BWW Interview: David Furr Is Banged Up and Bruised in NOISES OFF
David Furr has bruises; lots and lots of bruises.
In his stellar performance as Gary Lejeune in the current revival of Michael Frayne's hilarious Noises Off, Furr slides on a floor scattered with sardines, stumbles down one staircase. slips across a balcony, gets his foot caught in a box of theatrical props, wields a hatchet and falls down yet another staircase which crumbles apart as he does so. It's an understatement to say that his role is physically demanding.
"I've had bruises show up that I can't account for and I don't know where I got them. I've got lots of pads on after intermission and yet the bruises find their way in between the pads. There were a couple of bruised ribs from contact with the set early in the run," Furr recalls with a chuckle. "They're taking very good care of me with plenty of padding and Lorenzo Pisoni's choreography for the fall keeps me as safe as possible. They've got me going to a PT and yet there are those steps to fall down and the set is made of solid material. On the bright side, I can't help but lose weight doing something like this eight times a week!"
Talking with Furr on a bitterly cold February afternoon proves to be a genuine pleasure. Sitting in the back of the darkened American Airlines Theater before an evening performance of the play finds the actor sipping tea and talking freely about the show, his recent film credits, doing Shakespeare in the Park, marriage and fatherhood.
Furr's last interview with BroadwayWorld.Com was during his run The Roundabout's delightful production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST at the same theater. It was a show that was so successful that it was extended several times and provided everyone involves with a healthy run. Noises Off has already been extended but Furr doesn't see it running any longer than that. "The theater already has LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT coming in and I haven't heard anything about moving the show into a commercial venue. Besides, many people in the cast have other things lined up. Then, also, it's a hard show. It's been fun but it's lots of work. Extensions beyond a week would be a mixed blessing. It would be fun. It would be great. It's a wonderful show to share but one only wants to fall down those stairs so many times." For the record, Furr hasn't missed a single performance and is working without any hazardous duty benefits due to the standard LORT contract he and his cast mates are working under. LORT doesn't provide for things like that.
The rehearsal period for Noises Off was a a bit unusual. "I think we had 3 1/2 or 4 weeks, so that was quick. I would say that the bulk of it was cracking that Act Two stuff, Furr recalls. For those not familiar with the play, a good portion of the second act is performed in virtual pantomime in a true Keystone Kops fashion. Done right, the resultant effects are hilarious. In this case, it's done very right, indeed.
"The first thing director Jeremy Herrin did was stage all of NOTHING ON as it would go uninterrupted, so that when we did anything else, we knew where we were supposed to be in NOTHING ON. I thought it was a good idea because we're running it and then stop in Act One before we snap back into it. Then of course, things go wrong. In Act II at least we had some idea of what was going on on the other side of the stage--even though there are nips and tucks in the lines.
"We spent a lot of time on Act II because this is a very wide stage and we have plenty of doors on this set. I think it's a bigger set than is intended for this show, so getting from one door to the next when you only have one line-- or you're going off stage and trying to grab that hatchet which someone else is swinging-- when the set is so wide is challenging.There was a lot of problem solving during rehearsals."
Most theater experts will say that audience reactions are vital to playing a farce like Noises Off. Furr agrees. "Oh, they're incredibly important. For any comedy, you're rehearsing in a vacuum for the most part and nobody's laughing during rehearsal, so you gauge things and perform by the theory that you think something is funny. When you get to perform in front of an audience it's like someone who's dying of thirst and saying. 'Ah, there it is!' when the water arrives. When you start hearing the laughs you realize your work is in good shape and people are enjoying it. Then, also, it affects timing and you have to adjust things when laughs are bigger or smaller than you theorized. With this show we've had to keep the pace up but when we didn't know where or how the laughs work made for a rough crossing."
Speaking of rough crossings, David Furr made his debut as an Italian film actor shortly after his last interview with BWW. "Right after THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST closed I headed to Italy for six weeks. It was fun but the movie was never released in the States. The two comedians who were the stars and the directors huge Italian and European followings but nobody knows them over here. The whole film was done in Italian. All of my lines were in Italian--which I don't speak--and then they'd change them after I'd learned whole scenes. They had someone to help me--a coach or interpreter-- because they didn't speak English. They'd wait for my close-up and change lines," Furr remembers with a laugh.
Why would two Italian comedians who were shooting a film in Italian hire an American actor? "That's a very good question," Furr comments between laughs. "Initially they wanted someone who didn't speak Italian and I can understand why they wanted an American because our rhythms are very different in the ways we express ourselves--so I could understand why they wanted someone who felt American. What I don't understand is why they specifically didn't want someone who spoke Italian.Through the interpreter I asked them if they wanted me to speak my dialogue badly and they were adamant about me pronouncing things correctly. The character spoke Italian--not perfect Italian--but I didn't understand why they didn't hire an American who spoke Italian instead of an American who didn't speak Italian at all."
Returning home from his Italian adventures, Furr underwent scheduled knee surgery. Although the operation was successful, the recuperation period required that he absolutely stay off his feet for six weeks. That was all fine and good except that Furr was scheduled to get married in seven weeks. The actor showed up for his wedding on time and off crutches but with a cane.
David Furr is a veteran of two productions of Shakespeare in the Park. His most recent visit there was in CYMBELINE but he previously did AS YOU LIKE IT, in which he played Orlando. He says, "Performing in the great outdoors can he an exhilarating experience but it has its drawbacks. For one thing, it's a very big stage and that means you have to move when you talk or people won't know where to look; especially since you're mic'ed. There are technical things you have to do to compensate for the vastness of the stage. Other than that, you might have raccoons crossing the stage periodically.
"I remember being on stage with Lily Rabe, doing one of the Orlando/Rosalind scenes when somebody--probably a drunk--way out in the park kept shouting, 'I can hear you!' over and over again. Finally she added, 'Can you hear me?' Meanwhile we were trying to do this nice, romantic scene in the Forest of Arden. So you're dealing with the open air: open to the elements, open to the nocturnal creatures and open to the outsiders who aren't ticket holders but can hear you. Then, of course, there are the bugs, gnats and moths. However, it's got to be one of my favorite theatrical memories: to be on that stage after the sun goes down on a beautifully lit set--it's just a wonderful experience for an actor."
Since his marriage, the actor has become a father to Benjamin Snow Furr and fatherhood has had a certain effect on Furr's professional life. "He's a year and a half old right now and I feel very lucky to have him but I certainly don't get a whole eight hours of sleep and sometimes it's still interrupted in the middle of the night. I have to try to take some naps whenever I can, whether it's at the theater, at home or with him. It does complicate the energy management a bit; especially with Noises Off requiring so much energy. All that being said, Benjamin is one of the most important parts of my life and all these little sacrifices I have to make and well worth it."
This past year has been a busy one for Furr. "I was in Michael Bay's movie THIRTEEN DAYS, which was done in Malta. When I got back I had one day before I started CYMBELINE in the Park. Then a month and a half later, this started. When the show closes it'll be the end of a year of steady working; so now I'm auditioning for different things with this ridiculous mustache," he says with a hearty laugh.
Anyone who enjoys good, raucous laughter should head to the American Airlines Theater to see David Furr and the rest of the zany cast perform in a show that one critic declared was "the funniest show ever written." Judging from the roars of laughter emanating from the crowd at a recent performance, he may just be right.