Friday, February 5, 2016

PREVIEW: King Lear, Tobias Andersen - Post 5 Theatre

Tobias Andersen:  A “Staged” Life

In a couple of weeks you will be a witness to greatness.  I’m not talking just about Shakespeare’s classic play, King Lear, but, even better, Tobias Andersen playing King Lear!  And if you are a regular patron of the local theatre and have to ask, who is Tobias Andersen? you must really live in Siberia. www.post5theatre.org

Andersen is no stranger to Lear (or Shakespeare, for that matter) as he had played the roles of “Albany (OSF) and Gloucester (Cal Shakes).”  And when asked, why now…and at Post 5, he replied, “’it’s time.’  I never chased the role but when this opportunity presented itself, I felt my career has led me to this point and the universe was saying ‘do it.’”  And he added, referring to the allure of working with Post 5, “It’s the energy.  I feed on it like a vampire.  They are so inventive, willing to try anything.  And talented I think it’s the perfect place for a 79 year old to play Lear.”

And since he is in the golden years of his theatre career, with many more opportunities to come, I’m sure, I thought it only fair to prompt him as to when the acting “bug” bit him and he knew this was going to be his whole life.  He remarked, “When I was in my teens, a touring company from Cleveland Playhouse came to our small Oklahoma oil town…and performed The Importance of Being Earnest.  I’d never seen anything like the magic of those words….”

Tobias went on to say, when he was 25, his local community theater went on to produce a farce, The Moon Is Blue, and so “…with a flat top haircut and a stuck on mustache, [he played] a 55 year old suave playboy….and I got laughs.  That did it.”

Since then, I have seen him in many productions recently, and my favorite is the one-man show he performed from the works of Ray Bradbury.  He and the author were so intertwined that they seem to speak with one voice.  I admit a bias, having a fondest for Bradbury (as does Andersen).  But, the point being, there is something magic about his words, poetic-prose and very identifiable to each of us.  The same goes for Tobias, when he’s playing a character onstage, you believe him and understand where’s he’s coming from…and that is part of the magic of being a fine actor, which he is!

And so I have chosen my favorite among the few roles I’ve seen him perform.  Now it’s his turn:  “…I’d say playing Clarence Darrow before audiences in Pakistan, including members of the government, and watching them take in and understand his positions on freedom of speech and religion, rights of the working man, abolishment of the death penalty.  Performing theatre that can make a difference in thinking is really special for me.”  It is said that, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and this just may be one proof of that.

Andersen added to the list saying that, “…playing Gudmondsson, the defense attorney in Snow Falling on Cedars…”and “Playing Falstaff…to 500 people a night on the shores of Lake Tahoe is a pretty special memory.”  But he also adds, “…that the Portland Community Theater is the best that I’ve encountered.  The satisfaction I have gotten from the good work I have been privileged to do has been more than matched by the love, support and friendship of my fellow theater artists.”

Having experienced Post 5 productions for almost four years now, and reviewing most of them, I would agree with Tobias as to their energy and inventiveness and talent, as it shows in every play they do.  And so I queried him as to what will be unique about this production.  He explains that they will have one that has “evolved… we will continue to rely on [the text] and interpret it in such a way that the process is informing us as to where we are physically and in time….For certain, it will be a Post 5 production and all that that entails…interesting casting, high voltage energy, choices you may not often see in more traditional productions.”  He adds enthusiastically, “I love it.”

Rusty Tennant, the director (and new co-Artistic Director along with Patrick Walsh and Paul Angelo), confides that “What makes this production special is Tobias as Lear…he tackles it like he’s wrestling the beast that it is into submission….It’s about Tobias…getting to play Lear for the first time in his life.  To me, that is amazingly special.”

But in an Artist’s creative juices…lodged in the cubby holes of their minds…just around the corner from this show, are always the next undiscovered lands to traverse.  And what is next for Andersen?  “There are plans to revive Clarence Darrow, the one man show I have acted for years and play it in repertory with The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial…taken directly from the actual Monkey Trial…and is as timely as ever…I am also intent on directing a multicultural production of Rashomon.”  (Interesting to note that the Japanese have also tackled the Bard with Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear) by that great film director, Akira Kurosawa—who also directed the film, Rashomon.)

And so, in a way, we have come full circle and the legacy being, those young hopefuls out there trying to break into the biz.  Tobias’s advice:  “…making a living in theater is a tough business but my experience is that if you have to have ‘something to fall back on,’ you will fall back on it.  If you can do something else, do it.  If the theater still calls you, then go for it with everything you have.”  Amen!

Rusty tells me that, as far as them leading the company, “…we hope to retain the energy and great brand that Ty and Cass built…to be a source for fresh and vital productions…as well as branching into more modern classics…to give our audiences a more complete and enjoyable evening at the theatre.”

King Lear opens at their space, 1666 SE Lambert St. in Sellwood, on February 26th and closes March 19th.  For more information on this show and their Season, go to www.post5theatre.org (an unbeatable price, too, 8 shows for $100!).  I recommend them and, as always, if you do choose to see their shows, please tell them Dennis sent you.