March 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 MARCH 2015 GOES TO:

Matt Payne

MATTHEW LINDSAY PAYNE

I first spied Matt Payne doing the daring Spencer in last year’s Edward II at Spotlighters and I thought he was intense and interesting, so my ears perked up hearing that he was back in 13 Dead Husbands, part of the inaugural season of debut company Cohesion Theatre.  Both Achilles and I found him utterly delightful.

Achilles said of Matt playing Marcel, the “sexy swarthy Frenchman” in the review:  “His Marcel is passionate, funny to the point of making me LOL several times and has amazing stage presence.”

I tempted Matt into an interview, so here’s what he said.

What’s up, Matt, how’re you doing?  What are you up to right this second?

Right now I am hiding in my attic.  My roommates are downstairs and my cats are roaming.  They’re trying to jump out of an open window.

Yeah, I have four cats, so I get it.  I don’t recall seeing you around prior to Edward II – are you new to Baltimore small theater or did I just fuck up and miss you somehow?

No, I went to Loyola for four years and then I moved to Harrisburg, which was a horrible mistake, so I moved back.  Edward II was the first show I did when I returned to Baltimore.

Are you from here?

No, I’m actually from Delaware, so not too far away.

You were part of the cast that spawned Cohesion Theater Company – how did that happen?  It must have been one magical show for everyone to sign on like that.  

My understanding was that Jonas (Grey) had written the script and he knew Brad (Norris) so he contacted him to direct and then also suggested Alicia (Stanley) to assistant direct.  The process of Edward II was so great, it was great to work with that group of people.  That group liked working together so much we thought “Maybe we should make our own theater company.”

So.  13 Dead Husbands.  I kind of thought that might be a dead duck considering the last minute space switcharoo debacle.  Was everyone panicking about that?  How did the cast react?

There were a lot of sardonic jokes passed around but overall it was handled well.  We hadn’t rehearsed the entire show in the previous space yet, so we took it well.  Brad came into practice and said “We have a new space, we’re not sure where.”  And then Church on the Square stepped up, which was great.

What did you think of the show?  It was a Baltimore debut, I believe, and it’s only been done once before, right?

Yeah.  13 Dead Husbands.  Wow.  I don’t know.  Being in the show, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  It’s fun to be a part of shows that are comedic.  Serious drama can be depressing, it can start to wear on you as a person.  But with Husbands, everyone was competing every night to be funny.  It was a gem, honestly.  Brad told us something important during the process.  He said, about he and his wife:  “Being in love is not about the grand gestures, being in love is knowing what kind of chicken your wife likes to eat.”  And that’s what we tried to convey on the stage, especially in the relationship between Jean-Pierre and Dee-Dee.

I’ve heard it called “a dark comedy” but I didn’t find it so, exactly.  Did you think the show was dark?

In some places, yeah.  I mean, it could have been darker.  It was simple and whimsical.  We actually called it a “whimsical fairy tale”.  We made some choices to move away from the darker aspects of the script.

Your Marcel seemed to be channeling Pepe LePew with a little bit of Maurice Chevalier thrown in for the singing.  He was so French that I had a sudden urge to buy some baguettes and put on a striped shirt.  Am I right?  What was the process for creating him?

Well, Caitlin Carbone (assistant director) helped us to work on our accents because she has lots of experience with speaking French.  Bobby (Henneberg) and I sat down and started muddling through the accent and we diverged on how we did it – Marcel was way over the top.  A key direction from Brad was to make Marcel a French Fonz vs. a French David Bowie.  So I just ran with this ridiculous French character.  It was an axis all the men were on, from being simple and nerdy and down-to-earth like Jean Pierre to being caught up in the “love” of Dee-Dee like Marcel.

That accent, tho.  You must have been pissed, working on that so hard and then having the acoustics of the space fuck you over accidentally.  When I saw the show in preview, that damned echo seemed like a big problem, but I guess y’all worked it out, huh?

Yeah.  When we started working in the new space we were really nervous.  Brad was sitting in the front row and couldn’t hear us because of the echo off the back wall.  But when there were people in the space the bodies ate some of the sound.  There is a rumor that the next show will be there and the space will use drop clothes to help eat up the sound in the future.

How were the other leads to work with?  Isn’t Bobby Henneberg, like, twelve years old or something ridiculous?

He’s eighteen.  He was like “I’m in collage!” and we were all like “Yeah,” and he’s like, “No, I’m really in collage, I can’t go to the bar with you guys.”  His instincts are fantastic, I think he usually does comedic roles so this was one of his first times as a straight man.  He gave me a lot to bounce off of.  Casey (Dutt) I worked with in Edward II, I love Casey.  She’s one of the hardest working actors I’ve ever met.  Thom (Sinn) fell into the role of Hubert Hubble instantly.  He was off-book almost immediately.  I cannot say enough good things about working with everyone on this show.

Do you enjoy working with Brad Norris as a director?  This is your second time directed by him, no?

I love working with Brad.  He’s a big idea guy, sometimes he has to dial it back to the smaller details of a scene.  He had a vision for Husbands that translated very well.

I have a feeling I know what you’re going to say, but what’s the best stage in Baltimore?

I don’t know if I can even answer that question.  Cohesion!  Go see Cohesion.  They’re pushing the envelope in so many ways, it’s great to be involved.  I also had the good fortune to work with Single Carrot in their 24 hour play festival, so go see Single Carrot, too.

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

No.  I don’t have anyone I want to talk shit about.  I do wanted to mention one guy that needs some recognition:  Dominic Gladden.  He played Dr. Seamus Delaney.  He’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever worked with.  Every night he came with something different that cracked us up.

That’s your shit talking, Matt?  Really?

I’ve done shows before where the was some problem with this person or with this one or another but it just wasn’t the case here.  It was a really social cast and crew, too, everyone hung out together outside of the show, it was great.

Soapbox time!  Anything you’ve been dying to say to the Baltimore theater scene?

I’m an aspiring stage combat guy, so I’d really like to see more people do combat in their shows.  There’s also a play I would really love to see produced, it’s called Domain.  It’s nominally about eminent domain but actually about the effects of losing a house or home on the characters.  It’s never been done before, only as a staged reading.  I would love to see it produced by Cohesion but if they can’t, I would love to see it done in Baltimore at large.

What’s coming up next for you?

Recently I was cast to play the part of Franz in The Trap (by Tadeusz Rozewicz) at The Amabassor Theater.  That’s in D.C. but it’s relatively local.  It opens in late May.

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

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