BWW Interview: MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES' Alan Tudyk Aims To Put On A Show - Not Just Make Content!
A man of many voices and talents (you may not readily recognize by voice - he has so many), Alan Tudyk will be mounting the Geffen stage, undertaking dual roles in Michael Mitnick's MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. Under the direction of Geffen Playhouse artistic director Matt Shakman, previews for MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES began June 11, with an opening night set for June 19, 2019. Alan managed to find some time to get on the phone with me after a fun day of rehearsals.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Alan!
You're in the midst of rehearsal (June 3). How's it going?
Really, really, really well. We're starting tech tomorrow. We're in it. We're in the thick of it.
When did you start rehearsals for this world premiere?
I think three weeks ago. It's the typical three-week rehearsal, then tech, previews. That's it, a fast on-ramp for a new play because you're not just learning it. It's not a set piece. It's still being shaped, still an organic thing that's still being created. So that's part of the fun of it; and definitely, one of the challenges also.
What initially got you interested and involved with MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES?
Matt Shakman asked me if I wanted to do it. I had never done any theatre in Los Angeles, although I've been living here primarily for over fifteen years. I love the Geffen, seen a lot of plays there. And when I read it, I got really excited by it. It's very funny, as well as, being touching. It's a very serious story, but it also has a lot of humor in it. The two roles I'm playing - Richard Lancelyn Green and Sherlock Holmes - have a lot of fun moments to play. It's a great journey to go on. I was excited to say, 'Yes!'
Have you worked with any of the MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES cast or creatives before?
Nobody. All brand new. Everybody's great. It's a lucky thing. It's wonderful doing a play. One of the benefits of doing a play when you're working with other actors in a play, you get to hang out with all the actors. If you have scenes with them (important scenes with them or brief scenes with them), it doesn't matter. You still spend the same amount of time, more or less, with everybody. It's community. That's where it begins. When I think of theatre community - in New York, I think of Joe Allen's, different places around town that people go and hangout. It starts in rehearsals, the way it's set up. Matt's running these rehearsals, we're all together working to make the best play possible. Everybody works with everybody. Everybody has input on what you're making. It's enjoyable.
Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan?
I am now.
You not only play Sherlock in MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, but also Richard Lancelyn Green, the world's foremost scholar on anything Sherlock. If you were on a dating app, how would you describe your character of Richard Lancelyn Green to potential matches?
He would start with being an amateur Sherlockian, a lover of all things Sherlock Holmes. There's the Sherlockians and there's the Doylians. He was king of it all, He was such fanatic. He's the ultimate fan, he devoted his life to it. He was quite a scholar. He'd want someone who loves Sherlock Holmes or anything to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, either directly or distantly. Someone to have an appreciation for Conan Doyle's work. He'd be looking for a sympathetic soul who appreciates reason and the illumination of facts, and how they can be a key that opens the door to imagination.
You said you haven't been on the L. A. boards before. What about 2009's AN EVENING WITHOUT MONTY PYTHON.
You're right! You're right! You're right! We did it at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre. AN EVENING WITHOUT MONTY PYTHON directed by, not yet a 'Sir,' Eric Idle. Fantastic! That was a little while ago. It was less of a play, more of a revue, but a hell of a lot of fun! I wanted to Take That one overseas to the troops, but I don't think it would really work. I don't think it would have made it past the censors. In our day and age, MONTY PYTHON is too risqué for modern times.
In an alternate universe, under what circumstances would the characters you've played - Sherlock, Sir Lancelot and EPIC PROPORTIONS' Benny Bennet - interact? Neighborhood tavern? A mystery convention? In line for a lottery ticket?
Benny was such a bright-eyed, young kid, who just wanted to make it as an actor. He left home with big dreams. I don't know how he would end up with Lancelot, those two. If they were in a pub, that would be great, except I don't want Lancelot drinking. That guy is unstable. He's got a sword and he's not afraid to use it. Sherlock could help bring him to justice, I guess. Benny would just annoy Sherlock too. Benny's too un-serious, silly.
You have been working steadily in film, television, web, voice-overs. If financial compensation were not a factor, which medium of entertainment would you concentrate your creative talents in?
If I could only choose one for the rest of my life, I would choose theatre. That's where I started. There something brilliant about making art and telling stories that can't be boxed up and called 'content.' We're not making 'content.' For the first time in a few years, I'm not making 'content.' We're just making a show. We're putting on a show. We've got costumes and quick changes backstage. You have to figure out where everything goes, and how to quickly put on the make-up while somebody hands you a hat. You change characters, and you're wearing this wig now, you're wearing that wig later. Is the set moving correctly? There's lights, there's a curtain. Good God! It's not 'content'! It bugs the hell out of me that word 'content.' You can have the most beautiful, lovely television show, film, whatever, and then they're like, 'We have some good 'content.'' It's just disgusting. It's sad.
