Hi, I'm Fringe :: Interview with Better A Witty Fool and Coping

Written on July 14, 2016

Louis James Brenner is the playwright of Falstaff Production’s Better A Witty Fool, a debacle of shakespearean proportions on Capital Hill.

Better a Witty Fool is actually a sequel to To Err is Falstaff!!, my show last year. It’s the same group of Shakespearean characters as corrupt, selfish political advisors to equally corrupt and selfish politicians. When starting these plays I thought, ‘what are the two things Washingtonians like the most?’ Politics and Shakespeare. There are many Shakespeare theaters in this city, so it made sense to take the two and make a mashup.

After I graduated from college I came to D.C. as a diplomat, so I’ve worked and been friends with politicians throughout my life. The stories you see are real life stories. I start with a pretty broad idea, then come up with the characters, and then start writing a story arc. I’m taking all the turmoil you see in Shakespeare – all the violence, treachery, the failure – and catapulting it into present day Washington.

Shakespeare is like Quentin Tarantino. He needed to make money at a time when playwrights and actors didn’t make money. So what did he write about? Sex, violence, and treachery: things that make movies and TV so popular. The characters he wrote about fit in today, especially with the upcoming November election. Though when I wrote this play several months ago, I could have never imagined that we’d be in the situation we are right now.

It’s so important for people to understand what’s going on in this country. It’s also important that when people come out to Fringe – they spend a lot of money, a lot of them live in the suburbs, it’s hard to get over here – that it’s going to be an experience that they get a lot out of, and that makes them think, and more importantly makes them laugh. In this city, we don’t have enough laughter. We need more people laughing.

Josh Kelley directed Green Spark Productions’ Coping, a darkly comedic meditation on loss and mental illness.

Coping is the second play in a series of three, about mental illness and suicide. I directed the first play in 2013. Coping was developed for New York Fringe last summer, and this year with a new group of artists, Jacob and I reinterpreted it for Capital Fringe.

I directed a show last summer, The Word on the Wasteland, and that was my introduction into the D.C. theatre scene. I just fell in love with it. This year, I decided to try Fringe, brought a story that I loved and wanted to share with the community that had shared so much with me.

What I love about D.C. is that the plays are provocative–asking really big, pertinent questions. It’s such a good fit, not just for the play, but for me as an artist. The community has been incredibly welcoming. It’s amazing how many people have come together to make this possible.

From Coping, audiences can expect a lot of laughing and crying, often at the same time. They will be asked big, tough questions, and examine big-word human experiences: mental illness, suicide, and gun control. They will be painted a very human picture. They will see themselves in the characters, even the parts they might not want to see.

What I’ve taken from this experience is to let the best idea in the room win. There isn’t a lot of time nor resources, so we really have to be creative and bring our full selves to the process. It’s about putting the storytelling first, even in the story’s most precious moments. The idea for the last moment of our play wasn’t mine, and as a director, that can be a very heart-wrenching thing. Then you realize if it serves the story well, it wins. It’s about being selfless in the storytelling process.

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