In Theater J’s last offering in the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater I played the tortured, albeit successful artist, blissfully unaware of his own enviable position in life, while celebrated for his overwrought creative expressions. A gentleman known only as ‘the tortured genius’.
This character is perhaps akin to Trigorin in ‘The Seagull’ (played by Jerry Whiddon at Theater J).
In this production, ‘The Seagull on 16th Street’, I have the opportunity to play the other side of the equation: the struggling artist. The artist painfully aware of his own lack of success and the perhaps undeserved laurels of others. Mocked and chastised for his equally overwrought artistic efforts, depressed, brooding . . . misunderstood?
We are on the brink of sharing this production with the world and I have miles to go before I really get a grasp on this character. Fortunately we have a few more days to really clarify our work, but it is a humbling realization to understand the mountain of complexity that still needs to be climbed in our final rehearsals.
Why is Treplev so complicated?
There is a youthful panache to everything he does, from his art, to his love, to his everyday conversation.
His very existence is defined by a profound sensitivity and fragility. Any wrong step on the part of his peers, relatives, and loved ones could inspire the worst of his rage or despair.
His mind moves at a pace saved only for great intellects or madmen.
And, he is very much in love.
The delicate task as an actor in approaching all of that information (and more) is to avoid venturing too far into a caricature of the struggling artist . . . to avoid allowing his emotional life to read merely as petulance . . . and to avoid undermining the weight of the love and aspiration he holds for his art, his romance (Nina), and his family, by not fully embodying that journey.
It all has to be meticulously specific. Where ‘The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall’ was served by broader strokes of comedy, that would be the fatal avenue for ‘The Seagull on 16th Street’.
What am I getting at? This role is hard. So hard in fact, there have been many moments in this rehearsal process where I have felt incapable of meeting the challenge. It is always true to a certain degree that the idiosyncratic nature of your character will invade your normal life, but with Treplev, he has inspired a level of despondency I haven’t ever felt in my artistic life.
The odd irony of being an artist struggling to bring life to a struggling artist is not lost on me.
So why do it?
Because it speaks to something larger.
We are creative, spiritual beings who need to be loved, and Treplev’s brief life encapsulates that beautifully. It is perhaps how much I care about this young man that makes bringing him to life so difficult.
In university I came to the realization that I should approach each character with the spirit of enthusiasm and commitment that I would expect of an actor who was charged with bringing my life to the stage. I know all too well the nuances, insecurities, and emotional needs of myself, and wouldn’t want anyone to convey those aspects of being without fully immersing themselves in my life.
So, it helps me to imagine that Treplev is a real person, waiting in the wings, looking on with the same level of expectation . . . he doesn’t want a broad brushstroke of his life, he wants Seurat-style pointilistic (not even a word, I know) accuracy.
I look around our rehearsal room and see an eclectic mix of artists. Some who have given years of their lives to this craft. Others, much like myself, just venturing out into the world of professional theatre. I sometimes hope that this struggle I’ve described to create something specific and worthy of consideration is what unites the rehearsal room.
We all understand that life in its relative ways is not always easy, and that art as a reflection of life, often follows, in microcosmic splendor, the same challenging rules.
This one is tough, I truly look forward to sharing it with people.