In Part 2 of a series of interviews with the cast of The Montgomery Playhouse’s Postmortem, meet Dell Pendergrast.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform before on our local stages.
Dell: I am Dell Pendergrast and after a career in the Foreign Service, I’ve performed during the last ten years with many community theaters around the D.C. area. Most recently this year, I was in To Kill a Mockingbird (Sterling Playmakers) and The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (Clifton Arts Council).
Why did you want to become a member of the cast of Postmortem?
I welcomed the opportunity to work for the first time with Montgomery Playhouse, which has been staging excellent productions since 1929 – the oldest continuing community theater in the Washington D.C. area. I previously did another Ken Ludwig play a few years ago (Fox on the Fairway), I was also interested in this very different work by an accomplished local playwright.
Who do you play in the show and how do you relate to this character?
William Gillette, the veteran, eccentric, impassioned actor who was in fact a prominent figure in American theater during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He collaborated with Sir Conan Doyle to originate the modern Sherlock Holmes character and performed Holmes more than 1,300 times. The Gillette/Holmes personalities often overlapped, which is demonstrated in Ken Ludwig’s fictional story. Gillette has assembled a group of fellow actors at his palatial residence in rural Connecticut on the first anniversary of his fiancé’s presumed suicide. Or was it suicide? And if a murder, who is responsible? Is Gillette himself complicit? Or is he now a target?
What were some of the challenges you faced while learning your role and how did Director Loretto McNally help you with these challenges?
Gillette is a role to be acted simultaneously at multiple levels: A dedicated thespian, the intrepid owner of a medieval-like estate (today owned by the state of Connecticut and open to the public), an incurable romantic with the ladies, and someone who imagines himself as Sherlock Holmes. Loretto was invaluable in helping to craft this complex character, especially steering away from the cliff of caricature.
What does Postmortem have to say to today’s audiences?
The play’s succession of plot twists and character shifts should caution a contemporary audience about the risk of rushing to judgment on anything. Nothing is genuinely clear to the audience until the final, dramatic scene. And Postmortem also provides a good window to the theater community of the 1920s.
Which character is most like you and why and how?
I can identify with Gillette with his intense, infectious passion for the theater. The real Gillette was a brilliant actor, playwright and producer whose long career had a major impact on American theater. From an early age, I also have been fascinated by Conan Doyle’s work and the Sherlock Holmes character so clearly associated with Gillette.
What are your favorite lines that you recite and your favorite lines that other characters recite in Postmortem?
My favorite line that I recite is: “Bates is on vacation. Living it up in Atlantic City. I think I must pay him too much.”
My favorite line said by others: “The police strategy appears to be that if I get out of their jurisdiction and make it back to New York alive, then with any luck I’ll be murdered there.”
Where are you appearing next on the stage after Postmortem ends its run?
Nothing at this time.
What do you want audience members to take away with them after seeing you perform in Postmortem?
I hope the audience will recognize the complexity and unique personality of William Gillette, who in both this play and in history had a distinctive, significant impact on the people with whom he worked.
Postmortem plays weekends from November 4-20, 2016 at The Montgomery Playhouse performing at the Kentlands 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 ‘Postmortem’ at Montgomery Playhouse, Part 1: Gemma Davimes.
Meet the Cast of ‘Postmortem’ at Montgomery Playhouse: Part 2: Dell Pendergrast.