An interview with Heather Beasley
Jessica Dickey doesn’t spend much time resting on her laurels.
You may have seen her work at Curious Theatre in Denver a few seasons ago in 2015, when they produced Charles Ives Take Me Home. BETC Ensemble member Jim Hunt was in that memorable, music-filled production. Jim brought another one of Dickey’s plays to the attention of our artistic staff, and suggested that we get to know her writing.
Originally titled The Guard, Dickey’s play about the brevity of life and the longevity of art first came to the stage in Washington, D.C. at Ford’s Theatre (yes, that Ford’s Theatre, still producing in spite of the Lincoln assassination). Two years later, it reached the stage at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, where it starred John Mahoney and Fran Guinan. And this February, BETC brings her work to Boulder. Our production will feature Ensemble members Jim Hunt and Adrian Egolf, as well as guest artists Erik Sandvold, Jihad Milhem (Guards at the Taj, Miss Bennet), and Spencer Althoff.
The prolific playwright of The Rembrandt has yet another play world-premiering in New York City this January at A.R.T., a story about a group of women on retreat. Jessica took a few minutes away from rehearsals of The Convent to answer a few of my questions as production dramaturg.
“I just thought it made the title more specific,” she answered, when asked why the play became The Rembrandt between its DC and Chicago productions. Rembrandt’s portrait Aristotle with a Bust of Homer is at the center of the play’s first scene, and the painting undoubtedly shapes the journey that audiences go on as they get to know the characters.
The Rembrandt touches repeatedly on the idea that art endures, while human life and love are fragile. At BETC, we’re spending a lot of time this season thinking about how theatre can create empathy in our audiences. So I asked Jessica: How do you think theatre like The Rembrandt can speak to people who are grieving loss?
“There is no doubt that grief is embedded in the DNA of The Rembrandt,” she answered. “I myself was grieving a loss when I wrote it, and you can’t spend time in museums with beautiful works of art and not at some point contemplate what endures and what decays.”
I had to agree. The Denver Art Museum’s recent “Rembrandt: Painter as Printmaker” exhibition of his etchings and engravings included a close look at several of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. The artist’s self-awareness of his own aging and gradual physical decay was so evident in his work. Yet he managed to create a fascinating autobiography in art that endures to the present day. Jessica saw the same connections between art and mortality:
“From a wider lens, theater always makes us think about death. Inevitably, often unconsciously, Anytime we gather as a group, death is somehow near– a wedding, a baptism, a concert… Somehow the fact that we are all together at this moment illuminates the truth that someday we will not be here at all. Theater draws part of its inherent power from this presence of death– even a bawdy comedy! By holding hands with death, theater often speaks to how we should live. The Rembrandt is no exception.”