‘Working for Peanuts’: Meet the Cast of Reston Community Players’ ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’-Part 2: Nina Jankowicz and Patrick Graham

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Fall is in the air, and it’s perfect weather for tangling kites in trees, trying to finally win a baseball game, and hoping against hope to finally kick the football without having it pulled away at the last minute by a certain psychoanalyzing little girl as Reston Community Players (RCP) opens its 48th season on October 17, 2014 with the award-winning musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

“What could be more fun than a talking dog with a flying WWI dog house? Or the chance to work with such a talented group as the Reston Players brings together both on and off stage?,” says RCP Director Richard Bird.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown follows a typical day in the life of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. Featuring such memorable songs as “My New Philosophy,” “Suppertime,” and “Happiness,” the Broadway revival garnered Tony Awards for Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Kristin Chenoweth) and Best Featured Actor in a Musical  (Roger Bart).

Reston Community Players’ You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is directed by Richard Bird with music direction by Mark V. Deal. The ensemble cast features Richard Farella (Charlie Brown), Alana Sharp (Lucy), Nina Jankowicz (Sally), Sidney Davis (Linus), Eric Hughes (Schroeder), and Terry Barr (Snoopy). Laura Baughman is the producer.

Snoopy (Terry Barr) and Sally (Nina Jankowicz). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Snoopy (Terry Barr) and Sally (Nina Jankowicz). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

In Part 2 of this interview series, we meet Nina Jankowicz, who plays Sally, Charlie Brown’s philosophizing sister. We also talk to Patrick Graham, who plays Linus, Lucy’s blanket-dependent intellectual baby brother.

Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Nina Jankowicz (Sally). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Nina Jankowicz (Sally). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Nina: This is actually my first show both with RCP and in the DC metro area in general! I moved here in 2011 for graduate school, which was a very busy time, so I didn’t have a chance to participate in any local theater. I’ve been itching to get back into it, though! Prior to moving here, I was heavily involved in student-run theater at Bryn Mawr College, where I did my BA, and before that, in community theater in central NJ, where I grew up (one of my favorite roles is another “kid”- Peter Pan!). In “real life,” I work at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, where I support democracy assistance programs in the Eurasia region. I speak Russian and Polish and am fascinated by Central and Eastern Europe.

Patrick: My name is Patrick Graham, and I work for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in their accounts receivable department. As for Reston Players, this is my third show with them, having done Les Misérables (Legles/Babet) this past season and Legally Blonde (Dewey/Carlos) the season prior. As for favorite roles in the area, I just finished playing 6 characters in Spamalot at The Little Theatre of Alexandria (Historian, Not Dead Fred, Frenchie, Dancing Nun, Sir Robin’s Minstrel, and Prince Herbert) and Rod in Dominion Stage’s Avenue Q. As for something interesting about me, I collect and repair older video game/systems.

Describe your earliest memories of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. If they were important to you as a child or adult, tell us why.

Nina: I remember watching all the Charlie Brown holiday specials on TV as a kid, and reading the Peanuts comics (albeit not really “getting” them until much later) in the Sunday papers. In high school, my best friend and I would drive around not blasting and singing along to the radio, but the 1999 revival cast recording of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Typical theatre kids!

Patrick: I always enjoyed watching Charlie Brown as a child. More so, I was drawn to how crazy and silly Snoopy was. As I grew older I began to look deeper into the message that a lot of the cartoon and comic strips had and gained a bigger appreciation of the overall comic.

What do you like most about your character?

Nina: I see a lot of myself as a kid in Sally! I was definitely a smart aleck and a charmer, like Sally, who can talk her way out of anything.

Patrick: I think what I like most about Linus is that he portrays such innocence as he’s younger than most of the gang and always carrying his blanket around. The blanket, as an actor, give me something to fidget with on stage and an excuse to do so, which I’ve had to teach myself not to do onstage.

What do you like least about your character?

Nina: Sally is just a little too hard on her big brother :)

Patrick: Linus’s commentary is very dry sometimes, and finding a balance blending with the other characters and hitting certain jokes or moments can be difficult because of this.

What are some of the challenges – and rewards –  of bringing an iconic character to life?

Nina: With well-known characters and shows, there is always a fear that you somehow won’t be “enough”- either you won’t live up to the original performer’s version of the character, or in the case of Charlie Brown, you won’t live up to the cartoon character. It’s scary to think that you might disappoint some people in the audience. But I think that fear is mostly unfounded- often the folks who come to see shows like these love to see different versions and interpretations of the work. Which brings me to the rewarding part of doing iconic characters and shows: taking material that is well-loved and bringing a little bit of your own uniqueness and experience to the work.

Patrick: Well, people come into the show with their own perception of what the character is and how he should be portrayed. Having done a few musicals based on movies, I’ve found that finding a balance to stay true to the character’s original intent while bringing the character into a new and fun light is a balance that is hard to achieve, yet extremely rewarding once it’s found.

Patrick Graham (Linus). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Patrick Graham (Linus). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

How have you gone about creating your character?

Nina: I’ve tried to distance myself from the 1999 cast recording that I know so well, and I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Sally’s “greatest hits,’ so to speak, in the Peanuts strips.

Patrick: I’ve watched some of the old cartoons and taken some of Linus’ mannerisms, especially with the blanket. Besides that, I’ve tried to tap into my inner child and look at what the character is saying through a child’s eye. Finding a way to be innocent and genuine while speaking with Linus’s sophisticated tongue has been my main focus.

