Meet the Cast of ‘Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’ at American University: Meet Jesse D. Saywell

In our series of interviews with the director and cast of American University’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, meet cast member Jesse D. Saywell.

Jesse D. Saywell.

Jesse D. Saywell.

Joel: Introduce yourself to our readers and tell them what other shows you have appeared in and some of the roles you have played.

Jesse: My name is Jesse D. Saywell, and I’m a senior at American University. On the collegiate level, I’ve performed as Collins in RENT at Salisbury University, as well as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls, Brad in The Rocky Horror Show, and Drugger in The Alchemist – all at American University. I made my professional debut in June of 2013 playing the role of Beppo in the original workshop cast of Enchanted April: A New Musical at Arena Stage.

Why did you want to be in Women on the Verge at AU and what did you sing at your audition?

I thought Women on the Verge… would present itself as a challenge to me as an actor, and as a senior I wanted to enjoy one more fall musical here at AU.  For my audition, I sang a selection of “Yesterday, Tomorrow and Today” from the show, as we were given that option. It was probably one of the weaker auditions I’ve ever given, but fortunately Carl was familiar with my abilities, and my callback was much better. It’s often very nice to have a short memory when auditioning.

Had you seen the show on Broadway, and if yes, what did you like the most about it and what did you not like about it? Why do you think it only ran for only 69 performances?

I did not see the show when it was on Broadway, but I’ve watched the whole show on Youtube. Quite frankly, I didn’t like very much about it. I think it only ran for 69 performances because it doesn’t have name recognition and it was too wildly absurd, and they focused WAY too much on making it absurd.

What does Women on the Verge… have to say to your generation of theatregoers?

I’m not sure. I think they’ll enjoy the insanity of it and the humor, but I wouldn’t say it’s a show that directly appeals to the younger generation.

The cast of 'Women on the Verge of a Nervouse Breakdown.'

The cast of ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.’

Who do you play in Women on the Verge…, and how do you relate to him? 

I play the role of Ivan. I really couldn’t be more different from the role of Ivan, but there’s one thing that I do understand about him, and that is the fact that he lives in the moment. In the moment he is truly sincere.

What do you admire about your character and what do you not admire?

As I said, I admire his sincerity, but I can’t say I admire his treatment of women. While I don’t believe the character ever wants to hurt anyone, he is simply a very self-consumed man. I believe he knows how to love, but he gets bored with one thing quickly and moves on to the next.

What have been the challenges you have encountered while preparing for your role and how have you overcome these challenges? How did your director, Carl Menninger, help you to overcome these challenges?

There have been numerous challenges for me, but the biggest one with preparing for this role was just finding the consistency in my physicality. I struggle at times with consistency in acting, especially from a physical perspective, and Carl (as well as Robb Hunter) has been incredibly supportive and helpful throughout this process by talking me through it in numerous different ways until we found one that worked.

What are your solos in the show and what do we learn about your character when you sing it?

In the song “Microphone,” you see that Ivan really wants his son, Carlos, to be like him and wants to help him by giving him the “how to talk to girls” talk. However, you also see that Ivan is much more capable in that department and it comes much easier to him than Carlos, which causes frustration for both of them.

In “Yesterday, Tomorrow & Today,” Ivan explains his philosophy on love: love is real, but sometimes the faces change. It’s in this song where the audience understands that Ivan isn’t just a raging misogynist (though he definitely is that), but someone who truly knows how to love – just not forever. For Ivan, he can’t seem to imagine life without someone…. until tomorrow comes around.

What have you learned about yourself – the actor and singer- during this whole process?

Well I’ve learned first of all that I can sing a baritone role and pull it off (I’m naturally a high tenor). As an actor I’ve found more consistency and an ability to be grounded on the stage and comfortable with my physicality.

How do you describe the David Yazbek score you get to sing?

Well I’ve learned first of all that I can sing a baritone role and pull it off (I’m naturally a high tenor). As an actor I’ve found more consistency and an ability to be grounded on the stage and comfortable with my physicality.

The women of ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.’ From left to right: Linda Bard, Kendra McNulty, Izzy Smelkinson, Kendall Helblig, and  Nia Calloway.' Photo by Murugi Thande.

The women of ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.’ From left to right: Linda Bard, Kendra McNulty, Izzy Smelkinson, Kendall Helblig, and Nia Calloway.’ Photo by Murugi Thande.

What is your favorite song that you are not performing and why? What is your favorite scene in the show and why?

My favorite song in the show is probably the opening number, “Madrid”. It’s got a very cool feel, it makes you want to dance, and absolutely ridiculous lyrics. My favorite scene in the show is the scene when the police come to Pepa’s apartment. It’s a scene that includes many aspects of a classic British farce, and therefore it’s very much a different type of humor from the rest of the show. My directorial debut was a modern British farce called Tom, Dick, & Harry by Ray and Michael Cooney, so farce is near and dear to my heart.

What do you want audiences to take with them after watching you perform in Women on the Verge…?

My goal with theater is always the same: I hope the audience enjoys themselves. It sounds simple and obvious, but I don’t go into any show hoping to move audiences to tears or make them “discover” something. I simply want them to have a good time and have a few good laughs.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown plays through October 25, 2014 at American University’s The Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre – 4200 Wisconsin Avenue, in Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 885-2587, or purchase them online.

Performance Dates:
October 24-25, 2014 at 8 PM and October 25, 2014 at 2 PM. 

LINKS
Read Douglas Lloyd’s review of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Meet the Director and Cast of American University’s ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’: Meet Director Carl Menninger.

Meet the Cast of ‘Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’ at American University: Meet Patrick Kavanagh.

Meet the Cast of ‘Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’ at American University: Meet Sarah Yoney.

Meet the Cast of ‘Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown’ at American University: Meet Jesse D. Saywell.

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