Luck usually doesn’t strike twice, but that’s exactly what happened to veteran actor John Dow when he got cast in two productions of Tom Stoppard’s Heroes.
Why did you want to be part of this production of Heroes at Everyman Theatre?
I have loved Heroes since performing it with Michael and Ralph at MetroStage in 2009. We had a wonderful time working together on that show and we all hoped that it would, one day, be re-mounted. It’s an incredibly complex script but beautiful in its simplicity and it brings a different message to everyone who sees it.
How did you get the role?
Fate works in funny ways. I was not the first choice to play Philippe in Heroes at MetroStage but I was fortunate to be the second choice and that proved a wonderful experience for me. I was not the first choice for the role of Henri at Everyman but fate has given me the opportunity to explore that role and I find it to be like working on a completely different play … and I love it.
Tell us about Philippe who you play in this production.
Philippe is a man who has suffered some brain damage from a piece of shrapnel that is lodged in his skull, finding an honest way to portray that was, of course, a challenge. Henri offers a completely different challenge. He has clearly suffered a partial loss to of one of his legs, but his true handicap is that he is profoundly shy and the old soldiers home has become his refuge from the outside world. He loves to go out and look at the world … but looking is as far as he cares to go. It’s been very interesting exploring this character. As interesting as it was to explore Philippe, but very different and challenging.
What is similar and different about the MetroStage and Everyman Theatre productions of Heroes?
The one consistent thing about both Everyman and MetroStage is that both have a staff that is incredibly supportive of the actors that come to work there. Everyman is a somewhat larger theater with a bigger staff, facility and budget, so that might be evident in the visual quality of the production. Beyond that, I think they are very similar and I think that audiences will enjoy this production every bit as much as they did the one at MetroStage.
How would you describe your Director Donald Hicken’s style?
Donald is a wonderfully insightful director. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him previously in a production of Athol Fugard’s The Road To Mecca at Everyman with Tana Hicken, and Deborah Hazlett back in 2000. It has remained forever one of my favorite roles. Donald constantly challenges you to think of your character in different ways, which helps ultimately to build a much stronger final character. I have always enjoyed Donald’s work.
How would you describe Tom Stoppard’s script for Heroes?
Stoppard’s Heroes is a very complex little script. The more you work on it, the more you realize how tightly written it is, which means that the actors have to be very precise about their lines because they inform the lines spoken later in that scene or the next. There are no “throw away” lines in Heroes. That is a part of its charm and why I never get tired of performing it.
What is your favorite line in the show?
My favorite line in Heroes is actually one of Philippe’s lines from late in Scene 5, when he says, “Henri, please, let’s have a think. Here’s the situation: I’m not well, Gustave is tolerably deranged, the dog weighs a ton, and we’ve a long way to go … Oh, and you’re lame. So … where’s the problem? What’s to stop us at least having a go?”
I think that line is really the message of the play. That, the handicaps we perceive ourselves to have are only true “handicaps” if we allow them to be. It’s a play about hope and that’s what I love about it.
How are the performances by your co-stars Carl Schurr (Philippe) and Wil Love (Gustave) similar and different than the performances by Ralph Corsham (Gustave) and Michael Toleydo (Henri) at MetroStage?
I don’t know how I could possibly compare Ralph and Michael to Wil and Carl, since all four men are fine actors and a joy to work with and their individual performances are not for me to comment on. Besides, Carl is now performing the role I had at MetroStage and, what I will say is, he looks like he is finding the role as much fun to perform as I did. He is a treat to watch.
What do you remember about the night you, Michael, and Ralph received a Helen Hayes Award for your ‘ensemble’ work in Heroes?
Now this is a fun question. Michael and I had tried desperately to convince Ralph to go to the Helen’s. But to no avail. We had no idea we might win, but we were very proud of the show and wanted to stand united one more time. As you might recall, it was a tie, but they didn’t announce that at first. They announced that Synetic had won for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the place went wild, a mob filled the stage and then as things were finally settling down (and Michael and I were just acknowledging to each other that we had been passed over) they announced that there was a tie and that we were also being recognized. But neither Michael nor I actually heard them announce it and people all around us were saying “Hey! They just called your names! Go up, go up!” and Michael refused to believe it, but I finally convinced him we needed to go. It was wild … we both were acting like we had never been on a stage before in our lives. I’m glad I was given the chance to experience that. I’d been nominated before, but that was as far as it went. And, I’ll always be grateful to the HH people for recognizing that, sometimes, a really great ensemble can just be “three old farts sitting on a bench”.
Have you worked with WIl and Carl before on the stage before being cast in Heroes?
This is my second show with Wil. We worked together at Totem Pole two summers ago in a production of 45 Seconds From Broadway and then again a few months ago in You Can’t Take It With You. In that show, Wil moved over and took Stan’s role mid-run and I came in and finished the run in Wil’s role. That was my first show with Carl. They are both incredibly talented actors and a lot of fun to share a stage with.
Any roles you would like to play that you haven’t played yet?
At this point I mostly hope to have a second crack at some at some of the roles that I played when I was younger. After I finish a role, I many times think back on things that I could have probably done better. I’d love another shot at Rev. Byleveld in The Road To Mecca. Also, Thor Swanson in Morning’s at Seven, Noah Underfinger in Freedomland and a couple of others. I most look forward to seeing what some casting director thinks I might imagine me performing … I’ve always liked challenges … though I’m happier with lesser ones than in years past.
What roles that you have played are your favorites?
That’s awfully difficult, there have been so many. Apart from the ones I’ve already mentioned, I would have to list R.E. Lee in The Road From Appomattox, which Steve Carpenter and I will reprise for a couple of weeks in Gettysburg this coming July. The production of Heroes at MetroStage would be another, and Thief River with Theater Alliance in 2003. Heroes, because Michael, Ralph, and I had such a grand time working together on the play, and the other two because the writing is so strong and I felt like I really came to know the characters.
The DC area theatre scene is growing by leaps and bounds, What encourages you?
I am encouraged that theater in DC is on it’s way back to the health it knew just a few years ago. The financial crush caused real damage to a lot of theaters, and that was a tragedy, but I have high hopes for the future. Actors love to perform … they’ll find a way to bring it to the public. Look at the successes of the DC Fringe.
What advice do you have for a student who is considering theatre as his/her career?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask about this. While I was involved in theater in high school and briefly in college, I didn’t get into acting again until I was almost 40 and was well established in the insurance business. Obviously, having a second job skill that you can fall back on is very important, very few people get rich doing theater … at the same time I regret not getting into it while I was still young. Look at all the roles I never got the chance to try out for.
Why should DC area theatregoers make the trip to Baltimore to come see you in Heroes at Everyman Theatre?
Heroes is a great play, the best kind of comedy, a story that everyone can relate to in one way or another. It’s a play about hope and overcoming the obstacles that life throws at you. I’m very proud to have been given the chance to be part of another production. I think everyone will get a good laugh and come away feeling better for having seen it.
Heroes plays through December 2, 2012 at Everyman Theatre – 1727 N. Charles Street in Baltimore. This is the final production Everyman Theatre will perform at the Charles Street Theatre. The new theatre — located on Fayette Street — will open in January 2013. For tickets to the final Charles Street Theatre performance, call the box office at (410) 752-2208, or purchase them online.