Articles in – Role Playing
Role Playing: Julia Siple, as the ‘black sheep’
in smart family, found love in woolly persona
Interview: Julia Siple thought she knew the “black sheep” character she plays in Lucy Kirkwood’s “Mosquitoes” at Steep Theatre. But in the refining process of rehearsals, Siple discovered that erratic and often outrageous Jenny – who’s also not the sharpest knife in the family drawer – had another, deeply appealing side to her: a tremendous sense of empathy.
Role Playing: Maurice Jones wasn’t shooting
for CST’s Hamlet – but it simply was to be
Interview: Maurice Jones, who plays the title role in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s current production of “Hamlet,” apparently made quite an impression at his audition. Actually, he overshot just a bit. He was trying out for the supporting part of Laertes. Jones had never played Hamlet, but when the actor who originally won the job had to back out, CST artistic director Barbara Gaines, who also directs this show, asked Jones if he’d be game to step up – and take on one of the greatest and most challenging roles in theater.
Role Playing: Zachary Stevenson elevated his Buddy Holly from hiccups to the rockin’ truth
Interview: Zachary Stevenson slips into the persona of Buddy Holly like the early rocker’s doppelgänger in American Blues Theatre’s extended run of the musical “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” by Alan Janes. Stevenson says he feels that identity – now. But back when he first landed the part, more than a decade and some 12 productions ago in Toronto, it was a different story.
Role Playing: K.K. Moggie, as Scottish queen Mary Stuart, got to a royal heart layer by layer
Interview: Like the queen she plays, K.K. Moggie rules the stage in the title role of Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. But what helped her get to that place, she says, was the realization that the play was less about the fallen Scottish queen – who aspires to the English throne even as she is held prisoner by Queen Elizabeth – than what’s going on around her.
Role Playing: Kathleen Ruhl went for laughs, but resisted harsh character that gets them
Interview: Actress Kathleen Ruhl loves to hear an audience laugh. It’s always been one of the joys of her long stage career. Naturally, in her role as the flinty, straight-talking mom to two adult children in Suzanne Heathcote’s “I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn’t Even Smile” at Redtwist Theatre, she savors the laughter that rings off those close walls. But for Ruhl, the mirth came in a bitter pill.
Role Playing: Kate Fry’s vivid Emily Dickinson sprang from poet’s fine-tuned, evocative verse
Interview: Volumes have been written about Emily Dickinson, but it was through the reclusive poet’s own words that Kate Fry found her way into the heart she illuminates in William Luce’s one-woman play “The Belle of Amherst” at Court Theatre. “In the poems, and in her letters, you get these clear images of what was speaking to her intellect on any given day,” says Fry, “the things she felt compelled to put down on paper.”
Role Playing: Joel Reitsma drew moral profit from banker-captor clash of ‘Invisible Hand’
Interview: Joel Reitsma creates a convincingly distressed investment banker who parlays his expertise into a desperate, life-preserving deal with his Pakistani captors in Ayad Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand” at Steep Theatre. But Reitsma admits up front that he knows little about the trading game; and besides, he’s quick to add, the play isn’t about the stock market anyway. It’s about the corrosive power of money.
Role Playing: Lawrence Grimm found Lincoln first in pages of history, then within himself
Interview: Lawrence Grimm stands 6 feet 4 inches tall – the same height as Abraham Lincoln. It wasn’t height that worried the actor when he took on his nuanced and profoundly human portrayal of Lincoln in James Still’s “The Heavens Are Hung in Black” at Shattered Globe Theatre. What concerned Grimm were the iconic dimensions of the 16th president, the towering figure whose wisdom would guide the nation through its greatest crisis.
Role Playing: Cristina Panfilio spreads wings she didn’t know she had as midsummer Puck
Interview: Cristina Panfilio, the disarmingly sly and funny – and athletic! – Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at American Players Theatre, didn’t see it coming. The role of the mischievous fairy sprite with magical powers is normally played by a male actor. When director John Langs phoned her and cold-pitched her the part, she was flattered, of course. The Chicago-based actress was also overwhelmed by the thought.
Role Playing: Tyla Abercrumbie was set to run little ‘Hot Links’ café, but why was she there?
Interview: Actors know the OMG moment well. You win the audition and get the part. Then comes hard reality: You actually have to do it. But for Tyla Abercrumbie, who gives one of those performances you can’t take your eyes from in Eugene Lee’s “East Texas Hot Links” at Writers Theatre, the daunting truth was not simply that she had to measure up to what she’d won. She had to figure out why her character was even in the play.
