Thursday, November 6, 2008

In Rehearsals with The Seafarer

It's not very often a director is interviewed by the press, but the Princeton Packet recently interviewed The Seafarer director Anders Cato. Mr. Cato is a favorite here at George Street Playhouse and has directed fresh productions of recent Broadway shows including I Am My Own Wife, Souvenir, and Doubt in the past several seasons to great acclaim.

Below are some excerpts of Anthony Stoeckert's interview with Anders and David Schramm (TV's Wings) who plays Richard Harkin.

For me it’s been a great place,” Mr. Cato says of George Street. “It’s nice when you can come back to a place. And I feel like (Artistic Director) David (Saint) has trusted me with really great material.”

Mr. Cato’s cast includes David Schramm and David Adkins, both of whom he worked with this past summer in a production of Waiting for Godot at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. Working with actors he’s familiar with has been particularly helpful with The Seafarer, he says, because of the ensemble nature of the five-character play. ”It makes a big difference,” he says. “You don’t have to start from zero... It helps you communicate on a level where you can take many shortcuts.” Mr. Schramm is best known to audiences for his role as Roy Biggins on the ‘90s sitcom Wings, and is an accomplished stage actor. This marks the third straight play he and Mr. Cato have collaborated on (they also teamed up for George Bernard Shaw’s Candida in the Berkshires this past summer).

"Any director who goes from Shaw to Beckett and can do them superbly, is a really good director,” Mr. Schramm says, adding that Mr. Cato has an ability to get actors to take risks while maintaining a level of trust. “Anders encourages you to go out on a limb, to sort of do it in space almost, (to) jump off that thing and see just what happens when you let go of all those things that actors tend to hold onto.”
Mr. Cato says The Seafarer’s success hinges on actors striking a delicate balance between the real and the fantastical. The play is rooted in Irish legend (its time and place description says the coast of North Dublin has “long been the focus of myths and legends”) and is often very funny while also requiring actors to go places that are, in the director’s words, “dark and vulnerable.” ”(The characters) are carrying around, most of them, these terrible things from the past,” Mr. Cato says.

“And during the course of the evening, it surfaces. But what (Mr. McPherson) does so well is bring in that Irish mood (while staying) connected to those old stories.” As Richard, Mr. Schramm plays a blind Irishman who drinks too much. (“A little blindness, a little Irish brogue, it’s a comedy, it’s a tragedy! You’ve got it all,” he says.) While those factors make for a rich character, they can also lead to traps.

"The dialect coach keeps saying things like, ‘You don’t want to sound like a Lucky Charms commercial,’” he says, adding that the coach, who is Irish, also told the actors that Irish people do not say, “Top of the mornin’ to you.” Of over-playing the brogue or Richard’s other characteristics, Mr. Schramm says, “It’s a question of trying to avoid them by being as real as you can, so consequentially, the cliché that you might go to if you fell into the trap, doesn’t stand a chance. You get out on a limb... and you see there’s a million options. There’s not just the one choice that you go to immediately because it’s the easy one or the obvious one.”

Mr. Schramm studied with John Houseman at Juilliard and was a founding member of Mr. Houseman’s The Acting Company. The actor worked steadily for nearly 40 years, then took some time off, which he was able to afford after Wings’ nine-season run. In discussing his break, Mr. Schramm says that of course he was always appreciative of getting steady work as an actor. But he wanted some time away from the profession and remembers telling a friend, “I spend my life dressed in somebody else’s clothes, saying somebody’s words, feeling somebody else’s feelings.” His time off included taking classes, traveling, going to opera and becoming a subscriber at Carnegie Hall. Five years later, he returned to the stage. ”I said, ‘I’ve got to stop because I can’t do this anymore because it’s not right,’” he says of early retirement. “Because this is what I am. I am somebody who struts around in somebody else’s clothes.”

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