BWW Interview: Michael Manuel: From Creature to THE FATHER's Memory (Or Imagination?)
The Alfred Molina-starrer THE FATHER, currently in previews, will have its official opening night February 11, 2020 at The Pasadena Playhouse. Playwright Florian Zeller (translated by Christopher Hampton) illuminates the internal struggles of a very proud man cursed with dementia. Two versions of André's (the father) memory play out on stage that will keep the audience guessing as to which is André's reality. Jessica Kubzansky directs a seasoned cast including: Sue Cremin, Michael Manuel, Pia Shah, Hugo Armstrong and Lisa Renee Pitts. I had the chance to interview Michael Manuel, whom I last saw in his stunning portrayal of The Creature in A Noise Within's FRANKENSTEIN.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Michael!
How did you connect with this production of THE FATHER? Did someone see your incredible performance as The Creature in FRANKENSTEIN at A Noise Within and refer you? Or was it having worked with director Jessica Kubzansky in OTHELLO at A Noise Within and AMOS AND BORIS at South Coast Rep?
First of all, thank you so much for your kind words about FRANKENSTEIN. It was such a special show for me - one of the highlights of my career.
Jessica and I have worked together a number of times, most recently on OTHELLO - where we worked very closely cutting the script and figuring out the story we wanted to tell. I have such respect for her and her talent. She's one of the smartest kindest people I know. So when I heard that she was directing THE FATHER, I asked her if I could audition. Jessica's the reason I'm lucky enough to be in this show.
What would your three-line pitch of THE FATHER be?
It's about love and kindness and the delicacy of life. It's a play about care-taking - taking care of the ones we love while also trying to take care of our own well being.
If you were writing a letter of recommendation for your character Pierre, what good qualities of Pierre would you emphasize?
Pierre is a good listener, a caring person, and a snappy dresser.
What flaws would you omit?
Impatient. A little selfish. Bit of a bad temper.
In a mash-up of shows and time, how would you think Pierre would react to The Creature? Sympathetic? Indifferent? Dismissive?
If they met early on, I think Pierre would have gladly helped The Creature learn to read, teach him how to cook and come up with a better hairstyle. I know he wouldn't have been one of the townspeople to poke him with a stick.
Have you worked with anyone else in THE FATHER before besides Jessica?
I've had the pleasure of seeing Alfred Molina on the Los Angeles boards in LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT at The Geffen and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET at The Pasadena Playhouse. Had you the opportunity to see any of his theatrical works?
I've not had the pleasure of seeing Fred on stage before. I'm glad that the first time I see him on stage I'll be looking into his eyes.
Any words of wisdom Alfred Molina has shared with you?
We have laughed a lot and shared stories about drama school. Fred just shares. Period. It's what makes him such a wonderful actor. I feel such a kinship with him - we're both big guys with loud voices and a penchant for joking around. We've played some of the same roles - which we've talked about - and I aspire to do some of the parts he's played. The other thing about Fred that's great is that he's a fellow plumber - he likes to get in there and figure stuff out. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers and is open to really collaborating with his partners.
Your theatrical roles stretch from Shakespearean to improv. Would you say that your improv skills improve your Shakespeare interpretation? How about the reverse - your Shakespearean experience adds to your improv?
I think improv helps everything. It forces you to listen and react honestly. It exposes you. Shakespeare, to me, was a master of understanding how humans behave - how and why people do the things they do. I can't imagine doing Shakespeare without really exploring and exposing my heart, as well as, my own vulnerabilities and insecurities. Improv has helped me take the focus off of myself and onto my partners so we can tell a story together. I try to do the same thing in Shakespeare - it's no fun doing it by myself.
What's next on the plate of Michael Manuel?
Nothing lined up yet. I've been on a good run the past few years; Boris in AMOS AND BORIS at SCR, Toby Belch at The Alley, and Iago, The Creature and Tilden at ANW, and now this job - I've been very lucky. I'm hoping something will present itself soon - I'm already worried that I'll never work again. Just kidding. But not really.
The play is a beautiful puzzle - and I hope they enjoy trying to figure it out. It's very personal and raw. It's also funny. I'm not sure what feelings people will have - but I imagine that they'll have all the feels.
Thank you again, Michael! I look forward to meeting you and THE FATHER.
For ticket availability and show schedule through March 1, 2020; log onto www.pasadenaplayhouse.org