How do you make people care about a play about three bank robbers who seem to hate each other? If you ask Cordie Nelson and Jack Schultz, who directed The Agency Theater Collective’s new Jeff Recommended-show, Tres Bandidos, playing now through Sept. 15, the answer is to focus on the love.
Starring Cody Lucas, Guy Wicke and Joe Lino, Tres Bandidos is a modern take on a Western. It’s about three men who all have difficult pasts with each other are holed up together in a dingy motel room in Texas after they get lost on the way to a bank robbery. As they wait out a brutal storm, the ticking clock puts their heist into jeopardy, and tensions rise, pushing them to the breaking point.
The show is filled with a lot of anger and violence, but Nelson and Schultz say the characters’ anger at each other is really rooted in their love for each other, and by accessing that, they could make the characters more sympathetic.
“These people connect pretty deeply, but on the surface it could be these three dudes in a hotel room just shouting at each other,” Schultz says. “We just had to find where they can connect.”
Nelson agrees. “I wanted to tell a truthful, loving version of the show,” she says. “I wanted to find as much love in it as I could.”
During the beginning of the rehearsal process, Nelson and Schultz spent time with the actors exploring who their characters are and what they want from each other.
“I liked all of the early, exploratory parts,” Nelson says of the rehearsal process. “I love sitting and digging and finding out what these people want.”
Nelson also credits the actors for being able to find so much connection off of their partners. “If you cast good actors, they’re going to look for things like that,” she says.
Schultz says he and Nelson had a lot of conversations about how the characters could be different if they felt more comfortable talking about their feelings with each other.
“We both saw the play as a way to talk about toxic masculinity in our culture,” Schultz says. “They have a lot of trouble accepting each other for their flaws.”
Nelson agrees. “The best story I could tell is about men who could almost connect but they don’t quite do it,” she says.
One of the things that made the rehearsal process especially unique was the fact that one of the three actors in the play, Cody Lucas, also happened to be the playwright, so Nelson and Schultz had the opportunity to work directly with him to make the play even better.
Nelson says the process of directing Lucas in his own play was easy because he was so open to collaboration and input. “The whole point of theater is letting it go and letting it become something else,” Nelson says. “Sometimes he would say, ‘Oh, I didn’t expect that,’ but he was really great to work with.”
This is second official collaboration for Schultz and Nelson, who previously worked together on Schultz’s one-man show, I’m Falling In Love All the Time. But the two have unofficially worked together many times before, both as part of the Basement Series at the Agency Theater Collective, and as co-teachers for Green Shirt’s Meisner classes.
Schultz, who says he thinks of himself as more of an actor than a director, says he was grateful to work with Nelson again, who is developing a strong body of work as a director. “She’s really smart. She’s got a lot of really great ideas,” Schultz says. “She’s a good big-picture thinker.”
For her part, Nelson says she enjoyed working with Schultz because they share an artistic vision. “We have a very similar creative outlook,” she says. “We both like to lean into the love.”
When: Through Sept. 15
Performances: 8 p.m. on Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri and Sat
3 p.m. Sun
Where: Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood Ave.
Tickets: $5 to $15