BWW Interview: Marc Kudisch on MCC's 'Wildly Unapologetic' HAND TO GOD, Working with Michael John LaChiusa & More
MCC Theater will soon present the Off-Broadway premiere of Robert Askins' HAND TO GOD, starring Tony nominee Marc Kudisch, Obie-winner Steven Boyer, Geneva Carr, Michael Oberholtzer, and Sarah Stiles. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, 'GOD' begins performances next Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, ahead of an official opening on March 10.
Kudisch, who scored his Tony nod in Dolly Parton's 9 TO 5, was most recently seen in Second Stage's THE BLUE FLOWER and Lincoln Center's A MINISTER'S WIFE, takes on the role of 'Pastor Greg' in the production, which follows the students of Christian Puppet Ministry. Taught to obey the Bible in order to avoid Satan, one student's puppet, Tyrone, takes on a personality that no one saw coming - and soon teaches those around him that the urges that can drive a person to give in to their darkest desires fit like a glove.
Kudisch took some time out of rehearsals to chat with BroadwayWorld about being apart of the 'wildly unapologetic' HAND TO GOD, his ongoing working relationship with Michael John LaChiusa, and the status of his upcoming projects.
For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe HAND TO GOD?
Let's just say...it's set in a small Texas town and a puppet ministry, and about a young boy who has the devil move through him - who then speaks through his puppet. I think the play is really about pain, and that the point isn't where the pain comes from, but how you deal with it.
When you read the play, what initially drew you in?
Well, it's really funny. I'm of the belief that funny can be very easy. But I think that funny with a point and purpose, that's something far more interesting. [The play is based on] a very outrageous idea, and through the outrageous, some really interesting questions come out, and sometimes the play can be uncomfortable. And I like anything that is uncomfortable, anything unsettling. I like any piece of theater that allows the audience to become consciously or unconsciously a part of it.
When [HAND TO GOD] was running Off-Off-Broadway, I had gotten a chance to see it because I knew Moritz [von Stuelpnagel], and I remember thinking it was so outrageous and that they took it to a wildly funny and wonderfully dark place. When they called and said that they were interested in me - and I was certainly interested in them - I thought, 'how can I be a part of this? What can I do to add to it?' That's the only reason that I really want to do anything in theater - if I can offer a point of view that can enhance it.
So yes, it is funny, but the 'funny' has been given to me. Moritz said on the first day of rehearsal, "Let's not worry about the funny. Let's get to the truth of the characters." And I was just like "hooray!"
So, as an actor, how do personally get to the 'truth' of a character?
We're all human beings, and life can be outrageous, which we all know. But Rob's [Askins] play is taken from some of his experience in the world...I just love that it stemmed out of something very truthful for him.
What's it like for you playing off of Steven Boyer as Tyrone, who's then playing off of himself as the human character of Jason?
Well, Steven's great. What's really groovy about watching Steven, who's been working on this character [Jason, the human, and Tyrone, the puppet] for a long time, is how deep he goes. There are a lot of actors who get on stage and kind of let the audience know that they're in on it. But Steven's performance is not about 'Look at me!' He's very deep in his character, which I love. He takes it very seriously, and it's wildly hilarious. Steven's just really great. I'm a fan.
You know, there are three of us that are new, but Geneva [Carr] has also been involved...[She and Stephen] were in the initial run, and then when it reopened and ran again. But they're coming back to the play to reinvestigate and start fresh, and in some ways, I think that's more challenging than for us who've just come in. There's no muscle memory in our system...I'm just really impressed with everybody. In the first day of rehearsal, everyone was so present, that I don't think any [audience members] are going to walk away and wonder 'who's been with HAND TO GOD the longest? Because I really can't tell.'
The cast really is impressive! And the whole show, based off of Tyrone's online videos and what's been put out there, seems pretty daring.
Yeah! And to some degree, when it came to me, I'm so very different from what they did before...and it meant changing a whole point of view. But, you know, this is like my fifth time playing a priest or a minister. Which is funny, because I'm as Jewish as they come. But here I am again.
Last week seemed like a busy week for you: you played a part in honoring Neil Patrick Harris at the Drama League Gala, and performed in Michael John LaChiusa's American Songbook concert. How was that?
What can I say? It was Michael John! It was awesome, and so well deserved on his part.
I think he's probably one of our best composers in the last decade-and-a-half, and certainly the most prolific. I've always said to Michael John, from the day I started working with him, that his revivals will be amazing. In my opinion, he's always been ahead of his time. I've always felt that he was not unlike Kander and Ebb. Hello, Chicago. It's like the longest running revival in the history of history. And I think that's because they were way ahead of us. And I absolutely believe that will be Michael John...he's still got a whole lot in the cannon. I mean, when people find out what he's written in just an evening, they say, 'Holy shit. That's huge.'
What else do you have coming up?
You know, I've got more [things] going on than I can keep my eye on [laughs.] Well, I just finished doing a presentation of a parody of THE SHINING, RED RUM, which is in progress. We're very fortunate to have some wonderfully creative people involved, Alice Ripley did it with us...and a show I co-wrote in Boston that we'll be remounting later on. You're never finished working.
It's a busy time!
Yeah, and all alongside HAND TO GOD. And there's nothing else like it. It's just a fascinating, funny, strange, sad, sweet little story...it's wildly unapologetic. And as long as there's theater like that, I think we have something to cheer about.
For tickets and more information visit www.mcctheater.org.
Below, you can meet the rest of the HAND TO GOD cast, including Tyrone, the sock puppet possessed by Satan