Any theatrical role you'd love to tackle some day in the near future?
I'd love to do another David Lindsay-Abaire play. I did WONDER OF THE WORLD a long time ago. I love his work. I'd love to do another Paul Rudnick play. I think he's one of the funniest people in the planet. Good God, I'd love to do another Paul Rudnick play! Anything with Eric Idle, of course. That guy's hysterical. I'd love to do another new play. I like new plays. I was lucky to do a lot of new plays. The process of working with an author and a director, all in concert, is just brilliant. I love it. I love the editing process, even when it's hard. You get new pages just before previews, or cutting sections while things are still being adjusted in previews. I don't think MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES is going to be doing anything like that. We're in good shape going into our tech week. No major surgery happening.
Any particular theatre you'd love to grace the stage of?
One of the beautiful Broadway theatres, Walter Kerr. So beautiful!
What did you first see there that made the Walter Kerr so memorable?
The first play I saw there was THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE. A stark stage with a bald light bulb hanging from the ceiling. A crappy kitchen in a one-room house. Such stark contrast to beauty of the theatre. That may have also been where PRESENT LAUGHTER with Allison Janney in (going back to the 1900s now) 1996.
How old were you when you realized you had a knack for voices?
I always did them. I was always making voices and being silly. The first play I did in New York, at the Lucille Lortel, BUNNY BUNNY, that Alan Zweibel wrote and Chris Ashley directed. I played twenty-something roles in the play. It was great. It was about Gilda Radner. Mainly two characters who go about her lifetime and their relationship, and I played everybody else. A lot of these quick changes I've just been talking about, and lots of wigs. That's how I got my start in voiceovers. A casting agent called me in for Ice Age. The first Ice Age, before big animated movies like that were being done. 'We're doing this thing called Ice Age. Here's a bunch of pictures. Find a voice for each one of them.' I leafed through a stack of fifteen roles, gave a voice to each one I saw, and gave them three of them.
You picked all the voices for these characters.
I just looked at a page and go, 'I guess he kinda sounds like this. or this guy sounds like that. And then they're listen to them and said, 'You got three.' I went in to record them, and they played back the voice I did. The third one I didn't even recognize as me. They had to check their logs. 'We had that as you. That is you.' I had to listen to it. I had done so many that day. That was a good sign that maybe I could have a future in voiceover. Once I started doing Disney movies a few years ago, after you do that; other people call you.
What state of mind would you love the Geffen audiences to leave in after your curtain call?
There's a death in the center of the play where someone dies under mysterious circumstances, you know. When someone dies, you can walk away from it feeling sad, or I guess you could feel happy. In this case, I think it's inspiring, his life and his philosophy, and who he was. He enjoyed his life. I hope they leave feeling good and entertained. It does have a lot of comical elements to it. Because you also have Sherlock Holmes within the play, there are moments that feel almost like Clue, trying to figure out who done it. There's a bit of a who-done-it inside of it. You have the author as a character within the play. Conan Doyle is in the play, and Sherlock Holmes One of the fun, really entertaining parts of it is - when you first meet Sherlock Holmes in the play, and you go back in time with Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle has killed Sherlock Holmes, the entire Sherlock Holmes. He doesn't like writing Sherlock Holmes. Everybody loved Sherlock Holmes. 'Look, I do other things.' Some artists don't appreciate as much what their audience appreciates. He killed him, and killed him ugly! Like an ugly breakup. Didn't really describe it too well, just had it happen at the height of Sherlock Holmes' popularity. 'I'm done!' In the play, we pick up at that moment, and Sherlock Holmes is there with Watson. Suddenly their cases have dried up, and they can't figure out why. Because he stopped writing them! There's a lot of really interesting things happening that a character inside of a play that is dealing with his own reality that is unreal. You've got the reality of Richard Green's life. All the things that are being done in this play, it's impressive to me. Michael has done it, when you read or when you see it, it's not a strange 'What time are we in now?' It flows really nicely. The elements of comedy work well with elements of drama. It's all of one style, even though it has different elements in it. I think people will enjoy it. I hope they walk away feeling good and they had a good night at the theatre. And comment possibly on their way out of the theatre, 'It's good to view something that isn't content.'
Thank you again, Alan! I look forward to you solving your other self's murder.
For ticket availability and show schedule through July 14, 2019; log onto www.geffenplayhouse.org