A complicated Russian novel of high society, illicit love, and family honor requires an enormous cast of characters to carry it off. Or, if budgets are tight, a creative crew of actors who can play multiple roles.
Three “newbies” to Book-It bring to life multiple characters in the company’s current production Anna Karenina.
As always, the adaptation incorporates the descriptions and style of the novel as well as the dialogue. This Book-It style makes their adaptations of literature not only distinct but often a distinct challenge to actors performing on their stage.
Meg McLynn, Evan Whitfield, and Simon Hamlin recently answered a few questions about their introduction both as audience members and as actors to the Book-It style and what that style brings to a show.
Can you tell me what the first Book-It show was that you saw?
Hamlin: My first Book-It show has a story behind it. Apropos, no? I visited a coffee shop in Queen Anne and thought the barista was cute. It turned out she was an actress and was performing in a Book-It show. I had only exchanged a few words with her at the coffee shop, but I decided to go to the play. I planned to talk to her after the show, but I was too shy to approach her.
McLynn: I saw Jane Eyre over a decade ago. I wasn't familiar with the novel, but I was an avid reader, so having the story come to life in a way which connected a literary structure with a theatrical structure was completely surprising and engaging. I was hooked immediately with the Book-It style and have wanted to perform with them ever since!
Whitfield: The first Book-It show I saw was Border Songs. I had been aware of the Book-It style and had performed in a similar style. It definitely brings a richness to performance that doesn't exist in "normal" theater.
What's the biggest challenge or joy for you as an actor in performing at Book-It?
McLynn: Playing numerous characters, there are the obvious challenges of getting in and out of all of the costumes in a limited amount of time. But most challenging, and most important, is creating a full character when I may only have one line. I need to know who that character is when she walks on stage in order to help support the journey of the main characters.
Whitfield: It’s the same challenges and joys of performing anywhere. The challenge of navigating a world that may be unfamiliar at the beginning but with the help of the director and a strong ensemble, one can find their way into the character and the world that's being built. The joy of telling a good story and being able to move an audience.
Hamlin: The things that I like about Book-It's style - simplicity and sparseness - also create some of the challenges. We need to find ways to convey ideas in just a few lines, or no lines at all, that took Tolstoy several pages, if not chapters, to flush out. The challenges and joys are two sides of the same coin.
So who’s your favorite character in this play?
Whitfield: I am most familiar with Stiva because I've spent the last six weeks figuring out who he is; and he's incredibly fun to play. From the outside, it has been a real treat to watch David Anthony Lewis inhabit the role of Levin. David brings an incredible depth of sensitivity and he has a fantastic sense of humor. We get along like childhood friends.
Hamlin: I love Levin. He is Tolstoy's autobiographical character. I admire and relate to the struggles he goes through trying to fit in to the world. He makes life messy. Nothing comes easy to him. But it's because he is questioning everything and not settling. There's a beautiful scene between Levin and Kitty in Act II where Kitty talks about many of Levin's virtues.
McLynn: I don't have one. I like them all! Though, if forced to choose, I would say Anna, because I find her so easy to empathize with, even as she makes truly terrible choices.
What novel or story would you like to see performed some day by Book-It?
Hamlin: I am always fascinated by good autobiographies and memoirs. I wonder what Hunter S. Thompson's "The Proud Highway" would look like on stage? Another story that has a great theatrical element to it is "Now I See The Moon" by Elaine Hall. It is her personal story about raising a son with autism.
McLynn: "The Girl" by Meridel LeSoeur. I would love to play Clara. Or Belle. Or any of the women, really.
Whitfield: I'm excited to be playing the role of Matt Prior in The Financial Lives of the Poets later in the season. The book is very funny and poignant and in has the same elements that attract me regardless of the medium -- real people and relationships that we can relate to as we watch them trying to make their way through life the best they can.
Anna Karenina plays through March 3 at The Center Theatre at the Seattle Center.