvil. It was exciting to perform at LaMaMa ETC with Theatre of The Two-Headed Calf, and now to be in The Ellen Stewart Theatre for the first time is SWEET!

Ben: In 2013, I saw GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN at La MaMa -- the most riveting Brecht production I've ever seen. Last December, working at ACT in San Francisco, I came across Cindy Rosenthal's Ellen Stewart Presents: Fifty Years of La MaMa Experimental Theater in the window of City Lights Bookstore. Earlier this week, I caught a show at Broadway's Circle in the Square, where "Six From La MaMa" (including original works by Sam Shepard and Jean-Claude van Itallie) transferred in 1966. La MaMa has been and will continue to be one of the most exciting theatrical venues in NYC. 


La MaMa in association with 
The Assembly presents 


Created by The Assembly 
Conceived by Nick Benacerraf 
Co-directed by Jess Chayes & Nick Benacerraf 
Text by Anton Chekhov, Heiner Müller, and The Assembly 

 April 14 - May 5, 2018 

The Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa 
66 East 4th Street 
(between Bowery and Second Avenue) 
New York, NY 10003 

Tickets: $30 Adults; $25 Students/Seniors; first ten tickets to every performance available for $10 each, advance sales only, as part of La MaMa 10 @ $10 ticketing initiative 

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE

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