What was your first theatrical experience? I was a 16-year-old music student at the all-boys’ school in England where I spent my teenage years. The local girls’ school was putting on a production of The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar, and naturally they wanted boys to fill out some of the roles (and the deeper singing parts). Surprisingly, to my delight and horror, I was cast as Count Cascada, who has a solo right at the top of the show – a toast to the arriving widow. I nervously rehearsed my part for six weeks, and when the opening night came, there I was, holding a glass of “champagne” – and trembling so hard, most of it went down my sleeve!
I was hooked, and the last nearly 40 years have been spent regaling people with that story, on stage and off, while still feeling that first thrill every time I step out under the lights.
How did you begin performing in DC? I had taken a hiatus from acting after attempting to pursue my career in Los Angeles (ask me sometime about what you really have to do to get cast in movies), so I was primed to work again. But, it took sitting in the orchestra pit at the Victorian Lyric Opera Company in Rockville in 2008 to rekindle my passion. I’d been asked, ironically, to return to my roots playing the cello with VLOC, and, while watching HMS Pinafore and, later, The Mikado in performance, I thought to myself “I could do that again.” The next show VLOC was Ruddigore and I went for it, despite my continuing lack of singing skills, and the terror of having a solo.
And, it was such fun! Since then, much to my husband’s disappointment, I have never looked back, and have tried to stay busy ever since.
What’s your dream role/project? George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I’ve seen the show many times, the most notable being the recent Steppenwolf production with Tracey Letts as George, and it is the role I was born to play.
What appeals to you about the DC theatre community? There is a sense of intimacy and interconnectedness in DC theater that doesn’t exist anywhere I else, I’ve found. Certainly not in the other cities I’ve been fortunate enough in which to work. Everyone knows everyone else, and there is a great deal of support for ventures both new and tried-and-true. I read somewhere that DC has the second-most active theater scene in the country, after New York, and I believe it. Such energy and vitality! I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
How did you get involved with The Lady with the Little Dog? The director, Stephanie Mumford, offered me the role, and given my history with Quotidian and an innate sense that I should do more Chekhov, I couldn’t refuse!
How has the process been so far? I was coming directly off of QTC’s production of A Lesson From Aloes, so shifting gears from South Africa to Russia has been a challenge. Fortunately, I get to work with some very talented folks, so my transition has been smooth.
What’s different about this role/project for you? How does this rehearsal process differ from others? Being the Narrator, I get to take a 10,000-foot view of the proceedings, while simultaneously portraying a vibrant character in his own right. It’s the genius of the piece, and of our director, that allows that portrayal to unfold. The audience will go into the show thinking one thing about who I am, and, if I do my job right, leave with a completely different impression.
Why should audiences come to see this play? We don’t often get treated to a “new” Chekhov piece. People will get to see how timeless and important his writing is, especially when it is reframed in this manner. The short story form allows for a great deal of latitude in character development in time and space, while the form of a play is more narrow. Stephanie Mumford, in addition to directing the piece, carefully and skillfully made Chekhov’s words on the page come to life in well-drawn characters transcending the limitations of the stage. Everyone who comes to see it is in for a thrilling ride as we take on a complete world!