Wesleyan’s own Halley Feiffer ’07 can currently be seen off-Broadway in the Second Stage Theatre’s revival of “subUrbia,” Eric Bogosian’s chronicle of aimless adolescents searching for life’s meaning while loitering in front of the local 7-11. I sat down with Halley after a recent matinee to discuss the off-Broadway experience; the ups and downs of playing Bee-Bee, a self-destructive music-lover; and why Middletown cuisine beats New York City’s any day. Some excerpts of our conversation:
MC: How did you get from second semester of junior year to here?
HF: I have been acting professionally since I was about fourteen, I guess, but very off and on, in the sense that I…haven’t gotten that many parts (laughing). So, I got an agent when I was about twelve, I think, and got my first acting job when I was, like, fourteen. Then I didn’t work for a hell of a long time…So, I auditioned for this over the summer, this past summer, and almost wasn’t able to do it because I was working on this other thing on Martha’s Vineyard, a short run of a play that my dad [playwright Jules Feiffer] wrote. I almost wasn’t able to do this because they shared five days, the last five days of that was the first five days of this rehearsal process. And also I was thinking, ‘Do I really want to miss a semester of school, maybe I don’t.’ Some of my friends were like, ‘Yeah that’s not worth it, college is so fun.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ Then I was like, ‘What are you guys talking about?’ This is a great off-Broadway play in a great theater with a great group of people, and then I realized that this was the right decision.
MC: Were you offered this specific role?
HF:I auditioned originally for Sooze, the performance artist, and I went to two auditions for that. Then I got a callback for Bee-Bee, which I had a feeling they would do, because I felt like I was… (pause) I often play troubled people (laughs). I feel like I can be pretty good at that.
MC: What was it like working with a cast of actors who are fairly young in age?
HF: It was really fun, because it felt kind of like college, only better in a lot of ways. (Laughs)…It was very fun, we all got along instantaneously and we all had a really nice dynamic. It was weird, though, and it’s still weird because I don’t think any of us have been in a play with such young people, so as you see, there’s a Playstation over there. We all go out and have a few drinks….I think it’s a more carefree, fun atmosphere than you’d find in a lot of plays because we all take it seriously but we’re all very young, so…well, we’re all not very young, there are some people in their thirties in the cast. But they’re young at heart. Definitely been one of the more fun things I’ve worked on, which I’m really glad about because my character is so depressing and the play is so depressing. It’s nice that there’s a whole group of fun, jovial, like-minded people to have a couple drinks with after the show (laughing).
MC: How do you keep it light enough so the depression of the text doesn’t overtake you, yet be serious enough to give it justice?
HF: I had a really difficult time with it until about two weeks ago. I felt torn between letting myself get to a really emotional, sad place, and therefore having a hard time letting that go at the end of the play, and the alternative of not letting myself get into that place and therefore having my performance suffer a little bit. Only recently have I been able to strike a balance, where I think about something that makes me solemn and has a twinge of real sadness with it. When I’m sitting in the corner [her character often sits isolated behind a small stone wall], I’m not thinking about what I’m going to get for lunch. Well, sometimes I do, but I try to think more about things that have happened to me that I find upsetting and as long as I’m in that place, I tend to feel good about what I do.
MC: One of the most striking moments in the whole play which, admittedly, is kind of a downer, is that scene near the beginning, where you’re rocking out in front of the convenience store. It was a really nice moment of transcendence from the surrounding depression. Talk about that scene.
HF: … [This character] got sent to rehab by her parents, and it seems like that was a big over-reaction and she didn’t really need to go….Now she can’t drink, because she knows she probably won’t stop, and if her parents catch her drunk, smelling of alcohol, having stayed out all night, anything, she’s going to go back to rehab. She loves music, that’s one thing I decided that isn’t really at all in the script, but I find it helpful. It’s sort of in the script, the dance is in the script, but it’s described as a little dance, and we don’t do it little. That’s the way it was directed. This is her only…outlet, this is her way to get crazy and have fun. Whereas she used to just drink into oblivion, now she just lets herself rock out this really great song, which is Sleater-Kinney’s “Jumpers,” and it’s such a good song, and I wish that it was the whole version, but we had to cut it down so I wasn’t dancing for, like, seven minutes, and then I’d have to collapse because I’m so out of shape…
MC: How much attention do you and the rest of the cast pay attention to the critical reaction of the play?
