Pin It
Though the productions are drastically different, two solo shows this fall take a similar approach to preparation.

Going alone 

Though the productions are drastically different, two solo shows this fall take a similar approach to preparation.

fallguide04-magnum.jpg

One of the most theatrical of theatrical genres is the solo show: 90 minutes or so featuring one actor, and one actor alone. They may be playing a character in the playwright's imagination, or a historical person, or, if the actor is skilled enough, a stage full of memorable characters.

A solo show is one of the greatest challenges an actor can face, but two veteran Rochester actors are up to the challenge this fall. One is a veteran of several well-received solo shows, and the other is attempting his first, after playing all kinds of roles in plays and musicals for many years.

click to enlarge Susan Hopkins performs in "Shirley Valentine" at Blackfriars Theare. - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Photo by Mark Chamberlin
  • Susan Hopkins performs in "Shirley Valentine" at Blackfriars Theare.

Susan Hopkins just finished a run at Blackfriars Theatre in Willy Russell's "Shirley Valentine." And Peter Doyle is playing one of the most celebrated figures in literary history, Oscar Wilde, in John Gay's "Diversions and Delights." Their roles couldn't be more contrasted, but the preparation for their theatrical marathons was surprisingly similar.

Hopkins returned to a role she played 15 years ago for Blackfriars. After the show's initial success, she says, "Jack (director John Haldoupis) kept asking me if we could bring it back as a summer show. I'd say yes, then I'd start looking at those 66 pages of dialogue again and hesitate."

She finally went ahead with it — "Shirley Valentine" was the first production of Haldoupis's last season at Blackfriars. Faced with all those pages of script, Hopkins did what you'd probably think she would do: she divided "Shirley Valentine" into smaller chunks, which she says was easy to do in this case. "The script is so departmentalized: There's a scene leading up to a decision, then the decision is made and acted on, and then you see the change, each one in a different scene."

In the first act of the play, Shirley has to unpack a load of groceries and prepare a complete meal for her husband while talking nonstop— the actress has to work out the lines and movements carefully. "I started by slowly getting the phrasing, the feeling, and the movements back into my muscle memory. And then I did it over and over and over again." (She's an old hand at one-woman shows, having played Ann Landers in "The Lady with All the Answers" and an elderly Jewish concentration camp survivor in "Rose," both at the JCC.)

The character of Shirley Valentine is the creation of a male writer, Willy Russell, who also wrote "Educating Rita" and "Blood Brothers." Shirley is a 40-ish Liverpool housewife feeling trapped in a dull marriage. When a friend wins a vacation for two to Greece and invites Shirley along, the trip transforms her intellectually and emotionally.

"When I encounter the humor and the pathos of this script, it rings so true that I am amazed that it was written by a man," Hopkins says. "It always seems like a good time to hear this particular story: when you think life has escaped you, but you find out it is not too late," says Hopkins. "And fifteen years later, it seems even more poignant to me: a woman saying 'If not now, when?'" She admits that her earlier run in the play convinced her to make a big change in her own life, from working as a college teacher to becoming a nurse."

click to enlarge Peter Doyle performing as Oscar Wilde in "Diversions and Delights." - PHOTO BY MARK CHAMBERLIN
  • Photo by Mark Chamberlin
  • Peter Doyle performing as Oscar Wilde in "Diversions and Delights."

Director Michael Arve had a longstanding interest in presenting Peter Doyle in "Diversions and Delights." Never having done a solo show before, Doyle took some time to make up his mind, but agreed to it this summer and set to work memorizing the script with Arve's help.

Like many an actor, Doyle's exposure to Oscar Wilde was limited to performing in "The Importance of Being Earnest." There were many gaps in his knowledge of the great writer's life: "For example, I never realized that Oscar Wilde was married and had two sons — one of whom wrote a book about him. I also never realized how broad-minded and open he was for the time. His attitude was 'Let me live; what right do you have to be judging me?'"

"Diversions and Delights" was originally performed by Vincent Price, who took it on a national tour and briefly to Broadway in 1977 (one of the tour stops was Rochester's Nazareth College, where Doyle saw it when he was 16 years old). It is devised in the form of a lecture Wilde gave during the last year of life. After his trial on sodomy charges in 1895 and his spell in Reading Prison, Wilde was persona non grata in England. He traveled to France, eking out a living by giving lectures about his life, opinions, and scandals. He remained haunted by his great love, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as "Bosie."

The title sounds lighthearted, and the play is full of Wilde's bon mots, but it does show Wilde seriously taking stock of his life. "The script really is rich and funny and perfectly written," Doyle says. "That language is like music to an actor. When I fully read it out loud, it relieved me of my initial terror."

