David Rhodes may be on the verge of being an overnight success. This, of course, means he has been working for decades to get to this moment. His new play Consent, starring Catherine Curtin, Michael Goldstein, Angela Pierce and Mark McCullough Thomas, is about to have its world premier at the The Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center For Theatre (111 West 46th Street).
The press release reads as follows:
“A new play about sex, power and intimacy in the 21st century, CONSENT follows Ron Sullivan, living the American dream. A natural athlete and former NFL football player, Ron achieved early success as an award winning architect. But recently he’s made some changes. Ron came out as gay, separated from his high school sweetheart, and moved into a Soho loft. Now a chance encounter with Kurt, a sexy Yale law student, seduces him into the murky waters of consent. Neither man, nor the two most important women in Ron’s life, will ever be the same.”
Rhodes has a lot in common with Ron Sullivan. After years of being married, Rhodes came out of the closet “later in life” as he puts it. The ensuing experience of being intimate with men was life altering. The interpersonal dynamics, minus a feminine ingredient, were profoundly different from anything he had previously known. He found his new relationships intriguing. Negotiating these encounters was an experience to which he opened himself and about which he spent a lot of time thinking. Rhodes is a very smart man. As his entire world and life changed he became an observer as well as a participant.
Consent is the result.
Said Rhodes, “The idea of a person, living a lifestyle that is not consistent with who they are, coming into their own later in their life can result in freedom. The freedom and the joy that come from taking those risks far out weighs the pain and suffering of living an inauthentic life. Consent it a play about a public figure who has to make a huge change and negotiate with his family to get the support that allows him to be himself.”
As both writer and director, Rhodes has taken on a gargantuan task – and he couldn’t be happier. This is the culmination of over three years of intensive work and relentless focus. Like Ron, he has persevered and gone against societal norms by creating his own path, pushing through the fear and obstacles and ending up here. Because of this he has learned, on a cellular level, If you speak your truth, people will listen and they will find universal truths in what you say. One of these truths is that we already have permission to follow our dreams and to be our authentic selves on this planet, even if society or our culture sees that as marginal or objectionable.
An essential ingredient was the funding. It was always critcal that the creative was running parallel with the funding. Not easy. Says Rhodes, “The business of theatre leaves so little opportunity for financial return that the investment by nature is tenuous. Finding the right fit, the right people to support your project, who are willing to take a risk is really a blessing. It takes incredible individuals who … have to be responding to a higher calling. I was beyond fortunate to find a group of people who believe in me and the play enough to create this opportunity.”
Chief among this group is Rhodes’ lead producer, Robin Reinach, a friend since childhood, who has been a champion, sounding board, and untiring supporter. Reinach hosted the first public reading of Consent in her apartment two years ago. Without her, Consent would not be set to open on June 11th.
What do you love about this play? “It is raw and polished, exciting and dangerous, funny and scary, and very, very sexy without being exploitative.”
What do you love about these actors. “Everything. They are brave and fearless. They trust me and the material. I, in turn, love and trust them with my words and my story. When I am watching this play I am no longer watching actors. I am watching the characters I created. Each of these actors informs me about the characters,”
What have you learned from them? “Every actor is a unique and complicated genius. In order to get to that genius, each actor requires, and deserves, a different kind of guidance. Learning to speak each different language, having them understand my language and my intention, and being sensitive to that specificity, has been a new discovery. It is about developing a communication style that ultimately serves the play. It is almost more important to think about when and how to speak rather than the content of what I am saying. It is all about getting the cast from point A to point B in the way that will be the most useful and loving way possible.”
Why is this play perfect for your directorial debut? – “What a great question! Because it speaks to all the things that are the most meaningful and important to me as a life traveler. It is a multi-perspective exploration. Each of the characters comes to this event with a unique perspective. As a writer I choose not to favor any one of them so that I allow the audience to choose who resonates with them and, more importantly, to arrive their own conclusion once the play is over.
It is much the same with a sexual experience – or any intense experience. You don’t know how you will feel about it until it is over. Only when it is over can you evaluate it.”
How are you holding up? “I am exhilarated and exhausted. I am learning how to hold multiple emotions and not be bothered. To quote MacDuff in Macbeth. Such welcome and unwelcome things at once, ‘tis hard to reconcile. It is how I would describe the journey to get your play produced – and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I love this so much. There is not a molecule in my body that is not comfortable being in this position.”
As far as being the director as well as the writer, this decision was initiated by the producers. It is Rhodes’ directorial début, which might give lesser folks pause, but because of everyone’s confidence in the story, no one was daunted by the idea of him as a director – including Rhodes himself. It makes the experience more authentic. It was a decision intended to serve the play, so that the play can serve the audience it reaches.
As a director Rhodes has worked to make his point of view as simple and clear as possible. And as a first time director, the greatest gift he received was having an accomplished and talented design team. Chad Reins (Sound) has written music for the show. Scott Tedmon-Jones (Set design) and John Eckert (lighting design) have created an environment that – four stories below street level – turns Ron’s apartment into a light filled loft.
Final thoughts? “I have learned that the best way to be a leader and to get the best results from the people you are working with is to lead with love and respect rather than with authority and fear. I learned this because of everyone’s incredible response to my generosity. They were and are generous with me and provide an avalanche of creative input. That doesn’t mean that I have not exercised patience – because I have. But it is all in service to the play, to the story. I want to hear everybody and then listen to myself.”
Which is how this play came to be in the first place.
Final Final “The answers are all within, but if you are honest and truthful, and persevere, you will an opportunity like the one I have. It may take years. But you will succeed.”