Aaron Ramey Is Doing OK!
The popular actor discusses playing Jud Fry in Arena Stage's hit production of Oklahoma!
THEATERMANIA: This isn't your first production as Jud, is it?
AARON RAMEY: I first played Jud in junior high in Solon, Ohio. We did it with a cast of 96 and a live horse. And I've done Oklahoma! a couple of times professionally -- and I have only played Jud! So when this came up last year before the first run, I wasn't that interested and I turned down the audition two or three times, until my agent, who had worked with our director, Molly Smith, told me to just go. And I am very glad he encouraged me. I could never have imagined an Oklahoma as rich as this one.
TM: What's your specific take on who Jud is and why he acts the way he does?
AR: I see Jud as troubled, as someone who came from a not happy childhood, and who is trying to make his own way in the world. I think when we meet him, Jud is at a turning point in his life and looking for a way out of the life he led before. He believes that if a girl like Laurey could love him than he could be something. And it's only when he doesn't get what he wants, or feels that he has to defend what he wants, that he snaps.
TM: A lot of Jud's depth comes out in the song "Lonely Room," which was cut from the movie. Would you have played Jud if it had been cut from this production?
AR: It's true, a lot of people think we've added "Lonely Room." And, no, I wouldn't do it if it the song wasn't there. It absolutely gives you a window into Jud and his motivations. It's his "what I want" moment, and without it, then all he is is this creepy guy who wants a "little wonder" with a knife. I got to sing "Lonely Room" in that junior high production, and my grandfather, who was so supportive for my whole life, would always tell me that was his favorite song I ever sang. And that was even after he saw Millie!
TM: I felt the love triangle here between you, Laurey, and Curly was much stronger than usual. Do you agree?
AR: Molly really set out to make that a legitimate triangle. If you read the script, it really doesn't make sense for Laurey to first say yes to Jud to go to the box social with him -- and then still go with him after everything that happens -- if she doesn't find Jud somewhat attractive. And Jud thinks he has a chance with her. He can look at Curly, and say, well he's cleaner than me and all, but I also have traits worthy of being loved. To Jud's mind, if Curly wasn't there, he'd have a shot with Laurey.
TM: You also get to be part of the famous "Dream Ballet" sequence in this staging. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
AR: I love being part of the dream ballet sequence. I admit that I'm getting to the point in my career that, most of the time, I would rather, as they say, "park and bark" than dance. But the way I interact here with both Dream Laurey and the real Laurey is one of most powerful physical expressions of emotion I've had onstage. So I'm glad I had to go through rigors of all that dancing, partnering, and lifting -- at least for now.
TM: This is your first time doing theater in the round. What's it been like?
AR: I love that someone's eyes are always on us, and that we, as the ensemble, are just an arm's length from the audience. Honestly, sometimes when you're doing a big musical on a proscenium stage, you don't feel like you're even in the scene. I would do every show in the round now..
TM: I gather a lot of families are coming to see the show. Does that make you happy?
AR: I think it's great, especially if we are a kid's first exposure to the theater. I love watching how children respond to Jud. Not long ago, I noticed this family in the front row, and during one of my scenes, this girl crawled over her siblings to sit in mom's lap when the scary guy -- me -- was on. I think children give you the most honest response of anyone in the theater.
AR: I think our production has a lot of beauty and honesty and imagination that our audiences are responding to and I think that New York audiences would respond just as well. Sometimes I get frustrated when a revival feels like all anyone did was just plopped the original back on stage. But I also know that doing this show on a standard proscenium would deconstruct what Molly's accomplished, so we're really limited in our possible spaces.