Interview with James Ijames

Tue, 11/20/2018

Our chat with James Ijames about his work on Completeness.

  • What attracted you each to this play?
I like Itamar Moses a lot. I like Matt Pfeiffer a lot. I like Mary Toumanen a lot. So those were three big things. With Itamar in particular, I saw Outrage, oh gosh this was maybe 10 years ago at the Wilma, and I was sort of taken by the intense naturalism that is in his world that exists alongside things that are sort of extravagant or big or theatrical. Ever since then I have wanted to work on something of his. When Matt reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in this I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” And then, you know, me and Mary have known each other for years. We have acted together once and were part of a company for 4 years, so it’s nice to come back to that again. I think we get each other in a way that is exciting.
  • How are rehearsals going?
Good. It’s a hard play to memorize.  It’s a hard play to really understand the beats because it moves very quickly with a lot of language and a lot of thought.  A lot of thoughts, plural, I guess I should say. So that’s the challenging part.  It’s a good room though.  It’s a room that is excited by exploration.  It’s a room that is excited by collaboration. So, while it’s sort of like, wow this is a lot of language that I have to speak and make sense of and I’m not a scientist so I’m faking it, I feel super supported, so that’s nice.
  • Has that excitement and that supportive environment been your favorite part of rehearsal?
Yeah, I mean, figuring out the tennis match of the language is so exciting and so rewarding.  In our room the way we do that is through support. I always feel like someone has my back when I am launching into this traveling salesman speech, so that’s a good feeling.
  • How do you think the audience should prepare themselves before coming to see this production?
I think when people hear there is a play about science or computers they expect it to be this sort of esoteric kind of humor. There’s definitely that but it’s mostly about human foibles.  That’s really what the play is about.  How we can’t quite get things right. Those misconnections.  Come in with your romantic comedy brain. Come in knowing you might not understand the theory they are describing but you’ll understand the desire to want to get someone else to understand something that you are passionate about. That’s sort of the thing you have to be prepared to engage with. Come prepared to laugh.  Come prepared to cringe.  You don’t need to read about molecular biology or the traveling salesman problem. Come prepared to maybe see your 20s.
  • You and Mary have a history.  Tell me about it.
The first time I saw Mary Toumanen period, whether that was pedestrian or on stage, was in a production at Shakespeare in Clark Park, and I remember thinking, who is that? Who is this beautiful, Lucille Ball sort of person that I have not encountered? 
I did one of The Bearded Ladies cabarets where she played John Brown and I played Abraham Lincoln at one point. We both came into the theater community as playwrights around the same time and we started Orbiter 3 together. We did Three Sisters together at the Arden which is the first time I got to fall in love with Mary Toumanen onstage. Although she didn’t fall in love with me. We’ve know each other and worked together a really long time. I have always been a big fan of her as a human but also as a creator and a thinker and an activist. I admire her a lot in those ways. A lot of her practices are things that I aspire to and what I share with my students. It’s a long influential relationship between the two of us.