Blog Less Traveled: a talk with the stars of ‘The Whipping Man’
blog by Scott Behrend • October 25, 2012 @ 11:33am
Alright, who had a great summer? I know I did—but now it’s back to the old blog. The 2012-2013 theater season is well underway, so I thought it would be a good idea to check in with two of my favorite actors: Greg Howze and Dee Lamonte Perry, a duo currently co-starring in The Whipping Man at the Jewish Repertory Theatre.
Dee Perry is a significant player in Road Less Traveled Productions’ origins—he helped put us on the map with his powerhouse performance as Detective Connie Bremen in Jon Elston’s Interrogation Room at Ujima Theater in 2003. That was the second play RLTP had ever produced, and the first time that a lot of theatergoers took note of us. Later, Dee returned to star in the very first Darryl Schneider play, Two to the Head, in 2005 and assisted in RLTP’s Studio Arena debut in his role as Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird in 2008.
Greg Howze, meanwhile, burst on to the local theater scene only a couple of seasons ago, when he fearlessly originated the role of Dawud in the landmark world premiere production of Ibn Shabazz’s Insidious at the Road Less Traveled Theater. Greg returned to the RLTT a year later to reprise the role in the remount of Insidious, and also slayed our audiences in a very different role in a special reading of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ riotous comedy Den of Thieves, in which he essayed a fussbudget self-help counselor and former overeater. Since then, he’s made notable local appearances at Torn Space Theater, the Irish Classical Theater Company and Subversive Theater.
The Whipping Man by Mathew Lopez is an offbeat yet deeply felt period drama which also stars our friend Stan Klimecko, who played the ulcer-afflicted bad guy in RLTP’s hit production of Superior Donuts last season, and more recently received the 2012 Artie Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for his role in the Jewish Repertory Theatre’s Driving Miss Daisy. The Whipping Man chronicles a most unusual reunion of a post-war Confederate soldier and his family’s two former servants—all three raised in Judaism and now navigating the evolution of both their relationship and their nation’s politics.
SCOTT BEHREND: Please talk a little about how the opportunity to join the cast of The Whipping Man came about for you.
DEE LAMONTE PERRY: I believe I received an email from you, informing me that you’d recommended me for the project to (director) Saul Elkin. Subsequently I received a call from Saul, read for the part, and was fortunate enough to be chosen to work alongside such talented actors as Greg and Stan Klimecko.
GREG HOWZE: I came to the part first through an email from Saul, (who asked me to) come in and read for a part, of which I knew very little about. It was a truly great experience meeting him and reading for the part!
SB: What’s the process of working with Saul like?
GH: An absolute pleasure! It’s a true blessing to work with his genius.
SB: Does he offer a lot of specific direction, or let you discover the role gradually?
DLP: Saul is an icon in this industry with an immense amount of knowledge, a wealth of experience and remarkable insight. So I entered the project looking forward to a very hands-on type of direction that would not only benefit this play, but would also help me improve my overall craft. What I actually got was a director who trusted the actors that he had chosen enough to allow us to do what we do while he tweaked, fine-tuned and polished when needed.
GH: Saul has incredible vision, but at the same time (allows) us to put our creative talents on the table.
DLP: Saul is like a conductor who starts out with a group of musicians and ends up with a beautiful symphony.
GH: It’s a healthy balance of leading without pushing and allowing us to discover who these characters are on our own.
SB: Has your own faith and spiritual background assisted you in preparing to play this role? Have you experienced any specific challenges in playing a character raised in Judaism in the 1800s?
GH: I was raised in a Southern Baptist church, of which my grandfather was pastor for 34 years. So the spiritualism and passion of the south really rang true for me in many ways throughout the process. And many of the ideas and themes of the Jewish faith correspond with the Old Testament teachings of my upbringing—lessons that have followed me my entire life. So it wasn’t that huge of a transition.
DLP: Matthew Lopez has written such a complex piece that I found challenges not only playing a character raised in Judaism, but also challenges in dealing with the complexities of being a newly-freed man caring for someone who had just returned from a war in which he fought to keep me enslaved. My character is so rooted in his religious belief, though, that he’s able to transcend what could easily be his expected behavior.
SB: What other roles and shows do each of you have scheduled this season?
GH: The only other show I have slotted for this season “so far”—a-hem—would be at the beginning of 2013. I’ll be playing the part of Belize in Subversive Theatre’s rendition of Angels in America, directed by the masterful Chris Standart. That should prove interesting and a lot of fun!
DLP: Currently The Whipping Man is the only show that I am cast in this theater season. Call me!
SB: I hope some directors read this, take note of your availability and put you both to work! Is there a theater company that you haven’t yet worked with where you look forward to working in the future? Is there a dream project or role that you hope you get the opportunity to play someday?
GH: I have been fortunate enough to play at a few different houses in Buffalo pretty quickly, and I have been blessed to meet some very talented people along the first few steps of my journey. A dream role—well, I have been wanting to do some more Shakespeare. Aaron from Titus Andronicus would be a joy.
To perform on the MusicalFare stage…and I love the work at the New Phoenix. There are so many—and, of course, my home away from home—RLTP.
DLP: The theatre community in Buffalo is so rich and diverse that I simply welcome the opportunity to work with those that I’ve never worked with and to work again with those that I have. My dream project, however, is a one-man show about Martin Luther King. So I guess Jon Elston needs to start writing.
GH: Cough cough, nudge nudge…
SB: Okay, guys, I get the picture. I look forward to enjoying your work in The Whipping Man and hopefully to working with both of you again real soon.
Scott Behrend is the co-founder and artistic/executive director of Road Less Traveled Productions.
Photo from The Buffalo News.