Fresh off the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of “Ink,” Erin Neufer (Netflix’s “Gypsy”) will join Blythe Danner, Peter Eyre, and Paul Hecht in a staged reading of “The Strangeness of Men and Women” at Guild Hall on Wednesday, August 28, at 8:30 PM.
Written and directed by Eden Collinsworth, the play is based on the true story of a notably strange and amusing divorce case in 1920s London, and as the characters grapple with assumed gender roles amidst an awakened feminist spirit, the issues of the play may feel all too familiar to a modern audience. Neufer, who will play Christabel in her Guild Hall debut, was kind enough to answer a few questions about her experience.
What was your first impression upon reading the play?
I think the first thing I realized was that this is an idea play, as it exists mostly in the mind of the narrator, Blythe Danner. It’s a conjuring of source material for a novel about this famous divorce case, and the people she is researching — including my character — communicate in her imagination.
My job, first and foremost, is to use the words given to make a clear defense for my character’s actions. It’s very much like Shaw in that way.
How did you become involved?
An angelic friend and marvelous actress, Tara Summers, recommended me for the job. Friends are the best.
What’s your character like? Or characters, if this is anything like “Ink.”
I’m just diving into one character this time. Christabel is arevolutionary-minded woman who took to work during WWI and experienced the sweet taste of independence.
Unlike some other women of the time who enjoyed the working world and became embittered after having to return to domestic duties when the war was over, Christabel defies convention and opens up her own business. She “plays by the rules” only so much as to quiet people down, and seems generally unfazed when traditionalists wag their finger at her. She’s fabulous.
The play explores 100-year-old gender relations. What has changed since then, and what still needs work?
I think the largest difference is the laws that once protected and maintained the man as head of household. Inheritance and bastards are a theme in the play, and the rules that had to be followed to properly pass patriarchal inheritance down are fascinating.
Also, sex education has vastly improved, thank goodness. But the similarities are more than one would assume. Gender-bending was quite fashionable in the flapper-age, and seems to ruffle conservative feathers today as much as it did then. Also, the number of men in 2019 who assume that women don’t actually enjoy work, and would rather just raise children and keep house — as if women aren’t equally ambitious — is rather shocking.
But gender roles are being rewritten today, and I think the rumblings of that movement came from the 1920s. It’s just as thrilling to hear a woman defy society’s expectations then as it is now.
What draws you to pieces/characters like this, and to acting in general?
Every character is a little shrine to an aspect of the collective human consciousness. Playing a brave character teaches me to be brave; existing as a witty woman for a few hours inspires me to be a bit cleverer. It’s the adage of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
What will the rehearsal process be like for this, since it’s a staged reading? Have you met the cast and director yet?
It’s a quick rehearsal process, which can be really fun. Just jumping into the deep end of the play and learning to swim with it. I haven’t met the creative team or cast yet, but one thing I love about the theater world is that you form bonds quickly.
Last time you were working in the Hamptons was in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” at Bay Street. Are there any Hamptons spots you’re looking forward to visiting?
I’m back in East Hampton, where I was living when I worked at Bay Street. Spending some summertime in the Hamptons working on a play with an inspiring company is pretty choice. I can’t wait to visit Egypt Beach, have a sandwich from East Hampton Bagels, and convince someone to drive me to the Grey Gardens house so I can wrap a sweater around my head and pretend to be Little Edie Beale.
Yes, that’s a clear must. So, what’s up next for you?
I just finished up a little role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which will be coming out in December. But I’m always finding ways to be creative, whether it’s writing, making short films, or clowning with my clown group, “Soul Potato.” We’ll see what the world’s got cooking up for me soon!
The world can keep tabs on Neufer through her Instagram account, @erinneuferdesu, and tickets for “The Strangeness of Men and Women” can be purchased at www.guildhall.org.