Interview: Erica McLaughlin
Erica Lauren McLaughlin tackles the unforgettable role of Saint Monica in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guirgis. T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre’s production of the saintly and sinful play opens tonight at the studio’s Chelsea home. She also starred in the Studio’s award-winning production of Balm in Gilead, which late playwright Lanford Wilson attended and praised in a post-play talkback.
Erica talks to Works by Women about Saint Monica, Lydia Diamond and her hops for women in American theater.
WBW: You are playing Saint Monica in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. What a fabulous role. Tell us more about your take on her.
ELM: A friend of mine told me I should audition for this play because there was a part for me in it. I heard of it, but didn’t really know anything about it when I read it–so when I opened the pages to Saint Monica, I was immediately in love. Terrified at attempting a three page tour-de-force, but determined to get this role and play it to the max!
I think at the end of the day, Saint Monica is just a fiercely proud mama. She worked crazy hard on her son, Saint Augustine (as the play says “I nagged and nagged and nagged and nagged till God got so tired of my sh*t that he did save my son”) and look how he turned out. She is so proud she is unafraid of saying anything and speaking up for what’s right, including nagging God on Judas’ behalf, because she knows her faith and dedication is what get’s her through. Don’t get up in her grill, and don’t get in the way of what is good and right.
WBW: What can audiences expect from the T. Schreiber Studio and Theatre production?
ELM: The unique thing about seeing a production at the studio is that all the actors had to train there in order to audition, so everyone on stage has the common thread of the excellent training and technique that study at T. Schreiber provides. So, everyone does their research, and the specificity of each character will be fascinating to watch.
Also, you can expect beatboxing, karate chops, feather boas, and S&M. And no, I’m not kidding.
WBW: What have you learned from Terry Schreiber, director of the play and founder of the studio?
ELM: Many things. One that comes to mind is that focus and concentration is key. We warm up as a group each rehearsal and before each performance. Terry believes that is the kind of focus it takes to allow the collective imagination and ensemble work to take flight.
Terry also loves to laugh. He told us at the first rehearsal to leave our egos outside and have fun. Working with him, especially on a role like this is good fun, he often looks around to see if you are enjoying the joke as much as he is. I usually am. And it doesn’t hurt that he sounds like Santa Claus when he laughs.
WBW: Last year you were in T. Schreiber’s award-winning Balm in Gilead — another large ensemble piece — how do the two productions compare?
ELM: Oooh. Tough question to answer. Like really tough. The ensemble experience of Balm in Gilead changed my life–really. We all became so close I even attended a cast members wedding shortly after. And meeting and performing for the late Lanford Wilson, that whole experience will always have a special place in my heart, it makes it hard to compare it to anything else.
Ok back to the question: both plays require ensemble storytelling and require the actors to depend heavily on each other. There are again no room for egos. The difference is, the courtroom format of Judas allows each character a legitimate moment to “shine,” but also they are required to keep on task and advance the story–set it up for the next person. There are no small parts, and everybody does the work, and is required to do so diligently under Terry’s guidance.
WBW: What’s next for you?
ELM: You mean, this isn’t a Broadway transfer? Damn it. I guess it’s back to the streets. (err…auditioning, of course.)
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
ELM: Hmm. Well before I rant, put simply, I think: Not enough amazing parts like Saint Monica. (Thank you Stephen Adly Guirgus.) This is probably the first role I have ever played where I get to explore both sides of the way I actually talk (from the gangsta to the graduate). Most of the roles I see in the commercial theater arena these days bore me. But that means we’ve got to encourage writers, both male and female with the support and incentive to create that work. Then we’ve got to get more female producers and directors out there to actually get this work seen.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
ELM: Working with amazing actresses like the ones at T. Schreiber Studio. Seeing playwrights like Katori Hall, Lydia Diamond, and Lynn Nottage dominating Broadway. Seeing performers like Viola Davis transform in theater and on film. It gives me something to look forward to.
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot runs February 22 through April 8, 2012, Wednesday through Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm. For more information and tickets, visit www.tschreiber.org.