ROUNDABOUT BLOG

2012-2013 Season

A Conversation with Actor, David Morse

Posted on: May 29th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Before rehearsals began for The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with actor David Morse about his title role.

 

Ted Sod: Will you tell us a bit about yourself?

David Morse: I was born in Massachusetts in a town called Beverly. We lived in a few towns north of Boston: Essex, Hamilton, Danvers. I, like a lot of fortunate kids, had two teachers who were particularly keen about whatever was inside of me that was drawn to acting. They encouraged and nourished it. In the eighth grade there was a teacher named Mrs. Baker. We would read stories aloud in class. I was terrified that I would get picked to read something but still hoping like crazy that I would be. I just loved it. I loved reading different characters. Then when I got to high school there was Mrs. Ferrini who had a great influence on me.

 

TS: Did you go on to further studies like college or graduate school?

DM: I went right from high school into Boston Repertory Theatre. I hadn’t even graduated from high school and I was asked to be a member of the company. It was kind of intimidating at first. They were all older and out of college. I became one of the founding members. I was there for six years before I went to New York. In New York, I studied with Bill Esper. He was one of Sandy Meisner’s protégés and a great teacher.

 

TS: Was there something about the role of Tom that appealed to you? And why this particular play?

DM: Before The Seafarer, the last play I did was How I Learned to Drive. It was really so hard on my family because I was away from them in New York for so long. I just really did not feel comfortable doing another play until the kids were older. After I did The Seafarer, I was asked to do other things in New York but it was still too soon. Now my kids have gone to college. And I’d been acting in Treme for HBO so it’d been hard to do any plays. We had just finished the last season of Treme and this play was given to me to read. I just love the way Steven Levenson has written the play. It is an appealing read. It’s deceptively simple.  It’s filled with what makes a good play: humor and drama. And it has a character that, for me personally and I think everybody, is going to be a challenge to live with onstage.

 

TS: I, too, think the play is beautifully structured and your character is fascinating. How do you approach a role like this? Do you have to do research?

DM: I’ve done a number of roles where I’ve had to do research for characters who spent time in prison. And I volunteered for quite a few years in a prison. I didn’t really feel like I needed to research that aspect of Tom’s character. And the world that he was part of as a lawyer is fairly familiar. I certainly have friends who are lawyers. The mystery, not just about Tom, but so many people in our society right now, is how they go down the road of making choices that are illegal and that hurt other people but that they believe are okay. They believe it’s legitimate and they have a right to make those decisions. I personally don’t get it. I don’t get how people with so much money and so much power can choose to do things that are going to hurt people on such a big scale when they already have so much. Why do people who have so much have to try and get more at the expense of other people? That’s part of my interest in playing this role; finding that out for myself. The play is about finding the answers to that paradox. It’s a challenge on a very human and relatable level.

 

TS: I am intrigued by the relationship between Tom and James. Father-son relationships have taken center stage quite a bit. What do you make of it?

DM: It’s close to home, which is another reason that I’m interested in playing Tom. Over the course of my career, my relationship with my father has come up a lot. And in this play it very much does. I don’t need to go into that, but I’ll say it really pulls on my personal experiences.

 

TS: That must be both exciting and frightening at the same time. What about the relationship with Karen, his ex-wife? She seems so done with him.

DM:  Tom talks a little bit about what their relationship was early on. It seems to me that they both loved it. She must have been in love with him. They were together for quite a while before all of that stuff happened.  They did eventually get a divorce but something was going on to keep them together. There had to be love and affection. I’m also thinking about the daughter who won’t talk to me. She isn’t in the play, but it will be fun to get to know what that relationship is all about.

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin plays at the Laura Pels Theatre May 31 through August 25. For more information and tickets, visit our website.

This interview is from our Education at Roundabout Upstage Playgoer Guide.


Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin


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A Conversation with Actor, Christopher Denham

Posted on: May 29th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Before rehearsals began, actor Christopher Denham spoke with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod about his role of James in The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin.

 

Ted Sod: Please tell us a bit about yourself. 

