BWW Interviews: DEBUT OF THE MONTH: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF's Madison Dirks
Madison Dirks is making his Broadway debut in the critically acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of Edward Albee'S WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? Directed by Tony Award® nominee Pam MacKinnon (Clybourne Park), the show opened on Broadway on October 13, 2012, exactly 50 years to the day of the play's 1962 original Broadway opening. Dirks portrays Nick, half of an unwitting young couple invited for an unforgettable night of cocktails and crossfire at the home of George (Tracy Letts) and Martha (Amy Morton), one of theatre's most notoriously dysfunctional couples.
Dirks previous stage credits include Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Steppenwolf Theatre/Arena Stage), The Chosen and Gary (Steppenwolf Theatre); Girl, 20 (Serendipity Theatre-L.A. remount); A Man For All Seasons (TimeLine Theatre); The Last Supper (Infusion Theatre); Hillbilly Antigone (Lookingglass Theatre-u/s). Film and TV credits include Chicago Fire(NBC), According to Jim (ABC), The Chicago Code (FOX), Public Enemies and The Dilemma.
The talented actor chatted with BWW about making his Broadway debut in Albee's hilarious and provocative masterpiece.
Watching the show the other night, I was struck by how physically and emotionally demanding it must be for the four of you every night. How do you keep up that level of energy?
You know we were talking about it. We did the run in Chicago and DC for five months, so we had kind of gotten into a pattern of learning how to pace yourself during the day. And you kind of have to figure out when your meal breaks are going to be and when you're going to have your quiet time. I personally need like an hour before the show that I kind of have to read or just settle down before I do the show. And I'm still trying to figure out what that rhythm is. We had the previews and now we're in performances, so the hours are kind of shifting around, and we're not rehearsing anymore, so it's still kind of a guessing game. But I eat, and then I sit quiet for 45 minutes to an hour before I go to the theater, because it's exhausting, it's incredibly rewarding, but it takes its toll.
You can see that. Even at the curtain call, the four of you just looked wiped!
(laughing) Yes, especially the way it ends. When Carrie (Coon) and I walk out that door, and we get off the set, it's just kind of like, 'Oh God O'Mighty!'
And you feel that way after each performance?
Oh yeah. We use the metaphor that the play is like pushing a boulder up a hill and when that starts, when George and Martha walk in that door with their 'Jesus H Christ' and by the time we get into the house, it's going, like that thing is just gonna roll and it's going to roll over you. Beause you can't chose to not do it. That plays moves itself and the production moves, and you're in with it, no matter what. So every single time, when we get to the end of it, it's just happened to us. You can't phone it in, you can't fake it. You gotta just do it.
Your character really undergoes an emotional transformation throughout the course of the play. Of course some of it is due to all the alcohol he consumes, but he also seems to open up and become more daring in his exchanges with George.
Pam (MacKinnon) always talks about the fact that there's a chemistry, a chemical reaction that takes place because it's these four specific people in the house. If it were someone different, if there was a different married couple who came over, if anybody was different, the end result would have been different. And so for Nick, he comes in with a bit of respect for Martha, because she's the daughter of the President of the college you know, the bosses daughter, who he wants to impress a little bit. And as the evening goes on and George keeps pressing Nick to be specific about his language and his intentions, then Nick starts to activate more, he tries to play more, he tries to dance toe-to-toe with George. And he thinks he can. He thinks he can kind of keep up with him. But eventually, this young couple is going to get hit over the head by the depths by which George and Martha go. So he does open up. He thinks he can play along, he thinks he can challenge. And in a way, he can, but at the end of the day, I think George is just too smart, too quick on his feet for him.
I know that Edward Albee attended opening night. Was he involved in the rehearsal process?
He was. He came up in Chicago in our third week of rehearsal and he spent the weekend with us and he watched us run through the acts, saw the play. And then because of his close relationship with Pam, was able to talk with her and give her some notes, some things he thought we should look at, when to heat things up, when to cool things down. And then she'd incorporate that into the notes. And then he came to watch in DC when we were at the Arena Stage and he watched the performance there and was wonderful and very complimentary to us. And then he was in during our previews in New York and then or course was at opening might. So he has been a part of the production.