Bill Largess is a busy man. He’s a teacher, Artistic Director, and an actor, and is now appearing in Mary Rose at Rep Stage.
What is Mary Rose about and why did you want to be in this production?
Mary Rose is about a young woman who, when she was a little girl, vanished for 30 days on a remote Scottish island. When she was found, she had no idea she’d been away, or that any time had passed. She’s brought back to the island as a young wife and mother and… something happens. This was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite play, one he had hoped to film, so you can imagine that is has an air of mystery about it. I love Barrie’s work, and love working on plays that have slipped through the cracks like this, a lovely rediscovery.
You are playing Mr. Morland in the production. Tell us about him and how is he Bill Largess-like?
Mr. Morland is a pleasant, satisfied, country squire in the south of England, perfectly comfortable with a life of small pleasures, and not one to probe unpleasantness too deeply. I think I share his good nature but am better at facing the hard facts. And I don’t mind enigmas – I can accept things even when I don’t completely understand them. (How could I survive in the theatre otherwise?)
Most people know J.M. Barrie as the writer of Peter Pan. Does Mary Rose share any similarities with Peter Pan in in themes, story, and characters?
Certainly there is a parallel in that both plays use fantasy, but in Mary Rose it’s more mysterious and “grown-up.” By the end, Peter Pan’s use of a boy who never grows up has been turned inside out by Mary Rose‘s plot, but you’ll need to see the show to find out how. The gentle whimsy of much of the dialogue is recognizable in both plays as well.
You appeared in Rep Stage’s Two by J.M Barrie: The New Word and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, and Michael Stebbins, who is directing Mary Rose, also directed that production. What is it about J.M. Barrie’s work that you enjoy and why did you want to appear in another production of his work? And why do you enjoy working with Michael Stebbins?
Barrie writes extremely sympathetic characters, who may hide their feelings but still are affected by them. It’s a joy to explore these roles where even if you don’t quite say what you mean, you mean a lot. And Michael is a patient and sensitive director who makes rehearsal into a mutual exploration of the work. That’s ideal for a play like this, and his love of Barrie’s work means he takes the time to be sure we’re digging deep, not skating on the surface.
You appeared with Christine Demuth in Two by J.M. Barrie: The New Word and The Old Lady Shows Her Medals. How would you describe her performance as Mary Rose, and what impresses you the most about her performance?
Christine is radiant as Mary Rose, she really is lovely. She’s playing a character who is described again and again by the other characters as delightful, playful, and sometimes mysterious. That’s tough for an actor, since you have to take into account both your own actions and what’s said about you when you’re offstage. I think she’s going to blow people away.
You also are appearing with Eric Messner who is making his debut at Rep Stage. Tell us about his character and what impresses you about his performance?
Eric plays two characters, Mary Rose’s husband and son. They are very different people (with different accents, even) and we see them over a span of many years. He’s made them completely distinct without being cartoonish, and they are believable as father and son. I worked with Eric in 1999, and this is the first time we’ve been in a play together since, which happens in DC theatre all the time. It’s fun to re-encounter people on stage you’ve known off stage for years. (And this time we speak to each other in the play!)
At the same you are appearing in Mary Rose you are directing Pygmalion at The Washington Stage Guild. How have you juggled both responsibilities directing and attending rehearsals at Rep Stage?
Very carefully! It was a challenge to schedule it, and there wasn’t much margin for error, given the length of the commute between the two places, but as long as I kept my eyes on what was coming, it was manageable. (And I was teaching two classes at George Washington University during all this!) I had several days of 10 AM to 11 PM rehearsal with no break besides the 60 minute drive, which was tough but kind of exciting. I kept telling myself I was channeling Nick Olcott, who does this kind if thing all the time! And I believe both shows turned out great, so it seems to have worked. I couldn’t have done it without some flexibility from all concerned at both theatres, but I think (I hope!) nobody felt compromised.
You have been a ‘regular’ at Rep Stage and have appeared in over a dozen productions. Why do you enjoy performing at Rep Stage?
Many reasons! I love the plays the company does, and I enjoy the collegial working atmosphere. And the audience is so loyal, that’s gratifying, to know that people are coming who’ve seen me there as other characters in other plays over the past 15 years. I have played everything here from a Chekhovian ladies’ man to a sarcastic employer, from a neurotic hoarder to an obsessive scholar, and from an alcoholic theatre critic to a suicidal Irish wolfhound. Who wouldn’t come back for more?
The DC Metro area theatre community is growing by leaps and bounds and you have appeared in many productions. What roles that you have not yet performed would you like to do? And which shows that you have not directed yet, would you like to direct and why?
I’ve been pretty lucky about getting to play dream roles, except for a couple I’ve, ahem, “outgrown,” such as Joseph Surface in The School for Scandal. Lord Goring in An Ideal Husband and Jack Tanner/Don Juan in Man & Superman were things I had hoped to do, and got the chance! I’d like to play the Fool in King Lear sometime, although I’m more of a Kent. As for directing, I would love to take a crack at Jean Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine, a very odd and unexpected take on the Oedipus story.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Mary Rose at Rep Stage?
An appreciation of the preciousness of time spent with loved ones, and on another level, an awareness of how many great scripts are sitting on shelves and deserve to be produced. We see so many of the “standard repertoire” plays without having a context for them. Mary Rose shows us Barrie writing for adults, and that gives Peter Pan a resonance it wouldn’t have otherwise.