Christopher Denham: I was born on the southside of Chicago. Educated down at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. A great theater training program under Henson Keys and Daniel Sullivan. Amazing teachers and an amazing theater complex in the middle of the cornfields. Spent my formative years worshipping at the Steppenwolf altar. Steppenwolf represented a certain kind of acting from a certain kind of city. A little rough around the edges. A little unpolished. Blue collar actors without perfect diction or posture. But a vital sense of authenticity. All my heroes are from Chicago: Terry Kinney, Tracy Letts, Amy Morton, Denis O'Hare. That was the kind of actor I wanted (and want) to be. When I finally was able to work at Steppenwolf, it was the ultimate stamp of approval.

 

TS: Why did you choose to do this play and this role?

CD: I had been working primarily in film and television for the past three years. I was dying to dive back into theater. I was reading lots of plays, but Steven's writing made a lasting impression on me. He managed somehow to craft characters you care about, despite their glaring flaws. The story he was telling wasn't just topical. It's about something bigger than derivatives trading. It's about redemption. Who gets to decide who gets a second chance? Steven's writing is deeply human and, incidentally, deeply funny. Also, David Morse was on board and I knew I could learn a lot from him. Every actor I've ever met has nothing but the highest respect for David's work. He brings a profound sense of reality to every role. I've also been a big fan of Scott Ellis for a long time. He has directed so many of my favorite productions. I knew he could somehow get something good out of me.

 

TS: I realize the rehearsal process hasn’t started yet,  but can you share some of your preliminary thoughts about James with us?

CD: Steven has written a complicated, conflicted young man. In many ways, James has had the wind knocked out of him. Ten years ago, he had a very clear idea of what his life would be. And then his life was derailed. He lost his confidence. The trajectory of the play, I think, is James crawling out of this black hole. Learning how to walk again. How to stop this cycle of self-victimization and self-pity and kickstart his life.

 

TS: What do you think the play is about?

CD: A bad play, written by a bad writer, would be about James forgiving Tom. That would be obvious. This play isn't about that. It's about something more complicated, more insidious. In my opinion, Steven is essentially telling us that no one really knows anyone. We think we know our loved ones, our family members. We don't. Everyone has hidden depths. Things they don't reveal. Things they lie about, either to you or to themselves. When they arrest a serial killer,  the neighbors never say: "yeah, he was a psychopath." The neighbors always say: "he was the nicest man. I had no idea he was capable of this crime." That's what this play is about.

 

TS: Can you talk about the relationship between James and his father, Tom?

CD: Like any father/son relationship, there are several iterations of the relationship. At one time, for a long time, they were very close. That's what makes the fall from grace so tragic. They had so far to fall. For James, it is almost inconceivable that his Dad committed these crimes. In many scenes, he almost has to remind himself that Tom is a master manipulator. He is, as James says, "incapable of telling the truth." Tom has to be seen through the prism of his misdeeds.

 

TS: What do you feel is happening between James and Katie?

CD: When it comes to Katie, James has found an intelligent, funny person who has rekindled something inside him. James has kind of thrown in the towel in many regards. He's taken himself out of the game. Katie has been through a difficult relationship. They have that vulnerability as a common denominator. Damaged goods.

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin plays at the Laura Pels Theatre May 31 through August 25. For more information and tickets, visit our website.

This interview is from our Education at Roundabout Upstage Playgoer Guide.

 


Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin


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A Conversation with Playwright, Steven Levenson

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 by Roundabout

 

Before rehearsals began, playwright Steven Levenson spoke with Education Dramaturg Ted Sod about his play, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin.

 

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? When did you decide to become a playwright?

Steven Levenson: I was born in Washington, DC, and I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland. I went to Brown for undergrad, which is where I started writing plays. I’d been involved in theatre as an actor up until that point. My senior year, I took a playwriting course with Paula Vogel, which really changed everything for me. Paula was the first person to say to me, “If you want to do this, this is something you can actually do.” And that was huge for me.

 

TS: Did you come immediately to New York after you graduated from Brown?

