By Jamie Gesell
Matthew Pezzulich is a senior theater design technology major in the Honors College at Adelphi University. Pezzulich, who is from Franklin Square, NY, has participated in various theater events at AU, such as the Kennedy Center and American College Theater Festival. He recently directed “Antigone” on campus, which ran from March 29 to April 3 and is based on an Ancient Greek fictional tragedy by Sophocles. The folklore involving Oedipus and his children rooted in truth, feeling and catharsis, follows the main character Antigone illegally burying her brother Polynices and dealing with the tyrant king, Creon. The Delphian recently spoke with Pezzulich about his work on this and other productions.
As a theater kid, he said he has been inspired by numerous musicians such as Stephen Sondheim, Kate Bush and Bjork. Music, in particular, has been a huge influence for him. He said whenever he starts a new project, he makes a related music playlist.
“Almost predominantly, I’d say the first thing I do when I start a project is I make a playlist of music that I feel fits either tonally, lyrically or somewhere in between,” he said.
After seeing Deaf West’s production of “Spring Awakening'' in 2015, he developed an interest in directing. With his success in the Kennedy Center Festival, where he was a regional awardee for their directing intensive and invited to the national program, he made the decision to direct a whole production in January 2021. He then contacted the Theater Department and was given permission to fully direct “Antigone,” making it his first full director play.
There were many reasons why Pezzulich chose to direct “Antigone.” He said one was because of the theater history course he took in fall 2019 with Professor Brian Rose.
“When we read it, I remember I had such a difficult kind of understanding, not why she wanted to still bury her brother, because like, obviously, I understand that’s the way that you honor the dead. But why would she do that at this risk of her own life,” he said.
He critically reflected on it, which fueled his interest in one day directing a play version. He also chose “Antigone” because of the pandemic. He explained it was during the shutdown that his grandmother passed away, specifically in the last week of 2020. He had funeral proceedings for her with his whole family. During that process, it reminded him of Antigone. “I remember going like ‘oh, this is why Antigone did what she did,” he said. Honoring the memory of his grandmother connected him to the plot of “Antigone.”
Pezzulich was awarded a summer research fellowship from the Honors College to do research for the show last year. The fellowship also allowed him to talk to many professionals in the theater industry about the direction the business was going and Covid’s influence over it. When it came to auditioning for the play, Pezzulich held them in a particular way.
“I asked specifically for a Greek monologue to be auditioned with and a poem that spoke to each individual auditioning as an artist,” he said.
When auditions were done, he sent his list to Maggie Lally, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor in the theater department. Pezzulich credits Lally as a big help for his show. “She was basically the representative for me in meetings and my advocate,” he said.
When eight actors were cast from the auditions, they and the rest of the production collaborated with the Dance Department. According to Pezzulich, junior dance student Claire Gaylor and her associate Julia Lawton worked together to create much of the choreography for the play. Three dancers performed in the play alongside the actors, making it a total cast of 11.
There were challenges Pezzulich faced on the way, one of the biggest being a lack of time.
“Spring break was in the middle of our process so we wound up losing five days,” he said.
Another challenge was keeping the play fun for the cast members. “Part of the challenge was to make the process fun so that it wasn’t like ‘Oh, God’ I have to go perform and think about family members dying and I have to build up all of this intention to get out this performance.”
There was still a “general excitement” as he put it within the cast and crew to perform “Antigone.”
Pezzulich is extremely proud of how things turned out. He’s most proud of the attendance. He said there were around 45 people for each night of the performance.
“Just the actual nature of people coming to it is something that makes me proud,” he said.
He also cites the hard work of his cast and crew. “I’m proud of the work everyone did and I’m proud of myself that I created the room for that to happen,” he said.
His favorite part of the play, he said, was the Creon-Hamon debate because, as he put it, “I like `Paradise Lost’ and it feels very reminiscent of the God and Jesus debate in that book.”
After Adelphi, Pezzulich plans to pursue directing as a career, still using Ancient Greek plays as a resource. “There’s something about Ancient Greece that I don’t want to leave, especially just with how much I put into it the past year. It feels weird walking away from that,” he said.
For anyone aspiring to be a director like Pezzulich, he advises them to keep a “level head and to “trust everyone in the room” because, as he said, “you have to give people the chance to rise to the occasion.”
To learn more about upcoming plays and performances on campus, visit https://www.adelphi.edu/pac/.