Grant Cloyd makes his QTC debut in The Night Alive as Kenneth. He shares how he approached playing “evil.”
“Evil has no meaning” – so says Maurice in scene 4 of The Night Alive. In many ways, working on a character as troubled and troubling as Kenneth has entailed adhering to that adage. As a performer I can’t play “evil”. I simply say the words and perform the actions that McPherson wrote and let the audience react and judge as they see fit. My work is to find the mindset and the backstory that justifies these actions. And in this case, the answers often aren’t found in Kenneth’s lines – in which he is frequently coy, cagey or outright deceitful. He is more than willing to “pull your peanut” to get the information he needs while providing little insight to his own motivations.
Throughout the play, McPherson poses more questions than he answers for Kenneth. The script reveals that he drives a car, is prone to violence, and that Aimee denies she knows him until eventually revealing, “He’s my boyfriend,” before quickly clarifying, “Well, my ex.” Later, when asked how she could be with “someone like that” she simply offers, “He changed.” Little else is said about Kenneth. Indeed, he is never even named for the audience – no character says his name and he never introduces himself at any point. The only reason the audience might know his name is because it’s listed in the program.
Ultimately, this limited pool of information is a gift. It allows me (and my cast-mates and director) to use these kernels to create a backstory that fits within McPherson’s generous parameters. I get to answer those questions. What is Kenneth doing when he is not on-stage? How did he change? What is his relationship with Aimee? Why does he do what he does? What was his childhood like? What kind of car does he drive? The list goes on and on, or as Kenneth might say, “round and round”. And though I have a lot of questions to answer, McPherson only gives Kenneth one problem to solve. It’s a problem which speaks to both the core of the character and the task of the performer: Kenneth and I both have to find some way, “To forget that a devil lives inside of [me] and [I] should probably just go home but [I] can’t do that.”