Look Back in Anger: Interview with Theater Creator Aimée Fortier

Look Back
“Look Back in Anger” is a classic drama by John Osborne that is being revived this February by Celtic Lion Productions. Photo courtesy of Angela Jones.

“Look Back in Anger” is a classic drama by John Osborne that is being revived this February by Celtic Lion Productions. Originally produced in 1956, the play concerns the savagery of the human heart. Previews begin February 13 at The Gene Frankel Theatre and an opening is slated for Saturday, February 15.

According to the official press release, the play revolves around volatile man named Jimmy Porter, his long-suffering wife Alison, and the best friend who silently bears witness to their tumultuous and deteriorating marriage. When one of Alison’s friends comes to stay with them, all four people fight among each other, fall in and out of love, and release their pent-up rage towards the entire outside world. The play is a searing look at class, sex, politics and so many of the angry and alienated youth who are forced to live on the margins.

Recently creator Aimée Fortier granted an exclusive interview where she discussed this project and more.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for the arts and why do you gravitate towards the theater?

Aimée Fortier (AF): I was a weird kid who announced that I wanted to be an actress way before I had any business doing so. My parents, both visual artists, used to take me to see children’s theater in New Orleans where I grew up. I went to every audition for community theatre productions that I could, did every theatre camp, and I was lucky enough to go to N.O.C.C.A., the arts high school there. I was an only child of divorced parents, and I think I really needed that family-like community that comes with being at rehearsal. It’s one of my favorite parts about doing theatre in New York as well, you create these families in whatever tiny spaces and theatres you occupy.

MM: What experiences do you most draw your inspiration from creatively?

AF: I see plays all the time here in New York thanks to my TDF account, and go to Lincoln Center library to watch anything they have. Maybe I’m just making excuses for my phone addiction, but I also think it’s important to keep up with whatever news, memes, images, viral stories that are trending. It is a really unfiltered way of tapping into the overall collective unconscious to get an idea of who we are playing to, especially with a play like “Look Back in Anger,” which was written for a 1956 British audience. How do we bridge that gap and make it relevant?

MM: How come you decided to focus on “Look Back in Anger” of all plays?

AF: Actor and co-producer Ryan Welsh, who I had  met a few years ago in an acting class, came to me with the rights and wanting to produce it. My jaw dropped when I asked him how he got the rights. He told me that he went to the holder of John Osborne estate’s house in London and drank tea all afternoon and talked about John Osborne. By the end of their meeting, Gordon told him that he was perfect for Jimmy and granted him the rights. This play is huge, and objectively a challenging piece of writing. This is only my third full length play as a director, but something buried beneath all the fear was a little voice saying I could do it. I first saw Look Back in Anger in the 2012 Broadway production when I was around the same age as all the characters. I had no dreams of directing at that point, but it got me really fired up, which I’ve learned is a good sign I have something to say with the material.

MM: What were the challenges of getting this staged?

AF: We’re very much in the midst of it. It was a challenge just blocking Act 1, which is one giant 30-page scene. Osborne loves language and the character Jimmy has monologue after monologue. Keeping those active, exciting for the audience to watch is a fun creative challenge. In general, with kitchen sink dramas, if the stakes for the characters aren’t high, they can get chatty and one-note. We hired an incredible dramaturg, Danya Martin, and have done a ton of research to really understand the world the characters are living in and what the consequences of their actions are and what their relationships to each other meant in that time.

MM: What’s your favorite segment of the show and why?

AF: I can’t say for sure. Helena’s first scene is such a great one. She’s such a wonderfully specific character — a touring actress with an upper middle-class upbringing who has a “presence that makes most men uncomfortable.” Dropping her into the mayhem of Jimmy and Alison (and Cliff’s) household is both hysterical and horrifying at the same time.

MM: What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?

AF: I had a moment in rehearsals this week that sent chills down my spine. I won’t give anything away, but a moment of blocking that just sort of happened directly mirrored a very contemporary and notable symbol of sexual abuse. I realized my grandmother was around Alison’s age at the time, and my grandfather was a similar character to Jimmy. Maybe that’s what got me fired up when I saw the show in 2012. This play was the first ever kitchen sink drama- this is a slice of life, a play reflecting contemporary society for appraisal vs. entertainment. It had to break through this barrier in a time when private lives were kept very private. British theatre was mostly drawing room comedies about the genteel classes, all adhering to the monarch’s censorship standards. No one spoke about their relationships, let alone abuse, women’s reproductive rights, intersectional feminism, and mental health like we do now. The play is an intimate portrait of a relationship affected by all of these issues, happening at a time when culture didn’t yet have the language to address them. Knowing where we come from, how people two generations previous navigated all of these things in an era of political tumult is not only fascinating but incredibly useful to see. Alison’s father has a cameo scene and speaks a monologue that may as well be prompted by Jimmy screaming “Okay Boomer!”