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A ‘Hill’ of a time at the Brick in August

The Brooklyn Paper
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Ian W. Hill is frantically moving large pieces of wooden scenery around the Brick Theater’s stage. For the second year in a row, the Brick has given the entire month of August to Hill, its technical director, to stage three works or his choosing.

“We did all this set painting without realizing that assistant directors Jeff [Lewoncyzk] and Hope [Cartelli] had to do some shooting for a film,” Hill said. “'Bride of Sinister Six' is shooting on off days when I don’t have shows or use of the space.”

Hill is bringing three plays to the Brick: “Spell,” “Everything Must Go,” and Richard Foreman’s “Harry in Love,” with his production troupe Gemini Colllisionworks. “Spell” and “Everything Must Go” are original plays that Hill wrote and are staging at the Brick for the first time, while “Harry in Love” is a new adaptation of a comedy written 40 years ago.

“I start with an idea of a play with bits of text, a setting, and the characters,” Hill said, referring to his two original plays. “I’m still writing it but I need to see the actors working in a space. There’s something about writing specific parts for specific actors that causes you to work differently. You can hear this actor saying something in a way you wouldn’t normally phrase it but it’s appropriate for their character.”

Hill grew up in New York, spending weekends with his father on Fulton Street in Manhattan, before going to film school at NYU in the 1980s. After graduating, he pursued acting and also found that he was particularly adept at the technical aspects of theater production. His productions moved from stage to stage on the Lower East Side before crossing the East River and arriving at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg.

“My worry about Williamsburg was that it was going to skip that artistic renaissance, but it’s not going to be like DUMBO,” Hill said. “There’s still an artistic community here.”

Hill’s plays have continuously evolved after he casts the actors, incorporating speeches and scraps of dialogue, which in turn influence the development of the plot. Originally about a woman who became crazy and was under arrest, “Spell” changed into a play about patriotism and violence.

“The woman became a terrorist of some kind who had done something very bad and it is an examination of what she had done,” Hill said. “The play became something wider, different than I thought it would be.”

Hill cast three actresses, women who speak Arabic, Spanish and Chinese, to play three different voices in the woman’s head, advocating revolution. Much of the dialogue incorporates speeches from Mao Tse Tung, Yassir Arafat and Che Guevara in their original languages. Some of it is subtitled.

“I don’t generally do political art in the past. My art becomes before my politics,” said Hill.

“Everything Must Go,” a dance theater piece, is a dark comedy about a day in the life of an advertising company. The play revolves around a campaign to sell a four-door sedan called the Sorcerer, with its tagline originating from an ambitious intern. Hill collected a number of corporate campaigns that he puts in the mouth of actors, part of a project of his featuring monologues on aspects of American society hidden beneath the surface.

“I’ve been obsessed with bad advertising, especially the weasel language of selling,” Hill said.

Hill is acting in “Everything Must Go” as well, but he plays a more prominent role in “Harry in Love,” a misanthropic vaudeville play by experimental theater icon Richard Foreman.

“It’s the tradition of the 1960s where his plays have large sweaty Jewish men running around yelling at people,” Hill said. “I’m honored Richard thought I could do that.”

“Spell,” “Everything Must Go,” and “Harry in Love” are all in residence at The Brick Theater, 575 Metropolitan Avenue, playing now through August 24. For times and dates, visit www.theatermania.com and www.thebricktheater.com.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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