[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts theatre interview with Dina Morrone about her play Moose on the Loose, directed by Peter Flood, produced by Dina Morrone and Benjamin Scuglia, and returning to Theatre West April 14–May 21.
Dina Morrone has been a mainstay of Theatre West for many years. I was fortunate to see her brilliant one-woman show, The Italian in Me last year…it was excellent!! Funny, inventive, brutally honest, much like its very talented writer and performer.
Moose on the Loose is Dina’s semi-autobiographical play about an actual moose and is also very loosely about her own family and living in Canada. It sounds absolutely brilliant and I will be happily reviewing the play in a couple of weeks. But, I had a few questions for Dina about the story and her work as a playwright and performer.
Hi Dina, so is this a play about an actual moose?
This play is based on an actual event that occurred one day in my hometown in Canada.
In 2010, I was on the telephone with my mother, Angelina, who speaks broken English with a thick Italian accent. We were discussing earthquakes, mudslides, and raging fires in LA. My mother said, “Well, we don’t have to worry about any of those natural disasters up here in northern Ontario. It’s cold, and we have a lot of snow, but the most that can happen is that a moose wanders out of the bush.” I thought she was being funny. She said that a few days prior, a large moose had wandered out of the bush from across the street and strayed into her Polish neighbor’s backyard, where it got stuck in a small camper trailer. The situation caused quite a commotion in the neighborhood, and it was a big news story. My father said the Moose was in the wrong place and didn’t belong in the city. I argued that the Moose was in the right place and that we were in the wrong place. And that man moved into these remote places, built homes on land once populated by nature, wildlife, and indigenous people, and pushed large forest animals out of their natural habitat. And so, when a moose wanders into our neck of the woods, it’s doing so because it was once home. And yet now, the Moose is made to feel like it’s in the wrong place.
I saw the Moose on the loose as a perfect metaphor for displaced people. The Moose is displaced. Indigenous people are displaced. Immigrants in a new land feel displaced. And the children born to immigrant parents feel confused and displaced and don’t know where they fit in. And sometimes you can’t go home once you’ve made the big move because when you do go back, everything has changed for you, not just the place but your state of mind. And so, where do you belong, and who gets to decide where you belong?
Tell us about your experience as a child of immigrants and how this relates to the play.
My experience as a first-generation Canadian to Italian immigrant parents is not unique.
I grew up in a city where nearly everyone, except for the Indigenous people of the land, the Ojibway people, were all immigrants. All my friend’s parents were either Italian or from somewhere else in the world. Even the ones who spoke English had thick Scottish, Irish, or English accents. And so, we all had a lot in common.
The play talks about the communication breakdown with Immigrant parents, the cultural differences, and the divide that happens when two cultures clash.
As a child of immigrant parents who didn’t speak English well, you were always explaining things, trying to get them to understand that times have changed, cultures are different in the new land, and that sometimes you are ashamed that your parents don’t speak English or that they don’t have the means, and sometimes they say things and mispronounce words, and that can be very embarrassing for a child.
When you get older and write a play, you realize just how courageous they were and how courageous any immigrant is to be able to leave their homeland, leave everything and everyone behind and start a new life in a foreign land. And then you begin to reflect on how much they did for you, what they taught you, and what they are going to leave behind, not in the form of money, but traditions and cultural enrichments, and of course, their stories.
How did you come to the collaboration with the director Peter Flood and Theatre West?
When I first moved to Los Angeles from Rome, Italy, I met director, dramaturge Peter Flood, who is the current Playwrights and Directors Unit director at the Actors Studio.
Peter was one of the moderators at West End Theatre Group, a theatre group that met weekly at the Odyssey Theatre. I attended the weekly workshops and then went on to produce a play for the group, called Spoiled Women, by Wendell Wellman, which Peter directed. I also performed one of the characters in the play. That experience connected me to Peter and his working style, which worked for me.
When it came time to get serious about getting my one-woman show, The Italian In Me, staged for its world premiere, I asked Peter to direct it. It was the best decision. He is brilliant.
He is a master of dialogue. Every word on the page is there for a reason, and Peter’s goal is to ensure all actors know what they are saying, why they are saying it, and to whom they are saying it. And that all the words are important. That’s why they are on the page.
He also encourages actors to own the part and to trust the dialogue.
I love working with him and have loved it all these years. I call him ‘Saint Peter.’
When it came time to get Moose on the Loose staged, I called on Peter. He was also a big part of shaping and dramaturgy. We workshopped it a lot at Theatre West in the Tuesday night writer’s workshop. And got it up in 2011. When it came time to get it re-mounted for this production, again, I turned to Peter. He gets me. He gets my dialogue and he understands the material, and I love what he brings to the piece.
