Director Michael Peretzian on Anthony Minghella, Changing Careers & Helming CIGARETTES & CHOCOLATE/HANG UP

Gil Kaan
Writer, Registered Critic, Better Lemons

Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella‘s early radio plays CIGARETTES & CHOCOLATE and HANG UP will receive their West Coast premiere at the Pacific Resident Theatre beginning July 15, 2017. Friend and former talent agent of Anthony Minghella, Michael Peretzian will be directing this edition. We jumped at the chance to delve into Michael’s thoughts on forsaking his long and lucrative career that initiated his unique friendship with the prolific writer/director Anthony Minghella.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview!

Both CIGARETTES & CHOCOLATE and HANG UP were written by Anthony Minghella as radio plays in the late 1980’s. What year did he first ask you to direct CIGARETTES & CHOCOLATE as a main stage production?

Actually, we never talked about it. Anthony unexpectedly and sadly died at the age of 54 on March 18, 2008. He was more than my client, he was one of my dearest friends. I miss him very much, so for me, doing these plays brings him back for a moment and I can hear his voice again.

You were Anthony Minghella‘s theatrical agent at CAA. He must have known of your legit background studying at UCLA and teaching at the Pasadena Playhouse. What was his reaction to the non-agent side of you?

Anthony knew that I was moonlighting as a director while I was an agent, so when I decided to let go of my career as an agent to go back to directing plays, at my good-bye party thrown at CAA, he gave me a gift – a carry-on bag that was loaded with anthologies of plays written by Pinter, Brecht and Ibsen, to name a few. His agent (in the U.K.) Judy Daish and his widow Carolyn Choa were thrilled that I did these readings, so I think Anthony would be pleased, too, if only to keep his legacy alive.

Do you remember what notes he gave you on directing his play?

Never did that happen. His notes are from the anthology of his plays published as Anthony Minghella: Plays 2 by Methuen in 1997, and serve as my guiding notes from him.

Any major tweaks to your directing approach since the first time directing CIGARETTES & CHOCOLATE and this current one?

Yes. We are doing them as an enhanced play reading – not as a radio broadcast, as though the actors are British actors doing these readings in the 1980’s during the time of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. So the stage directions are not read by an actor on stage this time. The concept is closer to LOVE LETTERS, or VAGINA MONOLOGUES, but with the sound cues heard as they would have been heard in a broadcast, without a Foley technician. In other words, without a set per se, but with sound being used primarily to set the location for each scene as indicated in the script.

You directed a staged reading of HANG UP for Pacific Resident Theatre in June of last year. What circumstances or factors inspired the pairing up of HANG UP with CIGARETTES & CHOCOLATE for this current production?

All of these characters live in the time of Margaret Thatcher’s government and her alignment with the “free market” philosophy of Ronald Reagan and each character in a way is a product of those times.

You brought back the entire cast from the June 2016 workshop production for this present one. Would you say it’s more efficient/easier/advantageous/fun to work with creative talents you have experience with?

Yes, definitely, there is a shorthand that we have in our work which is a great advantage. But, what is interesting in our approach to the material now is how we have grown and discovered subtle undercurrents which were always there, but not as completely realized as we are finding them to be this time around.

As one who’s been an active creative in the Los Angeles theatre community, do you believe actors in LA have a unique situation when it comes to performing in Equity-Waiver plays, different from theatres in other cities? A main reason, besides the experience and exercising their acting chops, is the hope that they will be seen by someone who will book them for a film or TV role.

In the Los Angeles Equity-Waiver theatre community, there exists a host of opportunities for actors, especially to tone and exercise their craft between chances to earn an income in television and film – a unique asset not found as much in other major cities such as New York and Chicago. Certainly, actors in Off-Broadway can earn $600/week or more working in a production between plays, but other career opportunities with more potential income are rare, and Chicago actors primarily seem to enjoy working in the theatre exclusively. But in Los Angeles, while waiting to be cast in a pilot, there are many ways you can keep creatively fit until that break comes your way if you are lucky.

I haven’t had the chance to ask this question from any of my past interviewees: but did you as an agent at both William Morris and CAA ever go to Equity-Waiver productions to scout talent? Or did you know of any talent agents who did?

Not many agents do this, but yes, I did go to Equity-Waiver plays which is where I discovered and became the first agent for several LA artists. At a small theater downtown, called the Night House, I saw John Steppling’s THE SHAPER. I attended Jon Robin Baitz’ MIZLANSKY/ZILINSKY at a small theater on Melrose, Damon Intrabartolo and Kristin Hanggi’s production of bare at the Hudson Theatres in Theatre Row, to name a few.

Any particular plays you would love to direct?

Yes, it has been done here already, but yes, I hope I can one day direct Stephen Karam’s SONS OF THE PROPHET somewhere, as well as Will Eno’s REALISTIC JONESES.

Any projects in the near future you can share with us?

On August 6, I will be directing a reading of a new play DEATH HOUSE by a young playwright, Jason Karasev as part of The Road’s Summer Playwrights Festival 8. And next year, I am to direct the world premiere of a wonderful new play BEDLAM by Zayd Dohrn at the Rogue Machine.

Do you recall any specific audience reaction you were not expecting in the original CIGARETTES & CHOCOLATE you directed?

Well, most audiences were taken by the skill of the actors in the original version which is why I insisted we only do this with them. We had more laughs than I expected then, and the new version adds a more human quality which we hope to make the experience even richer than the original version.

What Pacific Resident Theatre audience responses would you be thrilled with after the cast’s curtain call?

It would be a recognition of Minghella’s gifts as a writer, and their amazement how what affected him then to write these characters is so familiar in amazing and disturbing ways today. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We are in the end all humans, all leading messy lives who, as Minghella would say, are nevertheless capable of love and healing.

Thank you again, Sir! I look forward to re-experiencing Anthony Minghella‘s voice via your directorial vision.

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