Director Joey Arena on Alley’s Apocalyptic Two-man Show

Another month has come and gone and that means it’s time for yet another premiere at Louisville’s The Alley Theater. Debuting this Thursday evening (Dec 29), Some Things You Need to Know Before the World Ends (A Final Evening with the Illuminati)’ is set in a church on the eve of the apocalypse, with Reverend Eddie delivering his final sermon alongside his assistant Brother Lawrence and a fervent congregation (as played by the audience). As described by the Alley, what follows is a series of crazy skits, “such as Saint Paul and Saint Timothy discussing the role of women in religion and […] a whacked-out game of basketball against the most formidable of opponents: Death.

Written by Larry Larson and Levi Lee, ‘…Illuminati’ made a huge splash in Louisville at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 1986 and has since cemented its place as a regional theater staple across the country. Director Joey Arena has found himself at the reins of this latest iteration of ‘…Illuminati’ to grace the Derby City and recently sat down with for a brief interview:

Director Joey Arena

LouKY: How did you become involved with this production? Had you had any previous exposure to this piece or others from Larson and Lee?

Arena: In 1986 when Illuminati pre-premiered at the Humana Festival I was working in the box office at Actor’s Theater.  I went to see it opening night and loved it so much I saw it again every night of the festival. I had previously seen their play “Tent Meeting” at an earlier Huama Fest and loved it as well.  We had been discussing doing the show at The Alley for years and it was just the right time, what with the world ending in 2012 and all…  And I would have been royally pissed if I wasn’t allowed to direct it.

LouKY: What is it about ‘…Illumanati’ that keeps it relevant and fresh, now being more than twenty years old?
Arena: Well, as the old saying goes: “Insanity, Religion, Comedy and Conspiracy Theories never go out of style.”  There’s really nothing dated about this show.  Except for one reference to a statistic that just recently changed (The winningest coach in college basketball) the show could have been written yesterday.  The relationships and themes are pretty universal and timeless.
LouKY: What specific challenges have you and the cast faced in bringing forth this material to the Alley Theater and do you feel that the piece suits the venues unique character?
Arena: No challenges but the short production schedule really. Compared to my last show (“Evil Dead: The Musical”) this show is a cake walk as far as the technical aspects. With a cast of only two actors, we can really get more in depth with the material a lot faster as well.  Being as both my actors are writers it helps the textual analysis fly by too.  In fact I feel a little out of my league sometimes around these guys.

As for the venue… This play takes place in an abandoned dilapidated church, which in my over 15 years experience with The Alley could describe most of our theaters without building a single set piece.  Seriously though, this is the sort of play we used to do in the first days of the theater.. character driven, slightly odd, and a hair of controversy thrown in for our own amusement.  It raises some interesting questions and deserves to be done more than it has been.. it’s definitely an “Alley Theater style” show.

LouKY: To what kinds of audiences does ‘…Illuminati’ have the most to offer and which elements are you most excited about seeing realized?
'...Illuminati' stars JP Lebangood and Paul Curry

Arena: There’s really no specific audience that I think would get more out of this than any other.  It’s a comedy, it’s religious based but doesn’t denigrate it any more than it exalts it. I think it’s a show for people who like to think and like to laugh.  Regardless of your religious upbringing we all know most of the references and forms, and I’m most interested to see who the audience sympathizes with the most between the two characters.  I’m also very interested in seeing how my version stands up to my fond memories of the original without it being a total rip-off of the original director’s vision.  And props.  This show has some really weird props.

LouKY: How has your cast reacted to the material?
Arena: Both Paul and JP have fairly religious backgrounds so they had to explain a bit of it to me to begin with.  They both appear to really enjoy the script and the challenges the various characters they portray present.  I think the biggest challenge so far has been finding those distinctions as to not overlap the characters in the visions with the two main characters of Eddie and Lawrence.  They’ve done a fantastic job with it though.
LouKY: Any other thoughts on the production?
Arena: This is a wonderfully reverent yet irreverent play, the humor runs from from broad to subtle from the ridiculous the the sublime.  I really hope folks take a moment to see it.  I think it’s one of those shows that’ll keep them talking all the way home.
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