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How Marin Ireland keeps the pace in Kill Floor
Welcome to Building Character, TDF Stages' ongoing series on actors and how they create their roles
We can't run our hands around them, but plays have shapes. And often, grasping those shapes – understanding why moments progress in a particular order – means grasping the nature of the entire show. Just look at Kill Floor, whose structure mimics a woman's increasingly desperate fight to keep her life under control.
Now playing in Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 program, Abe Koogler's drama follows Andy, a woman who's trying to reconnect with her son and land a decent job after being released from prison. Neither goal is necessarily in reach. B, her teenage boy, still can't forgive her terrible parenting before she went to jail, and besides, he's busy running the high school gauntlet of sex, peer pressure, and shaky self-esteem. Meanwhile, after looking all over town, Andy can only get hired to work on the kill floor of a local slaughterhouse, terminating cows as they come down the line.
Throw in a tense relationship with her boss and a clumsy attempt to bond with a woman she meets in a supermarket, and Andy spends the play getting closer and closer to losing it altogether. Kill Floor reflects her life by moving between scenes with increasing speed. We get a brief pause between moments at the beginning, but eventually, we transition from one encounter to the next without a break. Andy might be sitting in her boss's office, then simply stand up to indicate she's back in her apartment. The effect is like watching a train pick up speed until it's barreling down a track.
"The play wants to go very quickly in that last third," says Marin Ireland, who plays Andy. "The more we would try to allow for reset moments between those scenes, the less the end of the play would land. There's a line I have in the second kill-floor scene where I say, 'If everything could just stop for a minute… it's going too fast.' I'm talking about all the animals coming along, but we realized, 'Right, she's starting to spin out, too.' If you're successfully following her through this thing, then you should also be experiencing that feeling."
Ireland has to reflect that velocity in her own performance, which is why she and director Lila Neugebauer have paid so much attention to when she does and doesn't leave the stage. Those quick shifts, when Andy changes rooms just by standing or walking a few steps, became crucial to the pacing.
As Ireland says, "We were experimenting with, 'Can we do a transition here? How long is this transition? How long should it be?' Lila would check in with me about it, and I might say, 'Well, that felt too long. I felt like I could reset.' If that happened, I would have to work at continuing that momentum. I would have to sit off stage and figure out a way to keep the motor running."
There are a few moments, however, when Ireland is required to leave the stage, including when Andy goes to take a shower. So how does she keep her energy high, even though she's back in the dressing room getting doused? "I get out of there as fast as I can!" she says. "It sounds silly, I guess, but once I'm backstage again, I try to stay in that meditative thing of focusing on my feet on the floor and focusing on my wet hair. Just trying to stay present to what's happening and what I can hear on stage."
She also relies on small elements in the playwriting. "There's a moment when B is leaving a message for [his friend] Simon, and then I come on leaving B a message," she says. "I watch him, and his exit pulls me on, quite literally. There are little things like that that keep something strange and mysterious happening. I'm not even looking at him, but he pulls me on. There's some way that they're pulling on each other. Little moments like that are enjoyable because they keep the play alive."
TDF Members: At press time, TDF had discounted tickets available for Kill Floor. Click here to see all our member offerings.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel. Top photo: Danny McCarthy and Marin Ireland