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Conversation with David Morse

Before rehearsals began for The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with actor David Morse about his title role.

Ted Sod: Will you tell us a bit about yourself?

David Morse: I was born in Massachusetts in a town called Beverly. We lived in a few towns north of Boston: Essex, Hamilton, Danvers. I, like a lot of fortunate kids, had two teachers who were particularly keen about whatever was inside of me that was drawn to acting. They encouraged and nourished it. In the eighth grade there was a teacher named Mrs. Baker. We would read stories aloud in class. I was terrified that I would get picked to read something but still hoping like crazy that I would be. I just loved it. I loved reading different characters. Then when I got to high school there was Mrs. Ferrini who had a great influence on me.

TS: Did you go on to further studies like college or graduate school?

DM: I went right from high school into Boston Repertory Theatre. I hadn't even graduated from high school and I was asked to be a member of the company. It was kind of intimidating at first. They were all older and out of college. I became one of the founding members. I was there for six years before I went to New York. In New York, I studied with Bill Esper. He was one of Sandy Meisner's protégés and a great teacher.

TS: Was there something about the role of Tom that appealed to you? And why this particular play?

DM: Before The Seafarer, the last play I did was How I Learned to Drive. It was really so hard on my family because I was away from them in New York for so long. I just really did not feel comfortable doing another play until the kids were older. After I did The Seafarer, I was asked to do other things in New York but it was still too soon. Now my kids have gone to college. And I'd been acting in Treme for HBO so it'd been hard to do any plays. We had just finished the last season of Treme and this play was given to me to read. I just love the way Steven Levenson has written the play. It is an appealing read. It's deceptively simple. It's filled with what makes a good play: humor and drama. And it has a character that, for me personally and I think everybody, is going to be a challenge to live with onstage.

TS: I, too, think the play is beautifully structured and your character is fascinating. How do you approach a role like this? Do you have to do research?

DM: I've done a number of roles where I've had to do research for characters who spent time in prison. And I volunteered for quite a few years in a prison. I didn't really feel like I needed to research that aspect of Tom's character. And the world that he was part of as a lawyer is fairly familiar. I certainly have friends who are lawyers. The mystery, not just about Tom, but so many people in our society right now, is how they go down the road of making choices that are illegal and that hurt other people but that they believe are okay. They believe it's legitimate and they have a right to make those decisions. I personally don't get it. I don't get how people with so much money and so much power can choose to do things that are going to hurt people on such a big scale when they already have so much. Why do people who have so much have to try and get more at the expense of other people? That's part of my interest in playing this role; finding that out for myself. The play is about finding the answers to that paradox. It's a challenge on a very human and relatable level.

TS: I am intrigued by the relationship between Tom and James. Father-son relationships have taken center stage quite a bit. What do you make of it?

DM: It's close to home, which is another reason that I'm interested in playing Tom. Over the course of my career, my relationship with my father has come up a lot. And in this play it very much does. I don't need to go into that, but I'll say it really pulls on my personal experiences.

TS: That must be both exciting and frightening at the same time. What about the relationship with Karen, his ex-wife? She seems so done with him.

DM: Tom talks a little bit about what their relationship was early on. It seems to me that they both loved it. She must have been in love with him. They were together for quite a while before all of that stuff happened. They did eventually get a divorce but something was going on to keep them together. There had to be love and affection. I'm also thinking about the daughter who won't talk to me. She isn't in the play, but it will be fun to get to know what that relationship is all about.

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Roundabout Theatre Company Roundabout Theatre Company is a not-for-profit theatre dedicated to providing a nurturing artistic home for theatre artists at all stages of their careers where the widest possible audience can experience their work at affordable prices. Roundabout fulfills its mission each season through the revival of classic plays and musicals; development and production of new works by established playwrights and emerging writers; educational initiatives that enrich the lives of children and adults; and a subscription model and audience outreach programs that cultivate loyal audiences.