How has creating this show changed you?
When I was first inspired to write the play, I thought it would be a 20-minute comedy about a Moose. But as I began expanding on it, I realized it was not just a comedy. It grew to a one-hour one-act play, and then an actor whom I’d met at the West End Theatre Group, Phil Parolisi, who read the lead part in the early readings, came up to me after the one-hour version and told me that this play was about something much bigger than what I was putting up. It was much more than a comedy and way more profound, and I needed to write it. Of course, I resisted and thought no way, I’m not doing that!
But then I started exploring and realized there was more heart and emotion to the piece, but that would involve tapping into my family life and upbringing.
Which brings me to a quote that I heard in a radio interview about Moose on the Loose, when it was picked up and produced up at the Sudbury Theatre Centre in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
The director of the play, invited a group of newly arrived Syrian refugees to see the play. The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio station got wind of it and invited them to the station to be interviewed and talk about the show and their experience of seeing their first play in Canada.
This is what the one person who spoke for the group said, “The play is very funny, but a play needs to be more than just funny. It needs to be about something, and this play is about something very important.”
I am glad I took Phil’s advice and expanded on the play.
The play is set in the run-up to the millennium. Was this a factor?
Yes, it was a factor. This play is not about the current immigration situation. Although all immigrants experience the same thing and struggle and suffer the same, this is about the immigrant experience of those who came to Canada around the late 50s to early 60’s when the last real wave of immigration happened in Canada. Most of those people are no longer around. I get very emotional when I think about their struggles, challenges, poverty, and heartache at leaving their towns and families behind, sunny weather, olive, fig, and lemon trees, only to find weather temperatures that dipped into minus 40 Celsius and snow blizzards. Talk about a shock to the system. I think about all the people I met growing up… so many vivid memories.
Yes, it was vital for me to place it in that time before everyone had a cell phone and before everyone was preoccupied with social media.
How would you advise someone on writing and producing a play?
Great question. Wow. Be prepared to sit for hours and hours and hours and hours alone, writing, re-writing, and then re-writing so many more times. And then workshopping it in a writer’s group or theatre company and hearing it out loud. And then, of course finding brilliant actors to be cast in the roles, finding that director that gets you, understands your voice, and collaborates with you. And then, of course, finding a small theater to get it up on its feet.
Any other thoughts?
Live theatre is a living thing. It’s exciting because it is LIVE. You will never see the same performance twice. Ever. Every night brings new discoveries. The audience is a big part of the whole experience. Whether it is a comedy or a drama, you can feel their energy.
I want to thank all who get in their car and drive across town to see plays in small theaters and those who support them. They are the ones who help us keep small theaters alive.
Small theaters are a very important part of the artistic and creative fabric of the LA art scene. Many theaters closed during the pandemic, and many are struggling, and yet, over the years and today, small theatres continue to put out wonderful works, new works, children’s plays, experimental pieces, and plays that go on to bigger theaters across the world, and Off-Broadway, like a very recent production of Our Man In Santiago by Mark Wilding, directed by Charlie Mount, which was produced originally at Theatre West by Benjamin Scuglia(my co-producer on Moose on the Loose) and went on to a successful run Off-Broadway! Plays start somewhere, usually in small theaters, with artists passionately committed to the process and to getting their stories told.
Once again, thank you to all who support intimate theatre!
Lastly, I would like to say something my director Peter, said in his director’s notes in the program. “There are two approaches to this subject. Fortunately for us . . . you, me, the cast and crew, Theatre West . . . Dina Morrone has chosen humor over melodrama. So, her ‘Moose’ falls into the category of idiosyncratic (character-driven) humanist comedy – how can it be anything else with a title like Moose on the Loose – alongside George S. Kaufman (You Can’t Take it With You) and the films of Sicilian born Frank Capra where behavior is the story and every character is given time to be seen, heard and remembered. Whether they stand at the center or the edge of the narrative action, each is important. What they say and how they say it affects all of us.
One last thought . . . humanist comedy generally retains a qualified optimism on the subject of human behavior without believing all people can live up to “the better angels of our nature” (as Abraham Lincoln once said) without help. “
Thank you so much Dina for such brilliant answers to my questions! We love to hear how artists create and why.
Moose on the Loose opens on April 14 and runs through May 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm.
Los Angeles is a theatre town, don’t you believe otherwise! With hundreds of shows being performed every weekend, in spite of losing far too many theatres during the pandemic. Theatre West was nearly one of them, but the gods and generous benefactors intervened and we are grateful that the longest-running theatre in Los Angeles is still well and truly with us. With an amazing season ahead!