January 2015 “Actor Stealing the Spotlight” (ASS)

Hiya!  Welcome to a regular feature at TBO.  Every month we highlight an Actor who is currently Stealing the Spotlight (or, the ASS).  This is someone from our community who particularly stood out for their performance or body of work the previous month (obviously from the shows that we actually reviewed).  We think it’s fun to shine some light on those who continue to make the Baltimore theater scene just fucking great.

AND THE ASS FOR JANUARY 2015 GOES TO:

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LAURA MALKUS

Other Desert Cities at Fells Point took my breath away in January and I was especially taken with Laura Malkus, who played pain-the-ass daughter Brooke.  I said in the review:

“Malkus, in the part that I thought played especially one-noted on the page, makes Brooke something pretty exceptional – I started the show seeing myself in her (the wringing of her hands, one of her “tells” of fragility even when she’s telling her father that she’s “like an oak”), moved to sort of hating her and then went back to being her again. The journey of this performance was subtle, brittle, inhibited, with a genius and a purpose. Brooke wants answers but she doesn’t. She wants to be a little girl but is straining to grow out from under Polly’s massive shade. She worships her mother as a god but she also might not pee on her if she was on fire. It’s just fucking complicated and real and desperate. It’s wonderful.”

I threatened Laura into an interview, so here’s what he said.

Hey, Laura, how’s it going? What are you doing?

Right now I’m avoiding my children. We’re on a two hour delay today and the whole morning routine has been skewed. I’m actually hiding in the basement.

Talk to me about Other Desert Cities. Do you like the play, the intensity of it?

I was like a lot of people in that when I read it, I was like you, I think. I really didn’t like it. I thought it was contrived. I read it knowing I was being considered for this role and I didn’t like the character. I thought: “Gosh, I could make better arguments in a fight than she seems to be able to make.” But there was a lot of conversation with Mike [Zemerel, director] and exploration of the text and the subtext and I got to the point where I LOVED it. That’s where I ended up. I was really sad to see it go.

Did you draw on the experiences of your own family to become a part of the Wyeth clan? Careful, they may be reading this.

The way that I work is that I try to get down to the wound, you know? I try to figure out what the essential wound is, the pain, that motivates the character. The short answer is no, I didn’t draw on my own family. My family is rather extraordinary, actually. They are really, really kind and careful with people that they love, that’s how they work and has been for a long time. With Brooke, though I felt like I could get to her essential wound, her most basic pain. As an artist, that’s really what we’re all trying to get to.

Do you find Brooke terribly self-indulgent or do you sympathize with her situation? Both?

I did find her really self-indulgent at the beginning and that was one of the things I didn’t like about the script. Our production went in a different direction than a lot of productions go. We didn’t play on the sarcasm, the unkindness, we didn’t indulge in that. It was frankly more interesting to see this family deeply committed to one another and have the potential loss of that family be a tragedy. I had to find a place for her to come from that was, yes, a little self-indulgent but rooted in good intentions. The fact that this family were all rooted in good intentions, misguided, but good, changed a lot of this production.

Do you think that Brooke was in the right to write the things she does about Henry? If it was one of your children exploiting a family secret like that, how would you react? Or would you encourage them to explore it as a part of their past, no matter how much it affected you?

I think that’s a really grey question, grey in the play and in the real world. You have to do what’s right for you and your family. As an artist I have done some writing and you do have to tell the truth as you know it, but whether that truth is seen or known outside of your writing room is a personal decision. For Brooke, the way I played her, she had to do it. She could not move to the next place, she could not heal. Bringing that story out into the world was critical, unless she published it, there was a good likelihood that her mind could be changed by her family. It was essential for her to become a whole person. With my children, I would like to think we live in a way that there wouldn’t be those kind of secrets. I do understand, though, that artists need to tell their truths.

Talk about Brooke’s relationship with Trip. What was it like to build that with David Shoemaker? What was the behind-the-scenes relationship with him like?

First of all, he’s just great, in every sense of the word. He was lovely and challenging in the best way. He always came to rehearsal ready to work, everyone came ready to work hard and he was one of the hardest working. Mike just wanted us to talk to each other. I would try to infuse things and Mike was say, no, this is familiar. Just talk to one another. Everything came out of that. It wasn’t hard. And that says a lot about David.

Did you have a specific inspiration when fleshing out Brooke?

No. My take on Brooke was that she felt unloved. Unloved and abandoned. I think there are times in all of our lives when we’ve felt that way, but no, she’s not based on anyone I know. I try not to do that, I feel like that’s coming from the outside in and that’s not how I want to work.

Did you and Lynda (McClary) have to do dysfunctional exercises to get to the level of uncomfortable familiarity you achieved?

The simple answer is no, we didn’t do any exercises like that but we talked a lot about what was true in our worlds. I’ve actually known Lynda for a very long time. Dave [Gamble] and Lynda and I did a show at Axis a million years ago. So we know each other very well and got on the same page very quickly. She’s brilliant and a gift to work with.

(Director) Mike Zemerel is better known in Baltimore for his exceptional acting talent – what was it like to work with him as a director? Did his actor’s instincts come into play in his directing style?

Yes, a little. In the beginning, he was – I don’t want to say “hands off” because that implies an inattention – but he put the five of us in a room and let us start what we were going to start. He really let us work through a lot without a lot of external business. At the end, he fine tuned it, of course. He really gave us a lot of breadth, which sometimes was hard because it made us work harder as actors. He had a lot of trust and faith in us and if he didn’t, he did a very good job of pretending he had trust and faith in us!

Who is the best actor in Baltimore?

I couldn’t possibly answer that. I’m really really excited about what’s happening right now. I’m a Baltimore native and the theater community here has come and gone and come and gone. But the things that are happening now – there is value in different approaches. Different people, different things. It makes it hard to say who is the “best.”

Wanna talk some shit about anyone in the cast or crew and have it attached to your name forever on the internet?

I’d rather not. I don’t have any shit to talk. That makes it easy.

Anything you’ve been dying to say to the Baltimore theater scene? A blessing or a curse?

Keep buying tickets and make donations. I work in fundraising and the theaters cannot make it without ticket sales and checks even if those checks are small. Keep giving.

What’s coming up next for you?

I don’t have a project, I’m a free agent. I do one or two projects a year. My husband is doing a show in a few weeks so I’m taking a turn at home. Nothing solid at this point.

Got someone you’d like to nominate for next month’s ASS? E-mail me at emailthebadoracle@gmail.com.

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