Ladies* Who Lunch: M. Bevin O'Gara

March 18, 2014

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Before rehearsals of her new show began, I sat down with newly-engaged-but-not-yet-talking-about-it lady M. Bevin O’Gara and, after I finished making fun of her choice in cellular technology, discussed Cuba, the Olympics, and the newest underground musical phenomenon known as “B-Jazz.”

Kyle Thomas Hemingway Dickinson: So, Blackberry enthusiast Bevin O’Gara..

M. Bevin O’Gara: Yes! I am! I love my Blackberry and I love its buttons so much! And I will very proudly go on the record as saying that!

KTHD: I adore you because I feel like you’re the first pseudo-famous person who I can say “I knew her when…” You've been directing at Company One, Speakeasy, now you’ve got the Huntington, this is crazytown!

MBO: It’s been a really incredible year, in particular, just with the amount that’s been going on. Starting to get work that I’ve always felt really passionately about but to have resources behind those passions is really something a girl can get used to! But I also am very cautious about talking about feeling like things have changed—I always want to be challenging myself, so I never want to start thinking about any of the work as “Well now I’ve done that and I can relax.” I loved the chance to work on pieces that have had very distinctive productions in other places. It was a really hard challenge to start thinking about “Oh god, I saw this show, how do I erase that from my memory and put my own stamp on it?” I really ultimately enjoy that challenge, because it’s something very different. So it’s been an exhausting and exhilarating year.

KTHD: I’m sure anyone who knows you or is even tangentially familiar with you would never think you’re going to stop challenging yourself—it’s just not in your DNA!

MBO: And I can’t wait to be 40 because that’s when people really start to take you seriously. I enjoyed my 20s, I’m really enjoying my 30s, but I’m like 40…

KTHD: 40 is the “don’t give a fuck” age.

MBO: Exactly!

KTHD: So the big thing for you right now is Becoming Cuba! How are you becoming Cuba, pasty white Bevin O’Gara?

MBO: [laughs] Yes, pasty white Bevin O’Gara with a whole bunch of sassy Latinos! Becoming Cuba is Melinda Lopez’ new play, she’s been working on it for a while. It’s about a woman, Adela, who runs a pharmacy in Havana in 1898, which is basically on the eve of the Spanish-American War. This play is about the events that lead up to that but in particular, it’s about a woman who, because of this war, has closed up her heart, and it’s the story of her trying to open that back up to her family, to open back up to love, through all this turmoil that is right outside her door. I've been doing a lot of research into the Ten Years’ War and all the events that lead up to it, and it’s strikingly similar to so many things that have happened recently. Melinda and I talk a lot about Syria and the similarities between what was happening then and what’s happening now.

One of the things that always happens at the Huntington when we do new programming is we always ask the question “Why this play now? What’s important about this play now?” And it was so clear from the moment that we started this play that it’s an examination of the moment before America steps its foot abroad for the first time and becomes an interventionist.

KTHD: And you’ve directed Melinda’s work before.

MBO: I have! one of the very first things I did as an intern at the Huntington was that I helped start the Breaking Ground series when that first began. I made photocopies, I sat in on rehearsals, and I still remember the reading of Melinda’s Sonya Flew and that I absolutely fell in love with it. A few years later, Kate Snodgrass of Boston Playwrights Theatre asked me to do Melinda’s play, Gary, which was this totally crazy thing about these teenagers and their—maybe imaginary—rock band in Gary, Indiana, and the family drama that was happening with them. Then I worked on a reading of Melinda’s Caroline in Jersey, which I really loved, and then she sent us this script. Peter [DuBois] and I had already been talking about me directing and when she sent me this script, I knew it was the right play and the right time. It just feels as though it’s all coming together.

KTHD: So, another thing you did this season was the flawless Tribes at Speakeasy. It really was a perfect storm of your direction, the writing, the cast, the design, everything.

MBO: It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done, which is so crazy. I don’t mean that it wasn’t work, of course, it was a lot of work, but there was not a single moment that I didn’t enjoy. I never understood until then how important it is to put the right group together. I am intrigued by collaboration—I have always said I’m not always the person with the best idea in the room but I’m really good at identifying the best idea in the room. Also, working with a translator is something that’s made me a better director, because you have to know exactly what it is you’re asking. You have to be very clear and precise, and it’s made me think things through before I say them as a director.

KTHD: I think it’s a hallmark of every show I’ve seen of yours that you really and truly care the same amount for every character on stage, regardless of the size of their part.

MBO: I’m really very proud of the fact that most of the awards my shows have been nominated for have been for ensemble. I give good ensemble! It’s really important to me that the whole machine is working together.

KTHD: Moving away from theatre (which it seems you rarely do), what do you do in your downtime?

MBO: In a lot of my downtime I’m always preparing for my next project a bit. I read as much as I can moving into a project. I have a lot of weddings that I’m participating in during the coming year. I’ve taken up some cooking: I can cook soup now. I make mini quiches.

KTHD: You’re never quite fully removed from your craft though.

MBO: Whenever I take business trips to New York for the Huntington, I always try to fit in seeing my parents on Long Island. So one night, we were watching the Olympics opening ceremony. We kept talking about the floor—which was just incredible—and having just worked on a show with a ton of projections in it, I kept thinking about how many projectors there were, how many electricians have gone crazy, how long it took them to focus it, all that. I just want to go under and see what sort of mechanics were working below! I was saying all of this to my parents out loud and my mother just put her hands up and said “Will you just stop working and enjoy this?!”

KTHD: So, we’ve reached the James Lipton portion of the interview, the final three questions. So, outside of what we’ve already learned about you today, what is one thing that most people do not know about you?

MBO: I sometimes sing to myself all over the house, Thom [my fiance] calls it “B-Jazz”—Bevin Personal Jazz. I just scat and make up little songs. I just put noise together.

KTHD: Do you want to serve me some B-Jazz right now?

MBO: ...I don’t think so.

KTHD: B-Jazz. I thought you were going to say “blowjob,” I got really nervous for a second.

MBO: I got kicked out of chorus in sixth grade because i had a “pitch problem.” I was “singin’ out Louise,” and i just don’t think the teacher appreciated that, so I have a real complex about singing in public.

KTHD: What is one recent Boston arts thing that you saw and you loved?

MBO: I really loved Company One’s We Are Proud To Present… I really thought the ensemble nature of it was really interesting. I came away from it with a lot to think about with the idea of identification and how easy it is to identify with someone else’s story but also how treacherous it is. I always love Summer [Williams]’s work but i thought this was exceptionally well done.

KTHD: And finally, what is your favorite cocktail?

MBO: I really enjoy a good glass of pinot noir, I know it’s not a cocktail. I used to drink whiskey a lot. I really love a good sidecar, you can always treat me to that. I’m getting a little old, so the whiskey is not treatin’ me so well anymore.

KTHD: Maybe just one sidecar instead of…

MBO: Exactly!