Posner at Home at Folger

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Aaron Posner, Aaron Posner, director of “Romeo and Juliet” at the Folger Theatre | Paper Illustration by Jared Rauh, jaredrauh.com

Even though Aaron Posner has directed
many plays in many American
places, and written some, too. It
must seem now as rehearsals get
underway for his next production,
that the Washington theater community has
come to be a major part of his creative and
professional as well as personal life.

Just now, the Folger Theatre, and its small,
intimate, Bard-echoing Elizabethan theatre will
take up a large space in his imagination and
profession, as he directs “Romeo and Juliet”
and embarks on the journey that will take
Posner and his wife Erin Weaver, starring as
Juliet, toward the Oct. 15 opening.

Posner has expended a good part of his directorial
resume at the Folger, a place drenched
and steeped in Shakespearean history, artifacts,
scholarly work and productions of the Bard
canon over decades. Posner sees all that, but he
sees something else, too. The Folger is a place
for risk taking and risk takers, a quality not usually
associated with an institution so squarely
placed in history.

You wouldn’t think so, if you visit the Folger
Shakespeare Library, by the Supreme Court and
the Library of Congress— the centers of political
power in the United States. These are solid,
Greco-Roman buildings as symbols of power
and culture. The small Elizabethan theatre,
with upstairs and downstairs seating looks
like it was transported from the days when
Shakespeare was writing his plays, complete
with daunting pillars that always challenge
directors, designers and actors.
“I know people don’t often think of the
Folger in terms of risk-taking, of edgy work,
and projects that might be difficult to do, that
are fresh and different,” Posner said. “But
that’s exactly what happens here, there’s a
willingness to say ‘All right, go ahead and do
it that way,’ even if the idea sounds outrageous.
There is a history here of saying yes to artists.”
This was true before Posner began working
his directorial magic here, when Joe Banno was
directing some unusual takes on classic material—
several actors including Holly Twyford
performing the role of Hamlet for instance,
and of course a “Romeo and Juliet” for which
Twyford won a Helen Hayes award.
The result for Posner has been an outstanding
run of project and plays, including “A
Conference of Birds”, based on a 12th-century
Sufi poem about a group of birds searching
for God. Posner was inspired by renowned
director Peter Brook and his book “The Empty
Stage”, in terms of how to do a play that was
basically a series of parables.
Even by Posner’s standards “Birds” was a
different sort of play. It wasn’t that far removed
from “Orestes: A Tragic Romp,” or even his
“The Taming of the Shrew” which had frontier
western setting, and won the Helen Hayes
Award for Outstanding Resident Play.
At the Folger, Posner has also directed a
new version of “Cyrano,” which he co-adapted
and won a best director award, “The Comedy of
Errors,” Tom Stoppard’s intellectual whiz-bang
of a play “Arcadia,” “Macbeth,” which he codirected
and co-conceived, “The Tempest” and
“Measure for Measure” (this season being done
at the Washington Shakespeare Company),
which got Posner an outstanding director award
and an outstanding resident production award
for the Folger Theatre, “The Two Gentlemen
of Verona” (another outstanding director
award), and Craig Wright’s “Melissa Arctic”
(based loosely on “A Winter’s Tale”) as well as
“Twelfth Night,” “Othello”and “As You Like
It,” going back to 2001.

“Romeo and Juliet” is probably
Shakespeare’s most popular play, appealing
to classicists and teenagers all at once, and
Folger appears to be counting on that, scheduling
a run through Dec. 1.

“Everybody knows the play, or thinks they
know the play,” Posner said. “Everyone loves
the romance, the passion, the tragedy of the
lovers, and characters like the Friar and the
nurse and Mercutio, it’s the language and
poetry and all of that. But to me there’s something
else. There’s a mystery in this play, and
you have to solve it: how do these two young
people—they’re teenagers, come to such a stark
conclusion—they think and feel that they have
no other choice except to die. That’s central
to the play, you have to try to understand that
decision.”

Posner’s wife Erin Weaver is taking on the
role of Juliet. Posner finds the experience of
directing his wife as essentially a sharing. “We
don’t have a problem there, it’s a good thing in
terms of our marriage, to be able to collaborate
like this and share at a very basic level our
work.”

Both Posner and Weaver worked together at
Signature Theater earlier this year in “Last Five
Years.” Weaver herself worked in “Company”
at Signature, and earlier in “Xanadu” among
many projects. The two have a young daughter
named Maisie.

Birds seems to have been on Posner’s mind
of late—in addition to “The “Conference of
Birds,” his play “Stupid “F—–g Bird,” based
not all that loosely on Anton Chekov’s “The
Seagull,” received a powerful, funny and
intense production at the Woolly Mammoth
Theatre. “There were similar characters, and
similar interest and the play and Chekhov have
always fascinated me.”

In this bird, as opposed to the other birds,
Posner managed the not inconsiderable achievement
of imaging, or re-imagining Chekov’s
characters in our times, how they might have
lived, sounded, and behaved today.

Posner’s gift is original in the sense that he
has a taste for re-imagining, even re-invention.
It shows up in his penchant for adapting literary
works, without damaging them. He might
shine a different light or lamp on the works, but
they shine, and brightly, nonetheless.

DID YOU KNOW?
Raised in Eugene, Oregon;
born in Madison, Wisconsin
Helen Hayes and Barrymore Award-winning
playwright, director and teacher
Previously accomplished director at
Folger Theatre: One best director and
two outstanding director awards
Founder and former Artistic Director of
Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre
Has directed major regional theatres
from coast to coast
Quoted as saying “I can’t direct
Shakespeare without swearing.”

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