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Q&A: Joseph Hanreddy, director of ‘Aimee and Jaguar’

Lizzey Johnson, Reporter

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Love, circumstance and contention are braided into the fabric of “Aimee and Jaguar,” an original play gracing the Josephine Louis Theater stage this weekend.

Lillian Groag’s original script spins the intimate relationship of Lilly Wust, a stark German whose husband is off fighting for the Nazi cause during the final days of World War II, and Felice Schragenheim, an unknowingly Jewish girl who is her opposite in ways deeper than Nazi-Jewish conflict. Here, director Joseph Hanreddy describes how he helped “Aimee and Jaguar” find its voice and tells The Current why we should all be listening.

The Current: Tell us about the plot of “Aimee and Jaguar.”

Joseph Hanreddy: It’s a love story between two very different women and takes place in the last days of the Allied bombing attacks on Berlin in the last days of World War II.  The central story and characters are taken from real people and events. Lilly Wust is a young hausfrau with four children and a husband fighting the Nazi cause. She meets Felice Schragenheim through her housekeeper … and there’s an attraction that becomes a fierce and very dangerous love — in the course of which Lilly learns that Felice is Jewish. The women are opposites in ways that go beyond being Aryan and Jewish. The play is really about the mysteries of attraction and how circumstances and timing have as much to do with bringing people together as do all the more romantic notions we carry about love.

The Current: How does it differ from the film?

JH: Both the German film directed by Max Farberbock and Lillian’s play are based on journalist Erica Fischer’s interviews with Elizabeth Wust when she was in her 80s. All are titled “Aimee and Jaguar, the women’s favorite endearments to each other.

The Current: Did you have any unexpected challenges in directing the play?

JH: Well, more like a lot of expected challenges. It’s a new play, a complicated physical production with many different locations, several dance events (the cadre of lesbian girls at the center of the story are in love with American jazz), a large cast and a subject matter that requires visceral, passionate and yet very nuanced acting, all of which needs to be achieved around the theatre department’s very active production schedule and the students’ demanding academic schedule. It’s been an intense few weeks, but the spirit and commitment that the entire team has brought to the project has made it all very rewarding.

The Current: How was your experience working with Northwestern students?

JH: Northwestern is one of the premier theatre programs in the country, and the actors and the team of student set, costume and lighting designers are all extremely talented, focused and very generous of spirit with each other and with me. It’s been a privilege as well as a lot of fun to work with them.

The Current: How does the play relate or appeal to NU students?

JH: I suggested “Aimee and Jaguar” to the theatre department because I thought it would be rewarding for the students to work on and for the campus community to see the premiere of a new play, as well as for the students to work on roles that are close to their own ages. The story is largely about the ordinary experiences of young adulthood — love relationships, dreams about what vocation to follow, a need to prove oneself — magnified several times over by living them in the life-and-death cauldron of the most horrific event in modern history.

The Current: Did any of your past work prepare you for the work you did with “Aimee and Jaguar?”

JH: Sure. All of it, I hope. One of the great rewards of working in the theater is the opportunity to completely immerse in a multiplicity of questions about the nature of life, social concerns, historical time periods, styles of literature and approaches to telling a story. In this case, I haven’t specifically worked on anything that involves the Holocaust, World War II or lesbian love. As far as specifically directing “Aimee and Jaguar,” Lillian first sent me a first draft about three years ago, and shortly after, we were given an opportunity to do a developmental workshop at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Lillian has also had a couple of readings at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Over that time, she’s done several rewrites of the script, and I’ve remained engaged in her progress, refined my ideas about the play and how to best realize a production. We’re both very grateful to Northwestern for the opportunity to finally see the play in front of an audience.

“Aimee and Jaguar” is playing at the Josephine Louis Theater from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. It shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, as well as 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets can be purchased on the Theatre and Interpretation Center’s website and cost $5 for NU students (or $10 at the door).

Email: elizabethjohnson2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @LizzeyJohnson

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