Bill Irwin Is Still Mad for Moliere!
The Tony Award winner talks about starring and directing in A.C.T's production of Scapin.
THEATERMANIA: What first attracted to you to adapting this play?
BILL IRWIN: This play of Moliere's seems to invite adaptation more than his other plays -- it seems to require it. Or at least that's how it's always struck me. Maybe it's just that I felt such a strong impulse to do an adaptation that I have come to offer this as a defense. Ideas for adapting haunted me -- they sort of tumbled out -- when I first read it over 20 years ago. But it was the Seattle Rep that put me together with Mark O'Donnell to form an adapting team. He has a feeling for the comic line, like few others, and he has enough French to work from the original. I keep telling the company as we rehearse here that certain O'Donnell lines require a pause for laughter or a careful ear for the possibility -- a line may seem like a cue to just pick up and keep tight, and then you'll find the odd rhythms and constructions hit people a hair later than some jokes, and then they're laughing.
TM: What is it about the character of Scapin that has made you want to play him over and over?
BI: The Scapin character is sort of second nature to me, and sort of not. The devious, amoral, servant is actually a reach from the sympathetic American clown character that I've always found natural. But I'm hoping that we've found a meeting place of the two.
TM: Why do you think audiences respond so strongly to anti-authority figures like Scapin?
BI: Why do people like unscrupulous servants? I don't know; maybe it's that we're a republic that likes to remember its roots in rebellion against ordered hierarchy -- no matter how bourgeois we get.
TM: Does it feel different playing this role now, as opposed to 15 years ago when you did it Off-Broadway?
BI: I'm an older and, we hope, wiser theater guy now. I have Edward Albee experience to bring to this play and this role -- and yes, it actually applies. I love that this is a play with wonderful roles -- not just one or two but nearly a dozen -- and everybody has to get the featured energy for the requisite parts of scenes. It dies if you don't pass the ball.
TM: How do you feel about working with this cast, especially your longtime friend and Pickle Family Circus cohort, Geoff Hoyle?
BI: Yes, Geoff Hoyle and I are alluding to things we used to do 30 years ago -- sometimes we decide they don't apply, but sometimes that they do. Jud Williford is just an amazing comic actor -- he's natural, but he knows heightened reality. Rene Augusen has what Moliere's company must have called the laughing role -- she works the subtle but exhausting laughing schtick --and makes it look very easy.
TM: Did you ever think about asking someone else to direct the production?
BI: I probably should have -- but I've always hoped my instincts on this would get us there. The company is very patient with me.
BI: My favorite clown is Buster Keaton. And what's interesting here is that I've brought my admiration -- and my larceny -- for Keaton into this, like everything I do. It's not really a Keaton role; it's a little more aggrieved, and a little more -- well, now of course, a little more middle-aged -- than the Keaton persona in the great silent features.