Role Playing: AnJi White, as Catherine Parr, learned to keep her wits – to keep her head
Interview: When you’re playing the sixth wife of the notorious spouse-disposing English King Henry VIII, says AnJi White, the resolve to survive comes mixed with the question of how. Analyzing her own grand and yet vulnerable portrayal of Catherine Parr, in Kate Hennig’s “The Last Wife” at TimeLine Theatre, White says she pursues a nightly answer to the riddle of endurance with a royal husband who holds her life in his palm, and who will brook neither challenge nor collaboration.
Role Playing: Adam Bitterman, unlikely florist in ‘Seedbed,’ dug deep to create a rare bloom
Interview: Adam Bitterman’s earthy and lusty and sometimes unnerving performance as the improbable florist Mick, a middle-aged guy enamored of an 18-year-old girl in Bryan Delaney’s “The Seedbed” at Redtwist Theatre, defies you to take your eyes off him. But the veteran actor had his doubts about even taking on the prodigious part, and this elusive character who finds himself caught up in a family’s sordid conflict.
Role Playing: Danny McCarthy, pushing broom in ‘The Flick,’ finds vital pulse in long silences
Interview: Danny McCarthy calls it a sweeping-dance, the closely choreographed stretches of, well, sweeping that often – and silently – occupy the two men at the center of Annie Baker’s play “The Flick,” winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, at Steppenwolf Theatre. “Actually, you try to stay mentally active while you’re out there,” says McCarthy, who plays Sam, a quiet man in his mid-thirties who works on the cleanup crew at a small movie house, clearing away the night’s detritus, and grapples with the haunting malaise in his life.
Role Playing: Mierka Girten, actor with MS, knows wound behind her character’s scars
Interview: In the most intimate and empathic way, Mierka Girten connects with Trinket Dugan, the character she plays with disarming honesty in Tennessee Williams’ “The Mutilated” at A Red Orchid Theatre. Actor and character share deep, physical, albeit invisible, wounds.The big difference is that while Trinket conceals her mastectomy – her mutilation — in sorrow and shame, Girten talks openly about the multiple sclerosis she has struggled with since her days as a drama student at DePaul University.
Role Playing: Sandra Marquez, as Clytemnestra, sees an exceptional woman in the Greek queen
Interview: What would she, this modern woman, have done in the place of a legendary queen who has been abandoned by her warring husband, a man who also has sacrificed their daughter for the sake of his military campaign? That was the question on Sandra Marquez’s mind as she approached her complex portrayal of the vengeful Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” at Court Theatre.
Role Playing: Brian Parry says he summoned courage before wit as George in ‘Virginia Woolf’
Interview: In the thimble-size playing space of Redtwist Theatre, Brian Parry is reminded every night of the plain truth in playwright Edward Albee’s admonition to any actor who takes on the role of George, the battle-worn husband and semi-satisfied college professor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” – that it will be the workout of a lifetime.
Role Playing: Tracy Michelle Arnold debunks madness as force that drives Blanche DuBois
Interview: Tracy Michelle Arnold, who portrays a feisty and resourceful Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” at American Players Theatre, doesn’t buy the common perception of this embattled woman as “a crazy person.” Arnold sees Blanche as a scarred fighter who never gives up her struggle to survive, even at the end.
Role Playing: Christopher Donahue, as Ahab, finds sea’s depth in sadness of a vengeful soul
Interview: Christopher Donahue contemplates the weathered, craggy, doggedly vengeful figure of Captain Ahab, the iconic central character of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” whose cosmic persona Donahue brings into vivid focus on the stage at Lookingglass Theatre. And in the driven whale hunter, the actor finds a paradox. “Ahab abides far away from humanity,” Donahue says. “He is as much a creature of the sea as the creature he’s trying to kill. The sea lives in him. I think he believes himself to be as strong and tumultuous as the sea itself.”
Role Playing: Lance Baker embodies the ennui, despair of fugitive Jews in ‘Diary of Anne Frank’
Interview: Of the eight Jewish characters huddled together against the Nazi terror just beyond the door of their little room, in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” one of them arguably feels the confinement, the boredom, the uselessness more than the others. He is Mr. van Daan, a business associate of Anne’s father; and Lance Baker, who portrays this restive soul at Writers Theatre, sees him as a man marginalized in his own heart.