Actress Quincy Tyler Bernstine Finds A Chilling Role In ‘Evanston Salt Costs Climbing’

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The New Group’s production of Evanston Salt Costs Climbing takes place over three Januarys in the harsh chill of Evanston, a city along Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago. In the play, we step into the world of two salt truck drivers, (Ken Leung and Jeb Kreager) and their devoted boss Jane Maiworm, (Quincy Tyler Bernstine).

The drivers are tasked with combating snow and ice on the city streets as Maiworm, their protective boss, is doggedly committed to finding a more environmentally sound and cost-effective way to save the streets. Meanwhile Maiworm’s step-daughter Jane Jr., (Rachel Sachnoff), wants to hightail it to a warmer climate.

But so much is lurking beneath the icy surface of this evocative play written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Will Arbery (who is also a writer on Succession), directed by Dayna Taymor. The polar vortex is not only happening outside, but deep within. Everyone is trying to figure out how to move forward in a world where staying connected to ourselves and one another seems harder and harder. Especially in this climate of uncertainty where life, like the roads they are trying to keep clear, is so slippery and unpredictable.

Theater veteran, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, one of our finest actresses, plays a compelling Maiworm. The winner of an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence in Performance whose credits include Ruined, Small Mouth Sounds and Marys Seacole, Bernstine offers another riveting performance as the conflicted Maiworm. She aches to keep her salt truck drivers employed but also longs to find a smarter, more efficient way to de-ice the roads.

“I do love how much she cares for her colleagues. Maiworm and I actually have that in common,” says Bernstine of the play currently running at The Pershing Square Signature Center through December 18. “This is a remarkable group of humans I have the privilege of working with each day. I also love how much Maiworm loves her work, in general. How excited she gets by all the little details of her job, and how invested she is in making things better and safer for her community.”

Bernstine is also particularly drawn to the surprising elements of Evanston Salt Costs Climbing. “You think you are heading down one path and by the end of the play you are somewhere else entirely,” says the actress of the laugh-out-loud, poignant play. “I have been struck by how many people have said to me days, and even weeks later, how much the play has stayed with them. How images or lines from the play have popped into their heads all of a sudden.” As she observes, the best art achieves that goal. “It stays with you over time,” adds Bernstine. “Sometimes without you even realizing it.”

Jeryl Brunner: The New Group continues to take risks with their works. Why do you love working with them?

Quincy Tyler Bernstine: This is my first time working with The New Group. I am truly grateful to them for all they have done, and continue to do, to put this show up. It is such a hard time for the American theater right now. This production really is very special to us and we want as many people as possible to see it. So this is my shout out to everyone out there who hasn’t seen us, “Please come check us out!”

Brunner: What went through your mind when you first learned about Evanston Salt Costs Climbing?

Danya Taymor, our incredible director, reached out to me this summer and said she was sending me a Will Arbery play to read. I am a huge admirer of Will’s other work so I was very excited. I was first struck by the title, as I know many people are. I remember thinking to myself,“Now what on earth is this play going to be about?”

The chance to work with both Will and Danya aside, I was intrigued by how complex and multi-layered the play is. You start out thinking it’s about one thing and pretty soon learn that you were wrong. What attracted me initially to the role of Maiworm is that she is unlike most of the characters I have played in the past. I was excited by the new challenge that this play and role presented to me.

Brunner: What qualities does your director, Danya Taymor, have that you adore?

Bernstine: It would probably be easier for me to tell you what I don’t like about Danya, which is absolutely nothing. I have told her many times how annoying I find her because he is so perfect. In a loving and joking way, of course. But, really, she is extraordinary. One of the greatest directors I have ever worked with. Not only is she a brilliant artist, she is a remarkable human being: kind and generous and loving and patient. And she brings all of those things into the rehearsal room and, by extension, into the production. I think it more than shows.

Brunner: When did you know you had to be an actress?

Bernstine: I didn’t fall in love with acting until college. I was playing club soccer my freshman year at Brown University and got nailed in the face with a ball, broke my glasses, it was a whole thing. But it really rattled me. I decided I would audition for a play instead of continuing to play soccer. I ended up getting fitted for contact lenses, playing Grace in a production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. And the rest is history.

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