In Part Six of a series of interviews with the cast of The Foreigner at Sandy Spring Theatre Group, performing at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn, meet John Van Eck.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform before on our local stages.
John: Hi, Joel! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I have been performing in community and local theater for over 40 years, the last 15 in the Washington metro area. Most recently I played Richard Hannay in the SSTG production of The 39 Steps. I have also been in Montgomery Playhouse’s Miracle on 34th Street (Fred Gailey), RLT’s California Suite (Sidney), Full Circle Theater’s Turn of the Screw (Two person show), Pieces of Eight’s “Don’t Dress for Dinner” (Bernard), and Aurora Studio Theatre’s Mousetrap (Sgt. Trotter). My favorite roles of these shows were Sidney and Trotter, but I liked them all.
Why did you want to become a member of the cast of The Foreigner?
I didn’t know much about the show when I auditioned, but I have great trust in Bruce and the SSTG board. Separately each seem to consistently pick good shows, and with both Bruce and SSTG I expected a great selection. I have not been disappointed J.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to this character?
In this play I am cast as Charlie, the “Foreigner.” Charlie is an embodiment of some basic insecurities we all share to varying degrees. This makes him easy to relate to, albeit in a farcical fashion much of the time. I try to find the humanity in roles, especially in farces, because I feel the contrast of poignancy and farce helps to highlight an enhance both.
What were some of the challenges you faced while learning your role and how did Director Bruce Hirsch help you with these challenges?
I am always challenged by comedic roles, and farce especially. My easiest role, and natural tendencies, are towards the darker/tragic sides of human nature. Bruce, on the other hand, has an excellent grasp of farce and comedy, and has helped me immensely in getting the nuances of this role nailed down. I love working with Bruce.
What does The Foreigner have to say to today’s audiences?
It is interesting that this show was selected months ago, because I feel it is becoming more relevant to our current political climate as we proceed towards November. Without offering any spoilers, I think this show helps illustrate the point that there is no “They” there – that people who are different, be they foreigners or from a different section of the country or background or what have you – everyone is just someone trying to get along and live their life. We are not all that different, once we get past the surface front we all have.
Which character is most like you and why and how?
Charlie of course. His playfulness harkens back to my childhood, and has an almost wistful innocence at times. For other characters — I think it would have been easy to cast me as David. No spoilers as to why, but in a broad sense David can be an iron fist in a velvet glove. I play those types of characters well.
What are your favorite lines that you recite and your favorite lines that other characters recite in The Foreigner?
A lot of my lines are in Foreign speak, and I love them all. I got my all-time favorite direction in this show: ”Use lots of accents” Bruce said. Not sure he is entirely pleased with the results right now, and it may change by opening, but I have taken that note to heart. My favorite English line, without giving away anything (do I sound like a broken record?) is “And we have a stupid plan.” My favorite line that someone else says is when Betty, the owner of the house, says “Charlie don’t understand English much, not hardly even when it’s REAL LOUD!”
Where are you appearing next on the stage after The Foreigner ends its run?
I don’t know, ask my wife ;-).Seriously, community theater can be a strain on family life, and one needs to have a very patient and forgiving spouse to navigate through that stress. In my case the stress sis magnified because we have five children, ages 10-20. This makes for a complicated schedule when one parent is gone 3-4 nights a week for a month and a half. As a result I try to limit myself to one or two shows a year, which seems a good balance for us. If I am able to do another show this year, it will likely be a Fall Production with RLT – they have an interesting show coming up in that time slot.
What do you want audience members to take away with them after seeing you perform in The Foreigner?
I hope that they laugh more than once – and I hope they walk away with an understanding that the world has always had conflict between those who want to live and let live and those who want to attack the “other.” That what we see in today’s world is no different than what was seen in 1983 (setting of play), or even 1773. Just with a different set of players and lines determining who is “us” and who is “them.”
The Foreigner plays from May 13-29, 2016 at Sandy Spring Theatre Group performing at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.
Meet The Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 1: Rob Milanich.
Meet the Cast of ‘Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 2: Paul Noga.
Meet the Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 3: Marc Rehr.
Meet the Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’: Part 4: Becca Sears.
Meet The Cast of Sandy Spring Theatre Group’s ‘The Foreigner’: Part 5: Dave Scheele.
Meet The Cast of Sandy Spring Theater Group’s ‘The Foreigner’ Part 6: John Van Eck.