In Part Three of a series of interviews with cast members of Cohesion Theatre Company’s Neverwhere, meet Jonas David Grey.
Patricia: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you on local stages and some roles you have played.
Jonas: My name is Jonas. Jonas David Grey. I’ve been dabbling in the Baltimore theatre community in some fashion since 1995, though I took a four-year excursion to Chicago. Since returning to Baltimore three years ago, I’ve worked with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Spotlighters, the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, Silver Spring Stage, Pinky Swear in DC, Red Knight in DC and, of course, Cohesion. I actually met our director, Brad, working at Jewish Theatre workshop. I met Jon, our fight choreographer there too. It’s interesting how things develop. Synchronicity, I believe it’s called. I met Brad. I later asked him to work with me on Edward II at Spotlighters. That’s where he met Alice Stanley and that’s where they came up with the plan for Cohesion.
Why did you want to become a member of the cast of Neverwhere?
Several reasons really. I thoroughly enjoy working with Brad. Every time I have worked with him I have been pushed and challenged as an actor to find my place in the world he creates. I consider that a good thing. At the auditions I was surrounded by people I really like and knew that this cast would be fun to play with. There’s a lot of talent there too. And finally, I had an idea that this was going to be the most ambitious thing Cohesion had done to date. I wanted to be a part of pulling it off.
Had you read Neverwhere prior to being cast in this play? Had you seen the BBC series?
Yes on both counts. Fortunately, I read the book first. I loved it. I wish I could say the same for the BBC series, but it didn’t resonate with me. I found it to be a bit dry and uninteresting. There was nothing dangerous about it. That’s just my opinion. I’m sure there are others who would disagree.
Briefly describe your character for those who may be unfamiliar with the story (no spoilers!).
I play the Marquis de Carabas, a character of indeterminate age (he’s at least centuries old) and history. It’s fairly clear he’s created his own persona. He’s a bit dodgy. He wields a fair amount of power in the Underside. There is plenty more I could say about his motives, his magic and his role in the story, but that conversation would be hard to have without giving away bits of the story I’d rather people discover for themselves.
Does this character have any of your personality or character traits? Or any you’d aspire to? (I’d love to have even a smidgeon of The Marquis’ awesome confidence!)
The Marquis is a bit of a trickster. So am I. He knows his own capabilities and limitations. That’s something I constantly work on as well, though I lack the seeming infinite stream of confidence he exudes. Maybe if you and I were to live for centuries we’d get there too.
What were some of the challenges you faced while learning your role and how did you work through them?
The first challenge I face as an actor, no matter the role, is what I call the “mechanical” work. I hate learning lines. I get very impatient with blocking scenes. I’m really not happy with the process until I’ve passed those hurdles and can really start to sink my teeth into the character and the relationships. In this instance, I had more free time to devote to learning lines. It still didn’t come as quickly as I would have liked, but that’s all on me. Technically this show was a beast, so I had to simply surrender to the process and let things happen. This production demanded far more trust from me. Every night it seems we added a new element or challenge – the boxes, the lighting, the intensity of the stage combat. So every night I would have a little talk with myself before I walked into rehearsal. I reminded myself that I love this job, I am privileged to be a part of this process, and that the easiest way to get through a show like this – or life in general, is simply to surrender to what is and trust that everything will work out. At the end of the day I also have to say that I was in very good hands with Brad at the helm and with Jon Rubin working the fights.
Riding atop the moving set pieces, standing tall with lights perilously close to your head, you looked perfectly at ease and as swaggery as ever. Was that hard to accomplish? Do you naturally have unusually good balance?
I made it a point to be available to help build those boxes. Seeing, especially, the big one come together and actually tightening bolts and lifting supports added greatly to my peace of mind. I knew how sturdy and safe the boxes were. It also gave me extra opportunity to play on them. I had a skateboard for a while, which requires a similar kind of balance. Not ten feet off the ground of course, but I found those skills useful. And again, it’s about trust. I trust the construction. I trust the people moving the boxes. I can relax and enjoy the ride. And it’s kind of cool, too.
