More With David Ferrie

Sep. 28, 2009
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Local actor David Ferrie has a very smart stage presence. In Boulevard Theatre’s production of the two person drama Roses In December last year, his performance as an author who reluctantly exchanges letters with a young woman sparkled with intelligence. This week he takes the same stage in a ONE-person drama as he stars as the title character in David Rintels’ Clarence Darrow. I talked with him at the Boulevard Theatre a few weeks ago prior to a rehearsal.

In the second part of the interview, Ferrie and I discussed the character of Darrow—stage character versus historical figure in the process of telling a story onstage.

Me: How far did you get into researching the character?

Ferrie: I’ve done some research. I’ve read one biography and skimmed another. I don’t want to lose the soul of the script.

Me: At some point it’s going to be a character onstage regardless of the history.

Ferrie: Exactly. And the more you get into . . . this is one of the big problems with . . . thank god this guy didn’t have a lot of film. Because then I would feel obligated. But because he did’nt I don’t really feel that obligated to imitate the man.

Me: You don’t want to be doing an impression of him.

Ferrie: Exactly. And that’s what a lot of actors and the audience expect. Is to see somebody who sounds and looks like . . . Ray Charles (if you’re going to do Ray Charles,) and that was a great acting piece [he’s referring to Jamie Foxx in the 2004 film Ray] The first thing they look for is the impression. And the temptation is to give it to them. I think a courageous actor forgets about the impression and goes for the soul. It’s still about what the play says. It’s ALWAYS about what the play says. And if you’re going to forget about that—if you’re going to forget about what the soul of the character is and what’s being said in the play? Then it doesn’t matter how good your impression is.

The character himself—and I haven’t read the script—but the historical figure—there’s a lot of dichotomy in there. The fact that he had many different facets of his personality and . . .you’re seeing little snippets of that throughout the play.

Ferrie: Also seeing the growing as a human being. He starts out in one place and ends . . . his trajectory is still on the same straight line. He just ends the show with much more wisdom about it. And there’s some redemption in there too. So that He does do things wrong. He admits to doing things wrong. I kind of conceptualize this as being this kind of confessional sort. He is bound to tell the truth in this show. He MUST tell the truth for some reason. There’s nothing to hide. And he has to do it. And yes, there probably are dichotomies. And thank goodness there are.

Me:  Exactly.

Ferrie: In the right circumstances we are ALL duplicitous.

Me: Absoultely. And that’s what makes it interesting.

Ferrie: Yeah.

Me: Is there like an arc of energy in this for you? You’d mention that the script is orchestrated. The moods and the energy levels and things. Is it complex or is it simply starting off slow and then you’ve got rising action and then it all gets resolved?

Ferrie: The first act definitely has more fireworks and more . . he’s younger, he’s more passionate. He takes risks . . more risks in the first act. As he gets older. (because it does go chronologically) he DOES slow down physically and mentally like he says in the script. But also he begins to take on those parts of the American psyche that are more troublesome. More difficult to deal with. . . The unpopular individuals. Not just the anarchists, but the communists and socialists and these unpopular people. Everyone was saying, “hang ‘em,” “lynch ‘em.” And he was speaking out. And I think it took a toll on him. He says in the play that he needed time to rest. He said that. He didn’t rest. He continued practicing law for the next thirty or forty years, but um . . .  it does take its toll. This is . . he comes against some of the uglier things about American society and always from the standpoint of you can do better. WE can do better than this. This has got to change. Even if it’s only one case at a time. Only one man at a time. It’s got to change.

TOMORROW: Darrow and creating a character onstage.

Boulevard Theatre’s Clarence Darrow runs September 29th through November 1st.


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