‘Cast Chats-Part 2:’ With Members of the Cast of ‘Tartuffe’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company by Amanda Gunther

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Continuing on with the other half of the Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s cast of Tartuffe we hear from the title character and the other two actors that made the show such a smashing success.

Grayson Owne, Alyssa Bouma, and Michael Ryan Neely. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.
Grayson Owen, Alyssa Bouma, and Michael Ryan Neely. Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

There goes that phrase again “Bodies Are Humorous.” Can you guys tell us what’s it all about?

Lauren Turchin: As far as Dorine goes, she’s a bundle of crude humor with hints of class. She likes to use exaggerated motions, including showcasing her breasts quite a bit. It’s an enjoyable sort of raunchy that she really just has fun with it. Everyone likes a good saucy joke and I get to augment that in Dorine’s case by really using her assets to pull off some of the funnier moments. In Elmire’s case I really rely much more on her facial expressions. All of those little nuances built up into the faces she makes are what define her humors. But basically— it’s all about Dorine and her breasts. Perfect. Boobs. Done.

Grayson Owen: For me, Damis (who is Orgon’s son) is very foppish. He’s afraid of bodies so all the sexual innuendos and boobs frighten him terribly. He’s definitely frightened of it, especially when Dorine starts flirting with him, and let’s face it she’s boobs galore, but he isn’t exactly sure that he should be frightened, so it’s a very conflicting moment for him. When he’s hiding behind the tree he’s totally shocked but then suddenly he’s staring at Dorine’s boobs, and it’s this “OMG” moment of confusion.

Cleante is just drunk. He doesn’t notice bodies because he’d drunk all the time. He moves like a drunkard. He’s drunk. So there.

Stephen Horst: As Madam Pernelle everything is humorous, how can it not be with my neck beard in the role of a woman? Everything is so out of place, that neck beard is really doing me in. But with her, once I’m in costume it all just sort of falls into place with the motions and with the wig. I had this little head-turner gesture, sort of like a bird, when I first started using the wig, and it was great but it was causing everyone else to break out of character so I had to pull it back a little, make it much more subtle. But her head movements are definitely a big part of her humor.

Tartuffe does a lot of moving of bodies that are not his own. He moved Elmire a lot. What I’m finding with him is that he sort of has this unpredictable routine approach his over-sexualized movements. You know it’s going to happen you just don’t know how. Sally really liked the cross thing that I do— because I stayed so stiff while doing it.

Lauren: No pun intended.

Stephen: Or maybe I did intend a pun there? But Tartuffe’s physicality unravels from this stiff religious man as he starts stripping and taking of all his clothes, it all comes undone all of those clothes and suddenly I’m not constricted anymore, I have freedom of movement! At the end I get this interesting juxtaposition of physicality and reality as Ryan’s character exposes me and I am “exposed.”

How do you guys find working with the dissolved notion of a 4th wall that no longer exists?

Lauren: Oh we definitely have these, what I’m going to call ‘broken face moments’ it’s very obvious where we’ve created these pauses to sort of let the audience see what’s going on.

Stephen: Lauren would come into rehearsals with all these ideas and I wouldn’t’ really have anything but I’d just go with it because putting her ideas to use really worked out great. We had this great give and take relationship that really let us try out different stuff which would work or maybe not work in front of an audience that’s right there with us in our faces.

Grayson: We in this cast really open up to trying everyone’s ideas. And we really got to play up the trust with one another because we become really vulnerable in a sense throwing our suggestions out there to see if they will succeed or not. We also got to play up the improv of the scene, really working with it to see what did and didn’t work.

Stephen: It’s listening and responding. You got that standard training in college, listen and respond, listen and respond, and staying pure to that really helped with what the audience was seeing, regardless of whether there was a fourth wall or not.

Grayson: It’s definitely something you have to adapt to, the audience being right there with us, but we realize what gets laughed at and what doesn’t, and it’s in understanding that, by having the audience so close that we can really make this performance a success.

Lauren: I love this. I love the idea of working with the audience. I love the challenge that it presents. This is definitely a challenge. This is more freedom from the normal on-stage choreography. This is so much more fun because you get to read the reactions of the audience faster. Don’t get me wrong I love a regular play but this is just so exciting and new and you really feel that immediate reward when you succeed at getting a laugh or getting through to the audience.

Grayson: For me, being able to turn to an audience member and have them respond is great. Like the highlight of the show for me. I turned to an audience member one night and she really got into it with me, she actually grabbed my flask and took a pretend sip. It creates this perfect moment because they become part of the reality in which these characters live. It’s more of a conversation with the audience, us talking to them and telling our story; we’re not just performing anymore.

Lauren: You really get to see the effect you’re having on them. As an actor you do a performance and you leave. But with this you get to see what you’ve created as reflected in their eyes and you know whether or not you’ve effected them.

