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The Journey of 'Failure: A Love Story' from a Softball Field to the Douglas

A Conversation with Director Michael Matthews

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The cast of the Coeurage Theatre production of “Failure: A Love Story” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Failure: A Love Story was handed to director Michael Matthews by playwright Philip Dawkins, a friend of Matthews from his days working in Chicago theatre in the early 2000s. It was only fitting that the play should find its first home in Los Angeles at Coeurage Theatre, a company full of transplanted Chicagoans. Now, Failure is playing April 14–23, 2017 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, as the first of three shows in our inaugural Block Party, which remounts recent work from intimate theatres around Los Angeles. A whimsical, exuberant study of life and death, Failure returns to the stage at just the right time.

Failure interweaves poetry and prose and a little bit of music. For a director, it’s like a playground because you can take it and make it your own,” said Matthews.

The show’s journey to the Douglas, however, had unconventional beginnings.

“When we first did Failure, we did it at this tiny little theatre in the middle of a park, next to a softball field. During tech, someone got hit by a softball. We were very fortunate and very lucky to have a fantastic audience that found us and came to see the show. It’s so exciting for us, and I think L.A. theatre as well, that we are able to take this tiny little show that no one knew too much about, and expose it on a bigger level. We couldn’t be happier,” said Matthews.

While an incredibly limited budget and less than optimal rehearsal space can debilitate the development of a show, Matthews and his team turned obstacles into strengths.

The play itself is a big party. It’s a celebration of love and death and life and loss.

“When we did this production a year and a half ago, we were in a tiny classroom with some carpet and folding chairs, just grabbing whatever we could to make it happen. One thing would become an oar and then it would become a banister,” said Matthews. “I had no idea if [Block Party] was going to be a go or not. This was our tiny little show that we did on maybe 10 cents, dental floss, and a prayer. But we knew it was so beautiful and there was something about it that moved people.”

Though the show is pure joyful entertainment, it cloaks complex themes within its exuberance.

“The play itself is a big party. It’s a celebration of love and death and life and loss. It’s all interwoven together—how we celebrate our life, which makes death a little less scary as well, because you are crossing over into another celebration,” said Matthews. “A lot of us, my friends and myself, have been through a lot of loss and a lot of grief, so for us Failure was very special. It was healing for a lot of us, for myself especially. Being able to share this experience and what it was on another platform brings a lot of joy to a lot of people,” he said.

The catharsis Matthews has experienced through directing Failure has informed the way he hopes audiences feel after the show.

“I want audiences to feel that letting go is OK, and to celebrate the life that you have and the death that will come. I know that sounds morose and out there, but that’s really what the play is about. It’s coming in feeling one way and coming out with a bit of a different perspective on how precious and beautiful life is. With where we are right now in the world, and with our political climate, the show provides a bit of a respite and a sanctuary. It lets you feel things that you really want to feel right now without having to worry too much about other things for a good hour and 40 minutes. And it provides closure as well.”

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