Allan Hawco Returns To Theatre: The 'Republic of Doyle' Star Says He's 'Having a Blast' Being Back On Stage
Allan Hawco has been putting in long days in the lead-up to his onstage appearance in Belleville, a play about a dysfunctional couple, on now through May 4 at Toronto's Berkeley Street Theatre.
"I wanted to have a shot of espresso before we talk," he tells me, smiling softly.
Best known for playing the lovable bad-boy detective Jake Doyle on his CBC Television series Republic of Doyle, Hawco's been on a hectic schedule the last while. He isn't just the star of Doyle; he's also its co-creator, lead writer, and executive producer What's more, he has his own production company, Take The Shot Productions. He oversees every aspect of his business, something he chooses, but that doesn't mean he isn't welcoming a change. "For the last five years I've been doing Doyle," he says, "and this is, in a lot of ways not as time-consuming ... because I'm only wearing one hat while I'm in the room."
Hawco plays Zack, an American newlywed who's moved to Paris to take a job with Doctors Without Borders; his wife (Christine Horne) has trouble adjusting to their new life and is terribly homesick. The play (a Company Theatre production done in association with the Canadian Stage Company) sees Abby coming home early from teaching a (student-less) yoga class to find her husband enjoying triple-X porn online. The play has elements of suspense and drama comfortably weaving around painful truths that explore the nature of love and connection, aspects that are illuminated by the couple's relationship with their North African landlord Alioune (Dalmar Abuzeid) and his wife Amina (Marsha Regis). During its 2013 production at the New York Theater Workshop, New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood observed that the Pulitzer-nominated Herzog "writes with perfect pitch in a minor key in scenes that are paced to evoke a sense of everyday domesticity slightly tinged with disquiet. Almost before we can sense it a mood of menace has come to hover in the air, like the vestiges of the smoke from the pipe that Zack keeps resorting to, with an increasing sense of desperation."
Hawco is clearly thrilled about returning to the stage. "It's a beautiful thing," he states. The Newfoundland native graduated from National Theatre School in 2000 and appeared in numerous stage works, including the title role in Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare Works); he's also appeared in The Cripple of Innishman (Centaur Theatre), The Shape of Things (Canadian Stage Company), Macbeth (Festival of Classics), You Are Here (Theatre Passe Muraille), Salt Water Moon (Segal Centre), as well as La Ronde and Present Laughter (Soulpepper). This, in addition to a number of impressive screen credits, including a supporting role in Sir Richard Attenborough's 2007 film Closing the Ring (with Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine), and television roles on ZOS: Zone of Separation plus CBC's political thriller H20 and its sequel Trojan Horse, has kept him busy and in-demand.
But he's perhaps best known for playing the rakishly handsome, danger-loving Jake Doyle. The weekly show is aired internationally in almost 100 countries, but keeps its charming, small-town flavour by being set (and indeed, filmed) in Hawco's beloved native Newfoundland. Along with rollicking episodes that feature a unique mix of action, drama, and comedy, the show has featured a who's who of actors, including Oscar winner Russell Crowe.
Before Doyle however, Hawco and other actors found themselves frustrated at the lack of good theater roles. In reaction, he and actor Philip Riccio founded The Company Theater almost a decade ago now; it's since treated Toronto audiences to thrilling visions of chewy, challenging dramas. Their first production (in 2005) was Tom Murphy's searing A Whistle in the Dark, which featured Hawco as psychotic Irishman caught in a web of family violence. It was a huge hit, loved by critics and audiences, and its success buoyed the company with confidence to continue producing top-flight dramas.
"When we started, we wanted actors to feel like they were being heard, that they were being given an opportunity to do the work they want to do," he says, his finger slowly running along the side of the tiny espresso cup. "It's not about the design, or the lighting, or the building, or this-or-that taking over ... it's about the play and the actors. It's an actors' company, and we're there to allow actors to be able to have free reign of improvisation within the work."
The level of commitment Riccio and Hawco have has been expressed in the choice of plays they've produced since their founding. While Belleville is a small play (it has a cast of four), it has, like every other work within the company's history, a brewing interior life filled with deep, uncomfortable darkness. Hawco's Zack, isn't all that he seems, and has to keep many balls - career, new city, family, romance, desires - in the air at once. For the actor playing him, it presents a challenge, one he's happy to take on.
"The way I try to focus on things like this is the way I've always done it," he says, his azure-blue eyes widening, "which is, focus on what (Zack) is going through, to get to what he needs. I've never thought of it in a big picture way... which sounds ridiculous!"
Hawco is especially thrilled to be back working with director, Jason Byrne, who's helmed past Company Theatre productions including Festen and A Whistle in the Dark. "Jason's a special director," he observes. "He allows you to have what you don't get to have in TV or film, which is constant failure for weeks -that's what rehearsal is. I feel like with that approach, you realize failure isn't failure at all, it's discovery, you know? You allow yourself to fall backwards into something that could be nothing, and it's a discovery... that creative goo is bubbling. As long as you're not pushing for it, cool things can happen."
So what's the best thing being back onstage? There's a long pause, as Hawco stares into the distance thoughtfully.
"I just feel like I'm home. I feel like I'm back home and I feel like... I'm given an opportunity to grow with a great play and a great cast and a director, to experiment with the different approaches to the work. I'm truly having a blast."
Photo credits: Top photo by Guntar Kravis; Allan Hawco and Philip Riccio in 'A Whistle in the Dark' © Company Theatre; shots of Allan Hawco and Christine Horne in 'Belleville' by Guntar Kravis.