What drew you to Good Man Charlie Brown?

Nina: It’s a show I’ve loved for years. The music is great, and no matter what kind of a day I’ve had, I knew I would always be able to come to rehearsal and have a ton of fun!

Patrick: I love the music in the show and that the cast is only six people. It really creates a bonding experience for everyone involved.

What did you perform at your audition — and how did you react when you learned you had the role?

Nina: I sang “Popular” from Wicked, which I felt had the same kind of youthful exuberance that the Charlie Brown score does. I got a phone call a few hours after callbacks, when my husband and I were reading in bed. When I got off the phone, we were both so happy that our dog Jake knew something was up and jumped on the bed to share in the excitement.

How have your director and music director helped you find your character? What advice particularly sticks with you?

Nina: Rich and Mark really encourage us to be kids at rehearsal. They both have a sort of childlike excitement and obvious love for the show- it’s contagious and gets us all into the right head space from the moment we walk in the door every night.

Patrick: Coming into the process much later than the other actors, it’s been a very different experience as far as being able to gently try things and take me time with decisions. I very much have to trust my instincts. I’ve worked with both Rich and Mark before, so we had a great rapport. I just jumped in heads first and did what felt natural, and they helped me smooth the edges.

What are your solos or big numbers — and what does the audience learn about your character when you sing these songs?

NINA: “My New Philosophy” and “Rabbit Chasing” show the two ranges of Sally’s character! Though she’s wise beyond her years and more than a little smart alecky in “Philosophy,” you see her imagination, sense of adventure, and youthful exuberance captured when she’s chasing rabbits with her pal Snoopy.

Patrick: My big number is definitely “My blanket and Me.” It starts out dealing with Linus’s attachment to his safety blanket and the other children making fun of him for it, but I think grows into how we all have our own “safety blanket.” I still have my Blue Bear that I always slept with as a child. It’s a piece of ourselves that we don’t let go of, partly because we have such sentimental memories of it and also because it gives us a representation of how far we’ve come.

What character that you are not playing is your favorite and what song that you are not singing is your favorite — and why?

Nina: I love Snoopy and all of his songs. As a dog owner, I really think Schultz and the authors of this show did a great job encapsulating every dog’s inner thoughts, aspirations, and quirks!

Patrick: Snoopy is by far my favorite character.  I am always drawn to high energy roles and Snoopy has some amazing moments that Terry Barr is hilarious in. But my favorite song is “My New Philosophy.” Nina’s big song is a new addition to the revival and has such a solid musical theatre tone to it that it became an instant classic.

Sally has lots of philosophies in the show. If you had one philosophy to share, what would it be and why?

Nina: Pursue everything in balance. These days (and particularly in the DC area) being busy or a workaholic is seen as a badge of honor. I love my job, but it is things like doing theater, playing music, and practicing yoga that really keep me in balance and motivated for my life as a whole, and help me do my “day job” with pizzazz, efficiency, and pleasure. Give it a try!

Patrick: My philosophy is “get lots of sleep” and “don’t stress.” Decompression, I believe, is an important part of the human experience. With too much on your shoulders, you begin to lose focus on how bright and happy life can be, even during the hard times.

Why should people come see Charlie Brown? What makes this show special?

Nina: It is a show that can be enjoyed by all ages. That’s said about a lot of shows, but for Charlie Brown, it’s true. Kids just picking up the comics for the first time will love it, and adults that grew up with Peanuts will feel like they’re coming home. The show includes slapstick physical comedy, lots of humor for nerds and classical music buffs, and poignant moments and life lessons that everyone can identify with.

Patrick: This show is adorable, fun, and filled with moments that let you perceive the world through a child’s eyes.  I think this show also an incredible family show, for all ages. Many of the community theaters in the area do not do children’s shows anymore, and I’m so glad that Reston Players has brought this opportunity for actors in the area.

What do you hope audience will take away from seeing Charlie Brown?

Nina: Everyone can benefit from bringing child-like joy and wonder to daily life, no matter your age!

Patrick: I hope that audiences will enjoy seeing some of the most beloved American characters being portrayed on stage, and take a look at life through the eyes of these children.

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You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown plays from October 17 – November 7, 2014 at CenterStage at the Reston Community Center – 2310 Colts Neck Road, in Reston, VA. All performances are at 8:00 p.m. with the exception of 2:00 p.m. matinees on October 26th and November 2, 2014. For tickets, call the CenterStage box office at (703) 476-4500 x 3, or purchase them online.

CenterStage is handicap accessible and offers listening devices for the hearing impaired.

LINK

‘Working for Peanuts’: Meet the Cast of Reston Community Players’ ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’-Part 1: Alana Sharp and Eric Hughes.

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Diane Jackson Schnoor
Diane Jackson Schnoor is delighted to be back in the DC metro area after nearly two decades away. She earned her BA at The American University, with a minor in theatre arts, and holds a master's and doctorate in elementary education from the University of Virginia. A lifelong devotee of the arts, Diane's reviews and arts feature stories have been published in The Millbrook Independent and DC Metro Theatre Arts. As an actress, Diane has performed with the Cape Fear Regional Theatre, the Fort Bragg Playhouse, TriArts Sharon Playhouse, and in musicals and dance shows in Millbrook, NY, Amenia, NY, and Lakeville, CT. Her day job career has run the gamut from adjunct college faculty to preschool director to public relations director and back again, but her primary occupation these days is as chauffeur to the two young actresses who inhabit her home in Winchester, VA.