Fortune was Grottesco’s first major production created in the U.S. after Elizabeth Wiseman and John Flax moved the company from Paris. After touring three small shows, the company was ready for something bigger, in spite of a small show budget. John, Elizabeth, and Paul Herwig were staying in the 4th floor apartment of an old Victorian house just up the Hudson from NYC. They funded the show by painting houses. After 10-12 hours of painting, they’d take dinner onto the roof to imagine the new show.
Inspired by “The Signal”, a strange short story by Allen Wheelis, Fortune would be a series of imagistic vignettes in multiple styles, like a necklace of arias, that would tell the story of a Fortune Cookie Factory during the depression, its workers, boss, and the enigmatic novelist who came to write the fortunes. They created the factory rhythms with bamboo poles and wooden discs where the factory workers were clearly part of the machinery. Other scenes used silent Bahl masks showing customers reacting to the fortunes without speaking, a Commedia dell’arte scene to show the owner’s greed, a gesture-based dance where each character’s gestures came from their movements in the factory, a stop-action lunch scene and plenty of restrained comedy in an overarching melodrama.
The first cast included the three Americans along with Lecoq colleague Lilo Bauer from Switzerland, and two actors from Poland and Spain. By the time the others arrived, each scene was well imagined and quick to put on its feet. Final rehearsals happened at the sanatorium in Las Vegas, NM where a friend of the company had a friend who had a friend. The show premiered at the Kimo Theater in Albuquerque in 1987. It toured the U.S. for 2 years, was remounted (and reworked 3 times), and was seen three times in Santa Fe (1987, 1999, 2007), each remount bringing new actors into the piece. Fortune became the first in a U.S. trilogy followed by The Richest Deadman Alive! and Wenomadmen. The 2007 production was produced in the old Healy Mathews building. Grottesco was showcasing warehouses converted into sizable black box theaters with the hope of creating a permanent Santa Fe black box theater. This was Grottesco's 2nd conversion and they learned a valuable lesson on shade trees. The Healy Mathews didn't have any. Other than that, it served them well, but a home theater dream is still spinning in the ether over Santa Fe, waiting for its time and place.
“Fortune being my first performing experience with Grottesco many decades ago, I remember was so exciting as I could use my physical training and adapt to the style of the company. I especially loved the simplicity, yet detailed specificity of the sack lunch scene. I also have some vague memory of playing the mother in the restaurant scene—was I wearing a dress?”
"There is something incredibly satisfying about being a part of a dynamic, rhythmic, cacophonous, melodic human machine on stage. Thirteen years later I can still vividly feel the bump-ba-da-bump-bump of the factory discs, the clickety click of Aimée’s shoes, the graceful whoosh and sloping angles of the café scene, the spinning jibber jabber of the reporters’ voices, and the eerie stillness when tragedy sets in. There are so many extraordinary moments in this beautiful play, and I remember marveling at the innovation and the brilliant technical bits as I learned the role of Rachel – studying tape of the sensational Elizabeth Wiseman. I felt so alive and vital in this ensemble. It was sweaty and romantic and boisterous and bawdy and I loved every second of it. The 2007 production will forever be marked by a severe mid-June heat wave that perhaps provided an all-too-real factory experience for us and our audiences at the Healy Matthews Warehouse-turned-black box theater. It was well over 90 degrees backstage in that first weekend before we rigged up an amazing cooling apparatus to keep us from passing out. At the time I know we were all deeply stressed by this situation, but in retrospect, it feels like another fantastical and essential element of this magical piece of theater."