Stephen: I’m going to admit in the beginning I was skeptical about how this was going to work. I love stage acting. The audience is still there, and you’re still feeding off their energy, but the artistic soul in me was like “we’re going for the entertainment shot here.” After doing the show, though, I’m almost seeing the audience as a part of Orgon’s household. We have brought them into this neighborhood we have created and they really get to be present with us as our story unfolds, making it their story.

Lauren: I got this one lady who called at Dorine, I can’t remember what she said but I got to respond to her and say “Are you talking about me?” And she got all twitterpated. It was priceless!

Stephen: It really dose pose an interesting challenge, because you literally get different goals and challenges with each new audience. The story is the same, but it’s never really the same because the audiences are so different and they’re all always right there.

Lauren: This really does call back to the classic roots of theatre. They were always interacting— gypsies and caravans. And that’s where asides came from— saying your lines aside to the audience. So it takes me back to those roots, I love it but I also love the cleanness of an on-stage production. So I’m torn about it because I love the chance it affords me as an actor but there are things about ‘regular’ performing that I miss.

Stephen: This really challenges you because with this format you really have to understand the balance of give and take or those moments aren’t going to work and then everyone is right there in your face watching them not work. That’s what acting is all about, having the give-and-take that makes the moments work.

Grayson: It’s a great change for the audience too because it’s very divided normally— they are the audience watching a show and we are the actors performing the show. But with this the audience really gravitates into it, understanding and really feeling everything that’s going on rather than just having them watch.

Stephen: We’re literally roping them into classic Moliere and saying “You’re going to understand it, Damnit!” And you either get it or you’re stuck looking at your food the whole time. Or I guess maybe you could leave. Please don’t leave.

You all play a vast range of unique characters, from where are you drawing your inspirations?

Grayson: Um, I know when we originally started rehearsals we first focused on Commedia with the character archetypes. Damis comes from the perfect fop and partially Arlecchino, the hotheadedness, so I focused on his foppish nature to draw the comedy out for his ridiculously rude selfish annoying teen-like character with strange lines. I really played into his shortcomings, like his inability to simply take a glove off his hand.

For Cleante what originally I found was that he was just a straight man. It was hard to find the comedy in him. What’s really funny, because his lines are so direct, is that he just states his mind and then leaves. So I was having Cleante have a brandy to just sort of give him something to do and I said to Sally, “Cleante should just drink the whole show.” And she said “Do it.” And it really worked. That’s where his drunkenness comes from. He needed a bit, so we got him drunk. Blame Moliere for him being otherwise simple.

Lauren: I really just wanted to be clear in distinguishing these two women. I didn’t want people to be like “why’d she just put on a hat?” They had to understand that they were two completely separate women. I made bodily differences. Dorine had the saucy maid’s body. She struts. She saunters. She strides. With her boobs out and her carefree moves, she’s flailing her duster and she has these moments where she just shamelessly flirts with Frenchy (Ryna’s French character Loyal) and she outright just touches his butt. She’s vying for male attention anyway she can. She’s loud. She’s obnoxious and crude. And all over the place. We added humor to her with her voice. Her lines have a lot of innuendo and blatant sexual jokes and everyone else is shocked and stunned, she’s laughing about it. I sort of gave her this little Eliza Doolittle voice, she has no right to be that bold in the tongue because she’s a servant in Orgon’s house but she just doesn’t care. The voice helps me carry her differently and I think it’s really what makes Dorine such a comic success.

Elmire is not stiff and boring, but she is far more reserved than Dorine. She still has to have that same energy but it’s much more musical, it’s gentler and it’s softer, but still there. She has that aristocratic sound that really breaks up the difference in her and Dorine’s class standing.

Stephen: When I build characters I look at them from 2 opposite angles of the spectrum. There’s the from scratch approach, so fresh and coming from the internal self. And on the other end I do the work-through and really think how you can add to the character from people that you know and the things that you’ve seen.

With Madam Pernelle I had all the maternal patronizing emotions that you’d expect from a matriarch in the first scene. She’s so abrasive and harsh, coming from the mom/grandmom place deep down of overcaring. She’s consumed with and concerned with everyone’s problems and I add the nervous radiant energy. My dad’s mom is like that, and the way she talks isn’t too different from the way I make Madam Pernelle talk.

But Tartuffe I played a bit differently. Two years ago I played Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Sally told me to channel him. But I don’t do that. So I blocked that out. Tartuffe just doesn’t have that kind of emotional depth. He’s closer to Angelo from Measure for Measure, I think. He’s just a lustful hound. It’s interesting to have the physical cross in hand, trying to be so pious and appear as such when he’s nothing bit a big ol’ hypocrite through and through. He knows he’s not moral and he’s really good at fooling Orgon. And that’s what matters.

