Stage and Cinema Interview: MICHAEL PERETZIAN (Director of DYING CITY at Rogue Machine in L.A.)

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by Tony Frankel on May 4, 2013

in Interviews,Theater-Los Angeles


It turns out that a career as a top literary agent at William Morris and CAA served as a solid stepping-stone for Michael Peretzian’s dream job: directing in theater. As an agent, Peretzian may have represented many distinguished screenwriters and directors, including John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), but he discovered that finding good stories to direct for the theater is what really feeds his soul. Plus, there are neither constraints by risk-adverse investors nor commercial expectations of big agencies in the intimate theater scene, especially in Los Angeles.

Peretzian’s many L.A. credits include Alex Dinelaris’ Red Dog Howls starring Kathleen Chalfant; the West Coast premiere of Talking With by Jane Martin for the Mark Taper Forum’s Taper Too; a staged reading of Truman Capote’s One Christmas (also for the Taper) and A Christmas Memory for Pacific Resident Theatre. At Theatre 40, he directed productions of Michael Cristofer’s The Shadow Box and James Prideaux’s The Orphans. His revival of Christopher Hampton’s Tales From Hollywood (reviewed here) was extraordinarily inventive and his staging of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land at the Odyssey Theatre resulted in one of the best performances I have ever seen in small theater, that of Alan Mandell.

Now, Rogue Machine, a company which has built its reputation on producing new works from good writers, is producing Christopher Shinn’s Dying City with Peretzian directing.

Stage and Cinema: What lit your passion to direct plays?

Michael Peretzian: After earning a teaching credential, a BA in Motion Picture Production, MA in History of the Theater, and an MFA in Directing for the Theatre from UCLA, I taught acting and play analysis at Pasadena Playhouse, until it went bankrupt. So, I began a motion picture career in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency. None of my fellow trainees were interested in representing writers; they wanted to work for agents who represented movie stars. So, I advanced quickly into the Literary Department. I have always believed that quality and commerce were not Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinemainterview with director Michael Peretzian - DYING CITY at Rogue Machine.mutually exclusive concepts. If you could tell a great story, and it was told well, whether it was Out of Africa or Terminator 2, people will pay money to experience it.

That belief continued to work well until I woke up in my beautiful apartment one day and felt dead. I conducted an inventory of my life, trying to remember the last time I felt passionate about anything other than my client list. Then I recalled a workshop that I had done at UCLA on Bertolt Brecht. I felt passionate about building sets for one Brecht play, while rehearsing another, and directing or acting in yet another. So, I contacted one of my college pals who had once asked me if I would direct a play at an Equity-waiver theater in Beverly Hills High School. At the time, I condescendingly declined. This time, I humbly inquired if they might still be interested in working with me. I wound up directing The Seagull, and I felt a spark.

S&C: So, you have a degree in Motion Picture Production. Do you have the same passion for directing film?

MP: Though I studied film as an undergraduate, even then I knew that my mind does not think in a cinematic way. I’m more of a linear thinker, and it’s hard for me not to know what I have until the film is developed. So no, I do not have the same passion to direct film.

S&C: Do you think your career as a literary agent has helped you as a director, and do you find similarities in both jobs?

MP: Working with such talented artists gave me an opportunity to learn their techniques on the set of their movies, and from the problems they solved during production. I benefitted in seeing my clients deal with actors who were the thoroughbreds of their profession. When there is passion, the experience as a literary agent and as a director in the theater is similar, especially when you can take Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinemainterview with director Michael Peretzian - DYING CITY at Rogue aspiring writer with no credits and find for them their first job as a professional. When I direct a play that I love, and see an audience respond to it in the way I hoped they would, that’s a similar satisfaction.

S&C: What do you hope that audiences will get from Dying City?

MP: Christopher Shinn’s play is rare with respect to American playwriting in that it exists in a realistic world of the grief and self-destructive potential we have in human nature. Audiences will relate to that, but the writing and the psychological makeup of these characters linger in the mind for a long time after people have seen it, and it evolves as a kind of metaphor for the social and political dangers we are experiencing in a subliminal way in our daily lives. It is not surprising that Dying City premiered at the Royal Court in London before coming to America: The English know how to write this way. It is in their DNA.

I agree with the New York Times that this Pulitzer Prize finalist is the clearest-eyed view of the Iraq war from an American playwright, but it is a lot more, and I anticipate audiences will feel that too.

photos by John Flynn

Dying City
Rogue Machine Theatre, 5041 Pico Blvd.
plays May 18 – July 8, 2013
for tickets, call 855-585-5185 or visit

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