Published in KPBS On Air Magazine August 1999

A conversation with Darla Cash is not just about her upcoming stage production. It’s about alternative medicine, multiculturalism and music, acupuncture, chaos, Zen, feminism, work, art and, oh yes, theater. The acclaimed local actor/teacher/director/producer/costume designer has a lot on her mind, and she’s intense and passionate about all of it.

“I live in my flesh,” she says, in her often elliptical manner of speaking. “That’s form. Content is what I do… Chaos creates boundaries, and how we deal with that is content….”

And she’s off, on a wild-ride of opinions:

“Entertainment flatters the status quo; art is changing it…

“We’ve told kids ‘Never wonder.’ We need to give them back their dignity – their imagination. Give them the mystery. Our job as theater-makers is to deepen the mystery, not explain it.

“Theater is about reminding people how to be human…. Hopefully, in theater, we can meditate on who we are as people.   Re-engage our sense of wonder.   That’s what I want to give to an audience. We’re trying to crack open the perceptions and make room for people’s own personal journey as they watch.”

Cash is not interested in talking about herself. She doesn’t offer much on her background, although, only as it relates to her current project, she reveals that she has a favorite sister (“because she’s my only sister”) and a brother they lost to AIDS. She admits to an Irish-Welsh-Blackfoot lineage, having been born in Blackhawk County, Iowa and raised in Southern California and Southern Texas.

She doesn’t provide a résumé of theatrical endeavors, though they are many, including years of wonderful acting at the San Diego Repertory Theatre (co-founded by her husband, actor/writer/director Douglas Jacobs) in productions such as “The Women,” “3 Hotels” and “Goodnight, Desdemona, Good Morning, Juliet.”

Her directing has been unique and unforgettable: from the magnificent, 1993 “A Murder of Crows,” staged on the tarmac at Brown Field, to her provocative “Why We Have a Body” (Diversionary Theatre, 1996). These days, she’s extremely selective about her theater undertakings, preferring pieces that promote women.

Her latest project, about which she’s quite excited, is guest directing the West coast premiere of Joan Ackermann’s bittersweet comedy, “The Batting Cage,” at North Coast Repertory Theatre:

In the play, two fiercely different, estranged sisters meet in Florida, to scatter the ashes of their late, much-lamented third sister. One is a neurotic, ultra-feminine, materialistic motormouth, a flitty, flirty, desperately lonely divorcée. The other is an almost catatonic chemical engineer, a jockish, morose twin of the long-suffering deceased (who was the “polestar” of the family); the surviving twin gets off on electric lights and, as the title suggests, baseball.

The work premiered in 1996 at Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays and had an Off-Broadway run in 1997. Most critics liked the writing, if not the play’s resolution, and loved the character and performance (by Veanne Cox) of the fear-ridden, man-hungry yuppie, Julianna.

The Wall Street Journal dubbed it “an unforgettable play. Delightful and magical.” Peter Marks, of the New York Times, called it “a screwball comedy with some amusing touches, mostly in the lampooning of American kitsch.”  

“What’s so clever about the writing,” says Cash, “is that what’s unsaid is as important as what’s said. The unspoken is the dead sister, Morgan. She has to be included in the production, as a primary force, in a sub-textual, even a graphic way. Both these sisters are dealing with that enormous loss. It’s all about displacement. As women do in families, we pass the poison and share it.

“It’s a family play and a feminist play, with an epileptic expression of humor. These sisters have lost their navigating point, their polestar, the glue and bridge between them, and they’re lost. One’s filling the void; the other’s deepening it.”

To Cash, eighty percent of the work of a director is casting well. “You gather people together, create a safe environment for collaboration, and insist that people authentically respond to the material. You hope they can use it as a transformative tool.   Actors need time to ponder and wander, so they can offer something of great tenderness and compassion.”

Cash cast Sandra Ellis-Troy as the late-appearing mother and Michael Severance in multiple male roles.   And, in a delicious surprise, dancer/choreographer Gina Angelique as the taciturn sister and Dana Hooley as hyperverbal Julianna.

“She’s written for an anorexic, chirpy little obnoxious, self-absorbed kind of thing,” says Cash.   “Dana’s the antithesis of that, a paleo-goddess figure.   This play is partly about body image, which is a big part of who we are as women. But, like any great play or story, it deals with love and death, illusion and reality. It’s very contemporary. About us as a country, and us as women. About putting your heart back in your chest and attaching it to your brain.

“One way to do that,” adds Cash, “is to go to the theater. To meditate on our condition in a dark room, with strangers. Theater treats us like intelligent, thinking adults. Movies treat us like children. TV treats us like idiots.”

©1999 Patté Productions Inc.