BWW Special Feature: In Conversation with EXTINCTION's James Roday & Michael Weston
It has been said that there is approximately only a 1 in 100th of a chance that a person will land a job working in theater in New York. The chances of working successfully in the industry are smaller than that. Sometimes, though, you meet people like EXTINCTION's James Roday (of the hit television series "Psych") and Michael Weston ("House") who make you forget that the odds of doing so are not stacked so high - who make you truly believe that if one can simply "find good material, do what you know and grow it into something bigger" (to quote Roday) that enriched careers in entertainment are truly achievable.
In their latest collaboration, Roday and Weston play two friends on a reckless weekend in Gabe McKinley's new play EXTINCTION, now running at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Wayne Kasserman directs. Roday and Weston are reprising their roles Off-Broadway in EXTINCTION following its acclaimed, sold-out run this past fall in Los Angeles at the Elephant Space theatre in Hollywood.
With a cast also featuring Amanda Detmer and Stefanie E. Frame, EXTINCTION tells a story about what transpires between two college buddies whose annual outing of male-bonding and debauchery veers precipitously off course.
The production has been quite a family affair. Roday, McKinley and Kasserman studied together at New York University's Experimental Theatre Wing and have been supporting each other's work since. Roday and Weston became fast friends on the set of "The Dukes of Hazzard" in 2005.
Unwinding from an intense finale, Roday and Weston spoke with BroadwayWorld (uncut) about the production, and how they have managed to build careers the old fashioned way - seeking out quality material with quality people to create product that, like EXTINCTION, is just plain great. And it is refreshing.
Start with the genesis: how did EXTINCTION come into your lives? Was it production ready or in concept form?
JR: I have a little Equity waiver company in Los Angeles called Red Dog Squadron. We did EXTINCTION last fall there. Gabe McKinley - the writer - and I went to college together and I've been reading his material for a while now. And I read this and just felt "Wow, this is ready. It's time to announce your presence with authority and I think this is the piece." So, unbeknownst to us, we ended up using the LA run as something of a workshop. And by the end of it we were all so moved by the experience and our expectations had been so far surpassed, we weren't ready to be done. My co-star on "Psych," the TV show I work on, Dule Hill, has a great relationship with the Cherry Lane Theatre and he said, "let me see if I can get some interest going." That's how we landed here.
MW: James produces as well so he brought the script to me to do a reading initially. The script was in really good shape but it was hard to tell from just the reading what was fleshed out and what was not. We all wanted to work on it but we also felt like we needed to understand the characters better. And that's what the LA run did for me. It really allowed us to get into the characters, discover all the little possibilities.
JR: Even at the reading the trajectory was pretty clear. At its core it's a really honest piece about a friendship. And if you could use that, and then we go from there we could be in good shape.
Why was it important for you to work on this project, perhaps over others?
MW: There was great depth in the male psyche and in the male relationship in this play. That's something you don't see in much writing.
JR: You don't - it's a unique thing for a male actor to get to work with.
MW: It gets into the nitty-gritty, the subtleties, beneath this really tight male friendship. And this relationship reflects the sort of deep ego problems and competitiveness and primal things going on beneath these facades all guys wear.
JR: The first time I read this play, I thought "How interesting to see what happens to two men behind closed doors when they're allowed to talk to each other in ways they would never let a woman see." And it's not just men behaving badly. It's men behaving humanely and men allowing themselves to be vulnerable and that's something that I don't think you necessarily get to see a lot. We're not comfortable turning the looking glass on ourselves, like "Oh yeah, I have that kind of relationship with my bud." Guys don't do that kind of stuff.