I’m asking veteran actors to name five dream roles and say why. The answers not only reveal aspirations, they may put an idea in the minds of artistic directors and producers — even choices that seem outside the box.
Craig Noel Award-winning actor Francis Gercke, whose new company, Backyard Renaissance (formed with wife Jessica John Gercke), opens its inaugural doors this Saturday with Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song at Ion Theatre.
“I’m more drawn to plays than roles. I encountered all these plays at an early age. I want to be a part of them. No one has to see me on stage. They need to see these stories!”
1.) Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee (1955). The Scopes “Monkey Trial” debate between creationism and evolution. “Such a classic American play. It also strikes me as continually relevant as the debates over climate change, stem cell research, abortion rights, etc., continue to be unresolved. The first time I saw it, I realized that one of the few places you can safely carry on a volatile debate is in the theater.”
2.) American Buffalo, by David Mamet. “I love the image in my head of Teach [SPOILER ALERT] literally reducing the world of the play to smithereens and what that must be like for an audience to experience. Also the classic Wild West confrontation in an urban setting: might equals right versus truth and justice. We grapple with it now: the 1% v. the rest of us. But once you start assigning labels, you can justify terrible consequences. Innocence lost.”
3.) The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson. “I always think of the phrase, “the blind leading the blind.” Gibson, for me, turns it on its head. Not only does it literally happen in the play, it happens metaphorically with Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller leading the sighted Keller family. Keller said: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
4.) Rocket to the Moon, by Clifford Odets. “If you told me I’d fall in love with a play about a dentist, I’d’ve told you to go do something unpleasant. But I really love this play. Odets is a street poet to me. Most of his plays are about characters who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Rocket is quieter. It’s like that bag in American Beauty that gets taken by the wind, has no control of its own, yet is quietly captivating.”
5.) The Elephant Man, by Bernard Pomerance. “The role of John Merrick’s so physically demanding it’s got a history of horror stories for the actors who played him. But how this human being endured such difficulty and degradation and somehow maintained a sense of dignity and respect for others, it’s incredibly hopeful. Backyard Renaissance will produce the play in April, 2016, in collaboration with the Oceanside Theatre Company.”