It’s fun, and you can feel the audience’s disgust with his cross of religious language as it falls into ruddy sexually innuendo. In the courtyard it’s very clear you can hear the gasps! Tartuffe is the butt of every joke, he’s the hypocrite, and the bad guy and the jerk. The show essentially bashes religious hypocrisy, and I find that I enjoy that.

What’s your overall opinion of this modern adaptation by Timothy Mooney?

Grayson: I uh, find it interesting because while it is modern— well sort of— he took rhyming couplets and went with it. Rhyming equals modern, sort of. You’re doing it in a modern way and really pandering to those rhymes really playing them up which in a sense almost makes it more classical. You play it up rather than avoid it. As Shakespearean actors you downplay and fade out the rhymes but here you really work them over. There are some rhymes that really don’t work and they become funny. At the beginning it was against everything I knew as a classically trained actor but the humor is ageless.

Lauren: Everyone loves a good penis joke!

Grayson: It’s great for me because the adaptation wasn’t’ making it modern, it was just using a classical style to more easily bring it to a modern audience.

Stephen: It makes sense as adapted because it’s been translated. From the modern mind it’s cut and its rhyming in a more relatable form of English. There’s just this inherent modern feel to it.

Grayson: Have we said the word modern enough yet?

Stephen: We do sort of make fun of it, these really awkward moments; it’s an interesting process. Pushing these moments a little bit farther so that they audience really knows they are there, and feels them land.

Lauren: It’s a bit off beat and helter-skelter, sort of like committing to lip-synching with all that’s happening.

Grayson: You just dive right into it. Don’t think twice.

Do you have any parting thoughts for the Tartuffe fans out there? Things you hope they might take away from this show?

Stephen: I was very grateful for this opportunity but seriously, like I sad at the beginning I was looking at this as a paid entertainment gig, which was nice. I came into this group as the new person so it was neat for all of us to come together with such a quick turn around and all get so easily comfy with each other, listening and responding not just in the story but with each other as actual people, as actors. I like challenges, like I said before, and this definitely gave me a challenge. It is unique, I’ve never done anything like this because with this rules aren’t rules anymore. Sally would say “coin the rhyming couplets and the ends of your phrases” like you just created them. She used the fourth wall as the objective. It was your job to get the audience on your character’s side. It was a cool challenge to take on and I’m personally just having so much fun.

Lauren: It has been short and intense but I work best under pressure. So this really worked for me. Sally has been so giving with us, open and willing to try what we brought to the table. Having that ability to create is just wonderful and we created this deeply comic thing and it was wonderful.

Stephen: It’s a metacomedy. Anything sort of goes and fits into the rubric so everyone just finds everything sort of funny.

Grayson: For me that openness to just be able to take a script and play with it is a dream come true. It’s such an open environment, so finding what’s funny, being able to really open up to the audience and show them something different just by breaking down the 4th wall is great.

Lauren: And we all just love each other so much! It’s great seeing what we’ve accomplished and we hope the audience enjoys it as much as we enjoy doing it.

Stephen: Sally was really instrumental with that because she keeps it light. She’s laughing all the time. She loves the process of creating this work so that we can love it to. She meets us where we are in the creative process and it’s so incredible. You so desperately don’t want to disappoint her because you want to see her satisfied with everything she’s encouraged us to do and I think at the end of the day that helps us work harder to achieve our goal.

Grayson: We built higher and higher expectations getting better and better and having more and more fun. Sally was a huge part of that too.

Stephen: We definitely want everyone to come see what we’ve worked on; it’s a great new experience.

(l to r) Director Sally Boyett-D'Angelo, Michael Ryan Neely (Valere), Alyssa Bouma (Marianne), Laurin Turchin (Elmire), Timothy Mooney (the writer of the adaptation), Alex Foley as Orgon, Stephen Horst (Tartuffe) and Grayson Owen (Cleante). Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.
(l to r) Director Sally Boyett-D’Angelo, Michael Ryan Neely (Valere), Alyssa Bouma (Marianne), Laurin Turchin (Elmire), Timothy Mooney (the writer of the adaptation), Alex Foley as Orgon, Stephen Horst (Tartuffe) and Grayson Owen (Cleante). Photo courtesy of Annapolis Shakespeare Company.

Grayson: What he said.

Tartuffe plays Tuesday evenings through August 13, 2013 (with no performance July 30th) in The Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern— 7 Church Circle in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call (410) 415-3513, or purchase them online.

LINKS
Cast Chats-Part 1: With Members of the Cast of ‘Tartuffe’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company by Amanda Gunther.

Read the review of Tartuffe on DCMetroTheaterArts.