You’ve performed the quite ‘serious’ roles of Edward and MacBeth and Hamlet; was it fun to play a snarky scoundrel like The Marquis?
Oh gosh yes! I’m very grateful for the roles I’ve been allowed to play. The ones you mention in particular offer a type of emotional payoff that I love as an actor. I want diversity though. I need to mix it up and avoid being categorized as only one thing. I’ve played enough English kings who get murdered. For now. The Marquis is so unapologetically, well, everything. Arrogant, condescending, sarcastic, manipulative. He’s great. And, no spoilers of course, the role he ultimately plays in the story is very gratifying.
What have you enjoyed most about this experience since beginning rehearsals?
Now that we are up and running, I love everything about this show. It’s dangerous and cool and dark and magical. I get to live in that world for almost three hours with a bunch of the best playmates. This experience feels much less like so many of the productions I’ve been a part of, and much more like those times when I was a kid and would get together with my friends and dress up and play superheroes or dinosaur hunters or whatever other fantasy caught our attention. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved being a part of every single show I’ve done in Baltimore/DC in the past few years. They’ve all been exciting and different in their own way. But Neverwhere has the distinction of bringing with it that childlike joy.
What has impressed you most about your fellow cast members and/or crew?
I could make a list and write a paragraph on every person involved with this show. Everyone has tremendous creative ability and has given so much to making this show what it is. I will say of those actors I know well, I am witnessing some of their finest work. It’s like everything is ramped up in this fantastic world. There are a lot of people involved in the show that I didn’t know before. We have an amazing stage manager. Our makeup designer taught me a lot of really cool stuff. Our costumer, our lighting designer, our set painter, each of them contributed so much energy and creativity into making this world real and vibrant and a little bit scary. And the beast? Well, spoilers. But, yeah, impressive.
Why do you think audiences should come see the show?
It’s ambitious, exciting theatre. It’s a good story. Especially because of the staging, it’s very easy to be drawn in to a world of fantasy and intrigue. It’s also rare that theatre and the genres of sci-fi/fantasy overlap. So this is a rare opportunity. Can you imagine seeing Doctor Who as live, in-your-face theatre? Or Game of Thrones? Ok, well, maybe not Game of Thrones. That would be terrifying.
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming roles, jobs, or life events you’d like to mention?
I’m hoping to direct something in the coming year, but the what, when and where have yet to materialize. I’m just ready to direct again. My next onstage role will be a reprisal of Zombie Shakespeare in The Complete Deaths of William Shakespeare. That’s a coproduction of Cohesion and Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. I’m also the new Director of Education for BSF and am developing a series of courses for high school students and adults in the coming year. The first student course will start in September. I’ll be teaching an Intro to Acting Course for grades 7-12 at the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. I’m doing private coaching as well.
BIO: Jonas David Grey (the Marquis de Carabas) has done a lot plays and had a lot of training. He’s not shy, so feel free to ask him about it. He’s played Hamlet and Macbeth and Tom Sawyer and Richard Loeb and Winnie the Pooh. In 2014 he won Broadway World’s Regional Award as Best Actor in a Play for his portrayal of Edward in Edward II. Jonas directs plays, is an acting coach, and a very good cook. Also, he is currently the Director of Education at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. And he has a website.
Running Time: Approximately three hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
Neverwhere plays through June 19, 2016 at Cohesion Theatre, performing at United Evangelical Church – 3200 Dillon Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door or online. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online.
Review of Neverwhere on DCMetroTheaterArts by Patricia Mitchell.
Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 1: Joseph Coracle.
Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 2: Cori Dioquino.
Interviews from London Below: Inside Cohesion Theatre’s ‘Neverwhere’: Part 3: Jonas Grey.