He also broke the two-act play down to five sections for study purposes — and when showed up for his first rehearsal, found that Arve had divided the script the exact same way.

Doyle admits that while he read what he could of Wilde's life and work, "I didn't really do a lot of homework. I sometimes think actors can over-research and over-think roles, and I didn't want to do that." He had no recordings of Wilde's voice or film of him to guide him (though during his glory years in literary society he was frequently photographed). Numerous accounts of Wilde's speaking voice have come down to us, generally described as soft and with an Irish inflection, though a cultivated one.

Re-creating Wilde physically, he says, was mostly a matter of feeling comfortable with "conventions of speech that are in the play but nothing like the way we talk now. People's movements, the way they walked and sat, were very different too, and I have to try to make that physicality of another time organic to me."

In This Guide...

    Fall Guide 2014

    Did we even have a summer?

    Artists with class

    Meet three teaching artists who are shaping the next generation of creative thinkers.
    The old adage, "To learn, read. To know, write.

    Fall's palette

    Yes, there has been talk of the dreaded polar vortex revisiting Rochester again. But resist the temptation to slip into that cocoon of hibernate-y despair — we're at the top of the arts season, and there are plenty of engaging exhibits and events to distract us.

    Stage lights

    Our Top 10 critic picks for the 2014-15 theater season.
    The 2014-15 theater season is going to be packed, so let's dive right in: "Curtains"

    Autumn moves

    Once fall sets in, be on the lookout for the 2014-15 dance season to be in full swing.
    It's never easy previewing the upcoming dance season and singling out which performances promise excellence, but with Rochester dancers and choreographers focused like a laser on the imminent Rochester Fringe Festival (September 18-27), information about later dance shows was hard to pin down. So, along with the picks outlined below, look for pop-up performances from smaller groups as the cultural year progresses.

    Hearing the season change

    The fall always brings out the best of classical music. Here are our critic picks for the fall season.
    The 2014–15 classical season is stirring up a wide variety of talents and mediums for the fall. World-renowned guest artists, fearless programming, and interactive concerts are pillars to this fall's offerings.

    Back-yard scenes

    Rochester's local film scene is growing. Here are a handful of flicks currently in production.
    Being the birthplace of film, Rochester has always prided itself on being a city with a deep, abiding love for the movies, so it only follows that we would have a vibrant, active community of filmmakers as well. Add in RIT's renowned school of film and animation constantly pumping out new generations of auteurs, and you've got a veritable hotbed of activity of the cinematic variety.

    Hollywood screens

    The fall movie schedule promises some mainstream film gems. Here are our critic picks.
    There are plenty of mainstream films coming out this season. Along with those local productions in the works, here are the larger-release films I'm most looking forward to.

    Down on the farm

    As fall kicks in, Western New York celebrates with a bushel full of agricultural events.
    As the calendar and the seasons change, so does the nature of our harvest, and by proxy, our recreation. With our roots and heritage so closely tied to the land of Western New York, it should come as no surprise that many people gravitate toward agriculturally themed events as the leaves change.

    Ithaca is gorging

    If you get hungry while driving through the Finger Lakes, make a stop in Ithaca to fill up.
    According to the all-too-true joke, 'round these parts there are only two seasons: winter and roadwork. But there's actually a third: leaf-peeping season.

    Special Events Guide

    Summer may be over, but it's not time to head indoors just yet. Rochester has plenty of events to keep you busy through the fall.

Tags:

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Fall Guide

  • Fall Guide 2016
  • Fall Guide 2016

    Seasonal selections
    • Sep 14, 2016
  • Something old, new, borrowed, hue
  • Something old, new, borrowed, hue

    Our preview of the 2016-17 art exhibits include upcoming exhibits at Rochester Contemporary, Memorial Art Gallery, and Oxford Gallery.

    • Sep 14, 2016
  • Building new boards
  • Building new boards

    Sampling Rochester's diverse theater offerings in 2016-17, including RBTL, MuCCC, and Geva productions

    • Sep 14, 2016
  • More »

More by David Raymond

Readers also liked…

Latest in Fall Guide

  • Fall Guide 2016
  • Fall Guide 2016

    Seasonal selections
    • Sep 14, 2016
  • Something old, new, borrowed, hue
  • Something old, new, borrowed, hue

    Our preview of the 2016-17 art exhibits include upcoming exhibits at Rochester Contemporary, Memorial Art Gallery, and Oxford Gallery.

    • Sep 14, 2016
  • Building new boards
  • Building new boards

    Sampling Rochester's diverse theater offerings in 2016-17, including RBTL, MuCCC, and Geva productions

    • Sep 14, 2016
  • More »

More by David Raymond

Browse Listings

Submit an event

Tweets @RocCityNews

© 2016 City Newspaper.

Website powered by Foundation.