The hills are alive with the sound of Heil Hitler! Ever since I was a kid, I have loved The Sound of Music. The story, the songs, the beauty of Austria's hills, all of it. The one part of the film I never cared for was the part about the Von Trapp's being chased by the Nazi's. As a Jew and a gay man, I'm very sensitive to that subject matter, but when I heard about Andrew Bergh's show The Radicalization of Rolfe, a new play inspired by the secondary, but vital character of "Rolfe" and his climb through the Third Reich while incorporating the questioning of "Rolfe's" sexuality, I was very intrigued.
The Radicalization of Rolfe will play the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam Street), as part of the Fringe Encore Series from October 23-29. Click here for tickets!
1. Your show The Radicalization of Rolfe is returning to the Fringe Encore Series at the SoHo Playhouse. What are you looking forward to about this return engagement? I want to thank and acknowledge the 2016 NYC International Fringe Festival, The Present Company and especially Producing Artistic Director Elena Holy for selecting The Radicalization of Rolfe for the 2016 festival. Also, a huge shout out to Britt Latfield and all at the Soho Playhouse for selecting us for the Encore series and giving us a second chance to run the play.
I’m very curious to see how our talented cast comes back to the play after a six week hiatus. This second run, I think, will be a bit more relaxed than the initial Fringe run and I expect an even more cohesive performance. I ran into Dominic Comperatore (Herr Zeller) at a reading of another play he was participating in, and he said how revisiting a production for a second run always has an air of excitement in seeing what new discoveries the cast brings to the project. As a playwright, I’m always stunned by what talented actors discover in my writing, and I think this second run will be no exception.
2. The Radicalization of Rolfe is inspired by the backstory of the lesser-known but vital secondary characters in the legendary musical The Sound of Music, namely "Rolfe." What initially made you want to explore "Rolfe" in this depth and then bring into question his sexuality? I became interested in secondary characters after meeting Brian Murray. Brian is a good friend of Abigail Zealey Bess, the director of Rolfe. Abigail approached Brian about a role in another one of my plays. Brian’s first Tony nomination was for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Now, at the same time of meeting Brian, I was reading Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph. That play was printed in American Theater magazine. In Joseph’s bio he talked about doing something grand with the building of the Taj and in his efforts discovered his most interesting characters were his two guards, secondary characters.
Well, that led me to think if I was to write a play about secondary characters who would it be? And The Sound of Music instantly popped into my head. I mean, the family treks over the Alps and you think it’s a happy ending. But, what happens to those left behind? No happy ending there. And exploring "Rolfe" as a young man discovering his sexuality kind of became a no-brainer in terms of structure and conflict and inner conflict.
3. It's funny you allude to the fact "Rolfe" might be gay because when The Sound of Music sing-a-long was going around the country in the late 90s/early 2000s, I "dressed up" as "Rolfe" wearing a flashy blue shirt and black pants and when they called all the "Rolfe's" in the audience up on stage, I was described as the gay "Rolfe." What made you think "Rolfe" might be a homosexual? How did exploring his sexuality expand or change his story? How much of your own exploration is in "Rolfe's"? The only thing I think I can add to this that wasn’t answered in question two is that I find I’m all my characters and all of my characters are me. One day in rehearsal, I was watching Logan Sutherland (Rolfe) and Alex J. Gould (Johan) run a scene and I saw so much of my story and struggle was up there. It’s always a surprise to me when that happens because that parallel is not intentional. But, there I was. Surprised again, thinking "Oh. There I am." (P.S. Logan and Alex are a joy to watch).
4. With "Rolfe" trying to make his way in the Third Reich and rise in the new order, how do you think The Third Reich would react to "Rolfe's" being gay, I mean considering, they killed over a million gays in the concentration camps. Do you feel "Rolfe" would be the "acceptable gay" since he was already part of the Third Reich or do you think he would be exiled to the gas chambers? The Third Reich would have absolutely destroyed Rolfe had they known. Absolutely.
5. With Donald Trump being compared to Hitler in this election year, did that help make now the right time to present this show in the 2016 Fringe Festival, or were you planning for it regardless? This ties into question two a bit. I study with both Chris Ceraso and Abigail Zealey Bess. Chris runs a weekly playwriting lab called Works in Progress and I meet with Abigail every other week for a more intense two hour one on one. Chris and Abigail both teach at universities. Chris at Drew in Madison, NJ and Abigail at NYU here in the city. And last August (2015) both told me there would be no meetings until mid September as they were preparing for fall classes. Now, at that time, all the projects I was working on were ready for the next step and I had nothing to work on. And that’s when I started to think of secondary characters. Any comparison to the present political and social situations both here and abroad are both a coincidence and "a gift from the other side."
6. While "Rolfe" is delivering a telegram to "Captain Von Trapp," he flirts with the Captain’s eldest daughter, under the watchful eye of the children’s new governess from nearby Nonnberg Abbey. When have you crossed the line of working and flirting? When have you been under the watchful eye of someone, but thought you were being so secretive? Before I came out, I was working in a restaurant back home and had a fling with a really cute guy I was working with. We kept the whole thing a secret as it wasn’t safe to be out. I think we were being watched. But, I think all closeted youth are paranoid that way. A few years later, I came out to another co-worker of ours. I said "I have something to tell you." She said "what?" and I said "I’m gay." She took my hand and said "Andy, you’re the last to know." So much for secrets.
7. In The Radicalization of Rolfe, you have "Rolfe" having an affair with another young German male. Was there ever a time you had an affair? If so, did the parties you were cheating on find out or did the affair just end? I can only handle one at a time.
9. The Third Reich preyed on people who felt lost and isolated to join their ranks. Was there ever a time you felt lost or isolated and if the Third Reich were around today, do you think you would have been susceptible to joining a group like that? Drugs and alcohol were my Third Reich.
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Having a positive attitude towards everything and working the laws of attraction.
More on Andrew:
Andrew Bergh is a NYC based playwright and the author of Bliss, Waiting ("Critic’s Choice" winner 2003 Samuel French Festival), Somewhere in the Middle, Kisses, Jane of the Tree, The Domesticated Queer, The Last Day of Limbo, Lamentations of a Sinner among many others. Member, The Dramatists Guild. Many thanks to the Works In Progress Group and all who have contributed to this production.