Supporting creative work by women
Maria Riboli is a powerhouse actor, director and teacher. Meet her for five minutes, and her warmth and vitality are readily apparent. She has more energy than all of the Times Square marquees combined. Originally from Italy, she has made New York her home. Later this month, she will direct John Pastore’s riveting family drama, Family of Strangers.
Maria spoke to Works by Women about her favorite family dramas, what it’s been like working with playwright John Pastore and her upcoming work.
WORKS BY WOMEN: You were born and raised in Italy. What attracts to the American family drama Family of Strangers?
MARIA RIBOLI: I fell in love with the play the first time I read it. I immediately saw the other side of this family. It’s very easy to judge them, but what they’ve done comes from a place of love and tremendous loyalty to each other.
I was intrigued by their actions and inspired by their feelings. It’s a very powerful play where nothing is what it seems to be. It will shock you and make you rethink and reconsider everything you thought you knew about them at the beginning of the show.
WBW: What has your process working with playwright John Pastore been like?
MARIA: It has been a beautiful partnership! Working with John is a dream. He’s such a talented writer; very smart and extremely funny and dark, always at the perfect time. He respects my creativity and my interpretation of his words. I am always able to talk to him and truly be heard. He trusts me and it’s an honor to bring his play to life.
WBW: What can audiences expect from Family of Strangers?
MARIA: I want them to feel like they are looking through a window into a home in the suburbs. They will not be able to stop watching. From the very beginning they will get to know our family members and they will, I’m sure, have their own judgment on them…until everything turns upside down.
Their mouths will drop. All of a sudden, everything they thought they knew will be different. They will walk into the theater thinking they are watching one thing and they will walk out reconsidering everything. It will make them talk for hours afterwards!
I’m also very thankful for the amazing cast I have. They will make our audience laugh, cry, cheer for them and truly feel for the characters.
Adam Pagdon, Jessica Knuston, Tom Cappadona and Vito Leanza pour their hearts and souls out every single time. I pushed them to their limits, to show them that they have none. Their trust and commitment is very humbling for me. They are all wonderful actors and it’s an honor and a pleasure directing them. The audience will fall in love with them.
WBW: What are some of your favorite American family dramas and why?
MARIA: There are many from August: Osage County, to The Glass Menagerie, to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to mention a few… but the common thread for me is what’s underneath.
I’m inspired by work that truly shows what’s going on after the door is closed. We all know that we are different people when it’s just us, with our families, with our lovers. The moment we go into the uncomfortable ‘comfort-zone’ in our lives; that is what’s interesting to watch. What’s behind the facade.
WBW: What’s next for you?
MARIA: I’m already working on a few other projects. I will be co-directing a new play on Nikola Tesla with Serbian director Sanja Bestic this spring here in NYC. I’m also currently directing a TV Pilot called “Open” (created and written by Tanya Rojas and Rachel Barrer) that is being pitched to some major networks. I am also directing and starring in a new play by John Anthony Russo, Exit Music, opening in September. There are already talks to bring it to London. It’s a very busy year and I’m very thankful to be surrounded with such great projects and very inspiring artists. You can follow all the updates on my website.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theatre?
I don’t look at that. I do what I love and I follow my heart. Challenges are lessons. There’s nothing women can’t do in this business.
I have my own acting studio in New York and I always tell actresses not to try to fit any mold out there, but to be themselves. That’s what’s going to make a difference. Don’t try to look and be like everyone else. You are unique and perfect the way you are and the sooner you realize that the stronger you’ll be as an artist and as a human being.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theatre?
MARIA: Knowing that there are thousand of amazing women out there, working really hard every day to follow their dreams! Those are the women I want to work with. Those are the women who will make a difference. We are storytellers. We give emotions to people and you have to be ready to give it all you’ve got. These fascinating artists inspire me.
Family of Srangers runs February 27th through March 16th at Stage II Theater at Roy Arias Studios (300 West 43rd Street, New York). For tickets and additional information, visit http://www.family-of-strangers.com/.