Over the years, actor/director Steven Samuels and playwright John Crutchfield developed a deep admiration for each other’s work. Their friendship started around 2008 when Samuels, then new to the Asheville area, saw Crutchfield perform his original work, The Songs of Robert, at N.C. Stage Company. That play was later restructured and stripped down to become the first performance in The Magnetic Theatre’s original location.
“I had always dreamed of having a little company, and Steve had experience with that. So we formed The Magnetic Theatre with some other folks and had a good run of it there for a number of years.” Crutchfield says. “They are still going and doing their thing. But, yeah, that is where we really cut our chops together as a collaborative team.”
Their journey at The Magnetic Theatre ended when a behind-the-scenes conflict maturated with Samuels and the board. The Sublime Theater was formed last year, dedicated to original, established and neglected works, as well as world premieres. The company mounts its most ambitious production yet with My Crazy My Love opening Thursday, Nov. 7, at The BeBe Theatre.
The play launches The Sublime Theater’s second season. Though they have worked together multiple times, Samuels is particularly ecstatic because My Crazy My Love marks the very first time Crutchfield has written a role specifically for him.
“The character I play, Bub, is constantly referring to himself as ‘a Jewboy from Brooklyn,’” Samuels says. “And that he married a ‘penniless debutante of dubious character from Memphis.’”
That dubious character is Julia Finckelstein (played by Kathy O’Connor). It seems Julia expected to lead a glorious, posh life in New York City once Bub graduated from law school. However, her dreams were shattered when Bub suddenly took an advance on his inheritance to buy, as she puts it, “3,000 acres of snake-infested Lunsford County wilderness.”
The play begins with the cantankerous couple living in Southern Appalachia after 30 years, where Bub settled with plans to devote himself to the fiddle. On the eve of Bub’s 60th birthday, his mismatched family reunites. This includes his three divergent daughters (played by Olivia Stuller, Lydia Congdon, and Emmaleigh Moriniti). Bub declares it’s going to be his last night on earth, and a dark family secret is about to be revealed.
Crutchfield elaborates: “Fundamentally, I think it’s about this idea that families struggle to see each other for who they really are.”
While the story may sound like a linear drama, it’s more beguiling than that. A press release describes My Crazy My Love as a “domestic phantasmagoria, with song and dance,” rendering the play a wild melting pot of genres — largely comedic — with surrealistic touches. “It’s not a classical plotline,” Crutchfield says. “It’s more of a kaleidoscopic look at this family from individual points of view.”
There are also seven original songs of various styles that each character performs according to his or her personality. Throughout Crutchfield’s writing process, his brother-in-law — local singer-songwriter Holiday Childress — was part of the project. Choreographer Kristi DeVille adds to the show’s distinct and often absurdist flavor, along with onstage contributions from Julian Vorus and Art Moore.
When directing and acting in the same project, Samuels practices standing outside of himself. But, while in a scene performing with the other actors, Samuels feels he can best guide and motivate the troupe to his intended comedic vision because the other performers can play off his acting style. “If all I had ever focused on was me and my career and my art, I would be in a very different position than I am,” Samuels says. “I really do care about other artists. That’s what The Sublime is. It’s really a collective.”
WHAT: My Crazy My Love
WHERE: The BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St., mycrazy.brownpapertickets.com
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 7-Saturday, Nov. 23. Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. $15