BWW Interviews: Actor Tim Cummings Opens Up About THE NORMAL HEART
About to costar at the Fountain in The Normal Heart, opening September 21, actor Tim Cummings discusses his role in the play and his award-winning role in The New Electric Ballroom at the Rogue Machine, as well as other theatrical interests.
The Normal Heart hasn't been done in years. Tell me about the play's relevance today, from your perspective.
The play mentions gay marriage, which is relevant today: DOMA being struck down, Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional, more and more states are voting to allow for it. The play also brings up the failures of the health care system, and those are relevant today as well. We've yet to see what Obamacare results in, ultimately, but I have hope. The play discusses homophobia, bigotry, closeted gays, politics, conspiracy theories, etc. Those are all relevant now.
Suicide among LGBT youth has been tragically high, of course there's this putrid Putin/ Russia debacle. The gay-bashing rate in NYC is currently on an alarming rise, which includes the murder of Mark Carson on May 18th, shot directly in the head after his assailant hurled anti-gay slurs at him and his companion. Right in the heart of the West Village. To be honest, I don't think there will ever be a time this play is not relevant. It's only a matter of who is brave enough to produce it, as it is not an easy play to do.
What about your character and how he affects the issues at hand? What are the challenges in playing him?
Ned Weeks goes from hesitant participant to full-blown activist and loses nearly everything along the way: his family, his friends, his love, his station in life. Ned is a fighter. A warrior. He does not understand why other people cannot fight back the way he does, and ultimately this alienates him from his community. He will do whatever it takes to wake people up and make them pay attention to this epidemic. He wants pride for the gay community, not shame, not hiding. He wants gay men to think with their hearts and minds, not their pecs and cocks.
The challenges in playing him are that his intensity, passion, Jewish intellectualism, rallying, rants about promiscuity, confrontational nature, and bursts of outrage are not things that can be handled delicately. Yet, we are in this intimate space-so it's about striking a balance. Where can we hold back? Where do we need to go forward full throttle?
Talk a little about Lisa Pelikan and your working with her - now in 2 plays.
A passionate perfectionist, a questioner, a force, a presence, a joy. With those mesmerizing blue eyes, to boot. Definitely an actor's actor. Oddly enough, she is also making me take off my clothes in this, just like she did in The New Electric Ballroom. Ha.
Your participation in Ballroom was the best. I really enjoyed your performance. Was that harder to do than Heart, or easier since you are Irish and probably have lived through a lot of similar experiences in Ballroom? (Or am I all wet?)
Thanks, Don. That was a fantastic experience. Yes, I am Irish, but I tend to play Jewish men a lot, too, as I am now. I grew up in New York, surrounded by an abundance of Irish, Irish/Italian, and Jewish heritage. It comes naturally, I suppose.
What I loved about Ballroom was the transformational aspect: my character, Patsy, goes from smelly chubby fishmonger to sexy, slick, pop idol-right before the audience's eyes. No special effects, no cutaways, no magic. Just good old fashioned in-your-face theatre. Brilliant playwriting and storytelling.
Was that harder than The Normal Heart? I don't think anything will be harder than The Normal Heart. The role of Ned might be bigger than Hamlet. He barely leaves the action. He never stops talking. He rarely calms down. The level of stage skill-physical prowess, emotional intensity, collaborative endurance-required to play Ned assures he will likely never be conveyed by any actor that is incompetent, lazy, or timid. Larry Kramer was clever to have written Ned the way he did.
Speak about your writing career.
I write novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, and poetry. I released a collection called ORPHANS in the summer of 2011. It's an idiosyncratic assemblage of short stories, poetry, screenplays, plays, and a film treatment. I wanted to put all the different writing forms together in one weirdly prismatic vessel, and unleash it unrepentantly onto the world. So, I did.
Don hails from Holyoke, Massachusetts and holds two Masters Degrees from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in Education and Bilingual Studies. Don is a teacher of foreign language and ESL.
Don is a member of the prestigious Road Theatre Company in NoHo and is in his fifth year with BWW, currently serving as Senior Editor of the Los Angeles Page.
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