Interview: John Clancy and Brian Grace-Duff of Brat Productions’ ‘The Last Plot in Revenge’

Brian Grace-Duff‘s The Last Plot in Revenge is a play unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It is a spaghetti western musical with raw grit, blood, sweat, actual spaghetti, and puppets. How does that grab you? Well, let me tell you, when you get yourself out to Lucy’s Hat Shop at 247 Market Street to check out this gem of a show you, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.  

The show will continue to go on at Lucy’s in the archive space until June 29. For tickets and times, check www.bratproductions.org and bratproductions.ticketleap.com. Also, make sure you’re not faint of heart as there are some sudden loud noises, crashes, and fights that turn realistically violent (and bloody). If  you know anything about Brat shows, they are not trying to hold much back.

This epic story is about two feuding families, the McGruels and the Scrapfields, fighting over the last cemetary plot in Revenege, Mont. Following the spaghetti western narrative, there is one character with a chip on his shoulder lurking in the shadows patiently waiting to act on a personal vendetta. In addition, you’ve got a couple of worn out prostitutes just wanting to keep a meal on the table and to catch a break. One of which is also dealing with an unfortunate case of lockjaw (which is wonderfully portrayed by Sarah Schol).

Directed by Obie-award winning, critically acclaimed off-Broadway director John Clancy, The Last Plot in Revenge is full of unexpected twists and turns (and gunshots, stabbings, fighting, yelling, laughing, and singing). This is all beautifully put together through a truly phenomenal cast and a gorgeous, original score written by Peter Gaffney. And, just when you think this play is already awesome, what makes this experience even better is during intermission you get a bowl of spaghetti with some garlic bread, compliments of Nick’s Roast Beef and Espositos.

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What’s more interesting is the fact Grace-Duff wrote it while he was Brat’s Artist in Residence with the help of Clancy, Gaffney, and the cast, to name a few. It’s truly a collaborative play that demonstrates a sense of cohesiveness that is quite challenging to achieve. Due to the very nature of that collaboration, we are able to see successful and believable portrayals of a group of people struggling to survive and fight for what they think is theirs in a tumbleweed filled, coyotes howlin’ world. By the way: what is possibly one of the more impressive aspects of this production is there are 16 roles and only 8 actors on stage the entire time. Yet, somehow, each cast member is able to successfully and convincingly change into different characters and costumes rather quickly. The talent in this show is quite astounding. 

While I could talk on and on about everything else I enjoyed, I’ll let Grace-Duff and Clancy provide a little more background. two.one.five got the opportunity to have a fantastic chat with them both prior to their wildly successful opening weekend. 

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two.one.five: Can you describe the play in your own words?

Brian Grace-Duff: It’s a tricky play to summarize. One of the biggest challenges and what is something we have continued to discuss as a group is how does film translate on stage. Not in the traditional way, though, but how does it actually have a conversation with the audience that’s cinematic and live. It’s an interesting challenge to put on stage. You have this place called Revenge, Mont., and you have these two families fighting for what they believe is rightfully theirs. Then you have this mysterious gunman called Fossors who has a dark past that’s coming across the landscape; this provides a crossroads of a larger scale fight and personal feud. It all comes down to one moment, one final showdown.

John Clancy: One of the specific challenges of the show is that it’s a spaghetti western and it’s all live. How can you create it all with lights and puppetry and music and this incredible score written by Peter Gaffney. There are these beautiful songs that the actors sing; there’s accordion, harmonica, cello, guitar…it’s just very cool. That’s the big challenge, you know, making something that’s larger scale on a small stage…we also have the actors changing character and moving props around and adjusting the set. I feel like you should never waste an actor’s presence. I don’t like to keep people waiting in a green. This group is more like a band than a group of cast members.

two.one.five: How did you get involved with Brat?

BGD: The company selected me as the artist in residence a year ago. They really just took a chance on me. When I started coming up with the ideas for this play, it just felt like it fit the aesthetic. Once I started having these very specific ideas for a play, Brat assembled this skeleton crew of John, Peter, and I as the lead artists. They also put me and John together in a mentorship program where John was my mentor…the show really does fit in with their aesthetic. It’s very rock ‘n roll and keeps you on the seat of your pants. It’s bending genres where it can’t be pinned down yet it’s still theatrical and still very much an event to experience.

