In Part 3 of a series of interviews with the cast of Greenbelt Arts Center’s Dinner with Friends, meet Michelle Johncock.
Joel: Please tell our readers where they may have seen your work on our local stages. Who did you play in these productions?
Michelle: I haven’t been seen in a while but 5 years ago I was “Peter Quince” in the Rude Mechanicals production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream here at GAC and just before that you could have seen me as Susie Hendrix in Silver Spring’s production of Wait until Dark or as Jeannie in Fat Pig, also at the Silver Spring Stage.
What made you want to be a cast member of Dinner With Friends?
The play resonated with me. We all have expectations of ourselves, our friends and our spouses that we don’t ever articulate and this play is about those expectations and what happens when other’s don’t live up to our unspoken beliefs about who we are, how we behave and how we carry on. The characters and situations were very real and relatable; funny, poignant, and true.
What is the show about from the point of view of your character?
For Karen, the break-up of Tom and Beth is a game changer. She’s practical but nonetheless had these ideas of what her relationships were and with their break-up a bright light is being shone on the flaws in her beliefs. She’s hurt by their actions because she sees their break-up as selfish, as an indictment of their friendship. She likes to think she’s lived her life openly and honestly but that requires her to believe that others do the same which she now knows isn’t true. For her, it lays open the painful possibility that she hasn’t been as honest in her relationships as she likes to think she is. Karen’s obliviousness to Beth’s pain IS an indictment of their friendship and she’ll never be the same. She’s going to have to go through some serious introspection.
How do you relate to your character? What traits that you possess do you see in your character and what traits that your character has-do you wish you possessed?
Karen is honest and practical and quick to judge. While I see the first two characteristics in myself, I am less inclined to jump to conclusions as Karen. She is reserved emotionally, except with regards to her anger, and in that we are very similar. Since she’s from a higher social circle, I find her style and perspectives to be a little foreign but relatable.
How can audiences relate to the messages and themes and characters in the show?
I think most people have a friend like one of these characters. Everyone has been quick to judge, made a bad call or been disappointed in a friend. The complexities of these relationships are well written and I think each person will see a connection.
What challenges have you had learning and molding your performance? How did your director Bob Kleinberg help you to fine-tune your performance?
Because there are aspects of Karen’s personality that I can relate to, for the most part she was an easier character to step into than some previous roles I’ve had. I will say that I struggled with her final scene a little, she has an emotional arc there that comes quickly and talking it over with Bob was helpful – he sees the big picture more (obviously) than I did.
What have you learned about yourself-the actor-while going through the audition and rehearsal process?
I’ve been reminded how time consuming the process is to delve into the lives of others is, to really understand their relationships, to immerse yourself in the process of listening. I think it’s made me more patient. It’s been a while since I played a character that was similar to myself and thinking about how we’re alike and different (Karen and me), has been a pretty transformative experience.
If you could write another ending for your character, what would it be?
I’d like to see Karen take a long hard look at her relationship with Gabe and figure out if she’s getting what she needs out of it because he doesn’t always seem like the partner she needs. It would be interesting to consider her striking out on her own – she seems like the most independent of the characters and Beth’s “revival”, after some time, could be the impetus that causes Karen to not only wonder what she’s missing but to take steps to find it.
What’s next for you on the stage?
I’ll be directing the middle school play where I work, Edmund Burke School.
Right now I’m choosing between a non-musical production of The Wizard of Oz and a marvelous time-bending show about Sherlock Holmes. Regardless it’ll be fun and fabulous.
What do you want the audience to take with them after seeing Dinner With Friends?
I’d love the audience to walk out thinking about how they can be a better friend and spouse. I want people to take the lessons and errors of the characters and think about how they can avoid those missteps or at least listen better to people they care about.
Meet the Cast of ‘Dinner with Friends’ at Greenbelt Arts Center: Part 1: Director Bob Kleinberg.
Meet the Cast of ‘Dinner with Friends’ at Greenbelt Arts Center: Part 2: Jenna Jones Paradis by Joel Markowitz.
Meet the Cast of ‘Dinner With Friends’ at Greenbelt Arts Center: Part 3: Michelle Johncock.