HF: …I found this new surge of confidence in what we were all doing after I read some of the less enthusiastic reviews because I felt like, ‘You just don’t get it,’ and even if you did, I just feel that’s your opinion but I feel this way about it. That’s been an interesting exercise for me because I’ve never been in a play that’s been reviewed like this. I’ve been in a play on Martha’s Vineyard where you get one review in the Gazette and that’s it, or in plays that run for so short that you don’t get reviews. This was an interesting exercise and I’m happy that I didn’t let it affect me.
MC: How is it different acting off-Broadway than it is acting on a college campus?
HF: I wish we had all college audiences! Especially Second Stage [the off-Broadway theater company], which is a very reputable, classy theater, you get almost 80% older people, as I’m sure you saw in the audience. People in their sixties and seventies. I feel like it would take a very unique sixty or seventy year old person to really appreciate this play, or at least that’s the experience… (pause) you know what, I take that back. They could appreciate it but they’re not going to be as vocally appreciative as someone’s whose younger and has more energy. They’re not going to laugh as much, they’re not going to (makes gasping noise), you know, gasp as much, so it’s nice the other day to have a student matinee. You have these people who reacted to, like, everything. It was like being a stand-up comic, everything you did they just loved. They ooo-ed and ahhh-ed and, you know, it got a little irritating near the end but it was so refreshing. You felt like, finally, we have some young people. At college, I guess you’re spoiled because you know that, depending on the play…like, I directed this play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” and I knew that people would laugh at it because their were so many sex jokes, and maybe it was cheap but, you know, if you did that in New York you would need a very specific kind of audience to really react to that the way that everyone at Wesleyan did…
MC: Last question. What comes next?
HF: As of right now, my only plan is to go back to school next semester, and graduate on time, which is nice, because I have some credits saved up from other things, so I have enough credits to graduate. Unless, you know, I get the starring role in the next Martin Scorsese film (laughs). I’m auditioning for a few things, maybe those will work out, but chances are probably not. I don’t what I’m going to do…I don’t really have an interesting answer for that. I wish I did. I was thinking about trying to write a play but every time I try to do that, it’s…too depressing (laughs). It used to come very easily to me, writing plays, and recently it’s become very difficult. Just auditioning for stuff, basically. I have a lot of auditions lined up, so that’s good. [Halley will also be seen in the new film by Noah Baumbach, writer and director of “The Squid and the Whale,” in which Halley also appeared. The film is currently untitled and will arrive theatres sometime next year.]
MC: Actually, I lied. One more question. What’s the one thing you’re most looking forward to going back to campus in the spring?
HF: That’s a good question. Ummm…(pause). Gosh, I’m trying to think of an answer that isn’t dorky. I’m looking forward to being with my friends. I miss them…I love being in New York but I’m going to spend the rest of my life in New York so I’m looking forward to enjoying nice weather eventually, though certainly not at first. I don’t know why they call it the spring semester, there’s just a little chunk of spring at the end. Weirdly, I’m kind of looking forward to going to class, though I’m sure that will end very soon….I don’t think I’ll be able to do theater because I’ll be too busy trying to graduate on time, so that’ll be a little sad. I’m looking forward to delicious sandwiches from Neon Deli, so much. Oh my God. I can’t get a sandwich around here like that.
HF: You know the food in Middletown is so much better than the food in New York City! I get better Thai food there, better sandwiches, better Indian food, better everything. It’s weird, right? I didn’t realize that. So that’s one thing I’m looking forward to. Delicious food.