JC: Brat wanted to pick a piece that makes a great evening out. What you end up watching was very carefully put together. Their artistry is very particular and very thought out and thorough. It’s a great deal of fun. It’s an environmental piece of sorts. Brian and I talked in the very early stages of what this play could be and we both shared a very similar aesthetic. What’s really interesting about the Artist in Residence program is they had a lot of applicants. They didn’t go with a crazy post feminist, they went with this weird married guy. When Peter came in with his ideas for the music, it was amazing how extraordinarily we meshed. It’s very rare that a writer, director, and composer spent a majority of the time working together on a play…many companies have this unhealthy hierarchy where the writer comes up with something then the director says yay or nay and the designers can’t even speak until tech week. As opposed to Brat where, as a writer, you can get your ideas out there to everyone involved. We’ve probably had the upwards or 30 or 40 or 50 people weigh in on this play.

BGD: I only had a half page summary of what I thought it would be initially; we weren’t sure if this could be produced at first. I started to write this in a very conscious and unconscious way because I wound up having to write it so fast in order to get the script together. I’d go from image to image. I had problems with the first draft because I had created over 45 different characters, had no music, and it would have lasted about 3.5 hours. It was great working with the other cast members because people would latch onto these ideas in the story and say, “I want more of this.”  For example, I decided that there needed to be a character with lockjaw. Everyone agreed we needed to keep that. We were so fortunate that we could find an actress who could nail that. She’s not able to speak, yet she has the freedom to say whatever she wants. It was important to me to have someone demonstrate what that could mean in a town like this.

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two.one.five: This is for John: What draws you to the off-Broadway spectrum? What do you look for in a play? What makes one worthwhile, in your opinion?

JC: I like to have fun.  We all decided to work in the theater, not in an office, not on a construction site.  We’re allowed and in a way charged with providing entertainment, fun, excitement and sometimes a little craziness for everyone else who doesn’t work in the theater.  So I look for projects that make me smile and laugh.  Also, anything that I have no idea how to do.  Projects that force me to learn new techniques, new tricks.  And beneath that, I like to sit with shows that are dealing with larger issues, things that can’t be spelled out, things about us, our country, our ethos, how we behave, who we are.

two.one.five: Is this your first “rodeo” with the western genre? Sorry, I had to.

BDG: It is my first genre play…. what struck me as I worked through the writing is that I assumed it would be different, but so much of it was the same as how I write. It’s still that world of character, objective, obstacle. That never changes for me. Some of the methods the characters used was different. But not that different, just bigger. intimidation becomes deadly, that sort of thing. The other thing that I do as a writer is let these images or thoughts float and find a home. For a western, rather than conceiving of those images myself I used classics from the genre: the showdown, stalking across the wilderness, the campfire.

two.one.five: For John: what really convinced you to go forward with this play?

JC: Well, it was a job, which was great. It was also a challenging script. Brian and I talked a bit about it and wound up hitting it off quickly. He eventually handed me this script that was just epic and massive. Of course, my initial reaction is how much needed to be cut, but it was still epic and extraordinary. It was truly a challenge, which, as an artist, I’m always looking for things like this. I just really fell in love with the town and the world that Brian had created and the authenticity of this play. Most people thing it’s easy to parody cowboy stuff. You’ve seen that a zillion times. Brian didn’t go down that route. I really loved the challenge of scripting away a lot of the clichés of our past and of the myths associated with cowboys and the old west and get down to the hard reality of it. These people were some incredibly brave, tough people with a great deal at stake and they had to fight for it. I like to do stuff that has a lot to do with this country. The ambition of the piece and its unique take on this country really spoke to me…and it’s funny! We have some absolutely classic lines that just kill you. We have lines that you hear in every action movie you’ve ever seen. It’s just great!

BGD: Yeah, it really just takes you…our goal is you should feel like you might have walked into the wrong bar. But yet, at the same time, there’s some really funny stuff that allows watching this harsh realty worthwhile…This follows the spaghetti western in big moments: the anti-hero with a mysterious past, the town torn in two, the showdown. But I it’s think how we get to those icons or tent poles of the genre that’s pretty specific to this show.

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