Once a month, a member of the theater community will pull up a chair to our cyber table and join us for a little conversation. I’ll edit the transcripts (removing the truly libelous parts) and post the results here every second Wednesday. For March, things are getting epic…
Tony-winner Denis O’Hare has entered the pantheon. Literally. In his tour de force (and very well-reviewed) An Iliad, he may be alone on stage but, with a turn of the head or a sly vocal inflection, we see Hermes and Athena–not to mention all of the warriors and women of the Trojan War. As both an actor and co-author of this modern adaptation of Homer’s classic tale, his work is an act of virtuosic storytelling that is passionate, at times funny and always deeply engrossing. Of course, television viewers know that O’Hare is no stranger to larger than life characters, although from more contemporary mythology like his haunted Larry Harvey on American Horror Story or the villainous (and perhaps rising again) Vampire King Russell on True Blood.
Currently alternating performances with Stephen Spinella through March 25 at New York Theatre Workshop, O’Hare took a breather from the battle cries to give us some insight into the challenges of performing a one-man show, rehearsing in traffic–and focusing on work when surrounded by hunky co-stars.
An Iliad is incredibly enveloping and moving as an audience member but what is the experience like for you to live those stories both physically and emotionally as a performer? Is your preparation for this show different from other shows because of those demands?
It is a massive burden this show – the thought of doing it begins to descend on me about 4 hours before hand and I find myself unable to really concentrate on other things. I tend to get to the theatre about 2 hours before curtain. I need to settle into the theatre – say hi to everyone backstage, have a little tea and then I go out on stage and do 30 minutes of Yoga and then about 10-15 minutes of vocal warmup. I usually run through at least one chapter onstage and I always run the List of Wars. Because I ride my bike everywhere, I find myself rehearsing while I’m riding. No one really notices when you talk to yourself on a bike.
Each show has its own requirements. Because of the massive text here, one of the requirements is constantly looking at the lines – I make around 200 errors a night in lines alone. I get a lot of notes from Stage Management and from the director and I’m always thinking about ways to improve and get cleaner.
Which of the mortals and gods was the easiest for you to embody, the one you thought immediately “I know this character”? Who was the hardest for you to “find” as an actor?
I had a tough time with all the characters -there wasn’t one which came to me easily – well, except for Hermes – he’s sort of Cali surf boy (not my usual niche but it was fun). I came to love doing Achilles best–Achilles and Agamemnon. And actually, if I’m honest, I’d say Agamemnon came fairly easily to me – from my years living in Chicago. I still struggle nightly finding Helen. Go figure.