entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark
Last summer Judy Braha agreed to direct A.R. Gurney's comedy "Sylvia" for The New Repertory Company, even though it's not the kind of play she usually does.
"I'm an absolute dog fanatic," she begins, "but I saw some things in the play that made it something besides a comedy about a man falling in love with his dog --- who happens to be played by a young woman.
"People open their hearts to animals, responding to their unconditional love, which is quite different from conditional human love for other people. And if we're lucky, the response to that unconditional love can maybe get transferred to one's fellow human beings.
"There's an element of mid-life crisis as well about this story of a rigid personality warming and softening and emerging as quite a different sort of personality at the end of the play."
And what sort of plays was she usually connected with?
"Well, 'Bent' is all about the cruelties inflicted on homosexuals by the Nazis. 'Thatcher's Women' that I directed for The Nora Theater Company dealt with the effect of government economic policies on ordinary people."
She directed Terrence McNally's "A Perfect Ganesh" for The Nora Company, which dealt with the ways two very different women came to terms with their lives while on a vacation tour of India. "I'm going to do 'Our Country's Good" at B.U. immediately after I finish here at The New Rep. It's a play about the necessity for the N.E.A. --- a play about the healing power of the arts and why cultural values are essential to a sane society."
Judy Braha teaches acting and directing in a Boston University program of intensive training intended for undergraduate-level students whose dedication to theater makes them concentrate harder on this than they ever would on more academic subjects.
"But I don't consider myself a director who does some teaching, or a teacher who occasionally directs. I'm a person of the theater with a serious commitment to social issues and a belief in the power of the arts to change people's lives."
With Neill Armstrong, she was one of the founders of The New Ehrlich Theater in Boston's South End. "Neill had a home there, and there were artists' studios and galleries in the area, but no theater. And back in 1979 my car got broken into once a week. But Neill wanted to change things, and we committed ourselves to bringing the newest off-Broadway plays to Boston. We won awards for doing that, but we changed the neighborhood too. Then, as with most enterprises, the direction changed, and now what is The New Theater, with different financing and more of an emphasis on training, is what grew out of the original New Ehrlich."
The busy director took an hour to talk of these things, but the play was moving into the theatre. "I habitually focus on an image of what the play ought to look like, and I'm habitually surprised at the physical reality of the stage," she admitted, cheerfully. "Now we're in that inevitable process of reconciling my vision with what it's possible to compromise on."
"Sylvia" opens at The New Repertory Company this week, and will run till the sixteenth of February.