SL: Yes. I lucked into a job as the literary assistant at Playwrights Horizons, which was where a major part of my theatre education happened. I read plays and wrote script coverage and I got to see up close the process of how new play development worked. It also gave me the opportunity to see a tremendous variety of theater in New York, which was invaluable. Getting exposed to all kinds of different work allowed me to really examine what kind of theater I was drawn to and where I could see my own work eventually fitting into that larger landscape.

 

TS: I want to discuss writing a commissioned play because The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin was commissioned by Roundabout.

SL: It’s strange. Every experience I’ve had so far with writing a commissioned play, including this one, I’ve proposed an idea to the organization commissioning me and then ended up writing something completely different. I feel that might be part of my process. I think there’s an unconscious part of me that thinks that if I say I’m going to do something, I have to rebel against that and do something else. What’s so great about a commission is that you know that you’re not writing in a vacuum. There’s someone who’s waiting to read your play and give you feedback and really work with you on it.

 

TS: How did you decide this was a subject that was important to you to write about?

SL:  The germ of the idea came from a personal experience. A friend of mine in high school, her father was a prominent DC lawyer. The family led what seemed at the time to be a fairly charmed life. I didn’t really keep in touch with her after school. Years later, her father went to prison for a white-collar crime, which everyone who knew this family, this sort of perfect family, found just completely shocking, not at all something anyone would have guessed. Finally, six or seven years after I’d last seen her, I sat down with her and I just found her story – what had happened in those intervening years – completely heartbreaking. It made me wonder what it must be like for her father, who had recently been released from prison, how impossible a task to try to rebuild all that you’ve lost, to start over.

 

TS: Can you talk about the father-son dynamic between Tom and James? 

SL: As I developed the play, it became increasingly important to me that Tom not really seek forgiveness. He got caught with his hands in the cookie jar, but from his perspective everybody else was doing the same thing. He doesn’t come back seeking redemption. He comes back with one mission, which is trying to remake things into the way they were five years ago. For James, there’s so much of him that’s still the child looking up to his father, wanting his father’s love and approval. But at the same time there’s so much rage, all of the hurt and lost time between them. In a way, too, it’s a role reversal. It’s the father moving in with the son. It’s not the kid moving back in with his parents. So it’s a fraught status relationship between the two of them. It’s a constant battle for who is in charge.

 

TS: I want to talk about the relationship between James and Katie because they’re each bruised and damaged in their own way.

SL: These are two people who are broken in different ways and trying to put the pieces together for themselves. When I started the play, it was primarily Tom’s story. Now it’s a shared story, and Katie really helped unlock that for me. The relationship between James and Katie asks the same questions that the relationship between Tom and James asks: can people change? Can people heal?


TS: How did the collaboration with director Scott Ellis happen?

SL: I thought Scott was the perfect choice. At a certain point in developing the play, we got to where we felt like we wanted to hear it and we started bringing in actors and a director. I immediately said, “Scott is someone I would love to work with.”  I’m obviously a big fan of his work. Among his many talents, he’s a fantastic director with actors in terms of crafting performances and I really felt this play needed to be focused on the performances and the dynamics between these characters.

 

TS: What were you looking for from the actors?

SL: Tom and James were both tricky to cast, because we were looking for so many different things from each of them. For Tom, what you really want is someone with the strength and the ferocity of that character, but also someone whom the audience can really fall in love with. We want the audience to be as much under his spell as the other characters in the play are. He’s a broken person but he wasn’t always like that. He has a certain craftiness and intelligence about him and a powerful charisma.  David Morse is an actor who can switch on a dime from being compassionate and sensitive in one instant and then be utterly terrifying in the next. For James, we were really looking for vulnerability, somebody who could capture the damage that this young man has gone through and who can also convey that with a sense of humor and self-deprecation. We wanted both of these characters to be guys that you root for. Whether or not you continue to root for them, that’s another question. But we certainly lucked out with these two actors.

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin plays at the Laura Pels Theatre May 31 through August 25. For more information and tickets, visit our website.

This interview is from our Education at Roundabout Upstage Playgoer Guide.


Related Categories:
2012-2013 Season, A Conversation with, The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin


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