Soon after completing the Actor’s Conservatory Program at A Noise Within in 2000, Gale Harold shot to international fame as Brian Kinney in the ground-breaking Showtime series Queer As Folk. This was followed by recurring roles in Grey’s Anatomy, Deadwood, and most recently, the role of Jackson Braddock on the ABC megahit Desperate Housewives.  Gale’s film credits include Wake, Particles Of Truth (Tribeca Film Festival), Rhinoceros Eyes (Toronto Film Festival), Fathers And Sons, The Unseen, and Falling For Grace. Like many TV and film actors with roots in the theater, Gale has returned to the stage on numerous occasions, including Austin Pendelton’s Uncle Bob at the Soho Playhouse and most recently as Dr. Cukrowicz in the Roundabout Theatre production of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer.  Gale and Tennessee are soon to be reunited as the Atlanta-born actor undertakes the role of Val in Orpheus Descending, in a production directed by Lou Pepe at L.A.’s Theatre/Theater. Gale recently took time from his busy rehearsal schedule to talk with StageSceneLA about his first L.A. stage appearance in ten years. 

How the production came about:

I’d been working with my acting teacher Kim Gillingham for quite a while and I was feeling that feeling of really needing to get back someplace that I could trust, just being in a group of people that were putting themselves under some sort of pressure in a positive way from some interesting source, just a good place to work and stay alive. I checked in with her, and she said that a couple of her other students were thinking about trying to put together this production.  We got together, and we all kind of hit it off. I liked the take they had on it and I think they liked my take on it.  They asked me if I’d like to do it and I said “Hell yes!”

Tennessee and the characters he created:

Tennessee Williams, aside from being whatever you would describe him in terms of his prolific nature as a thinker and a writer, is such a powerhouse in the way his creativity flows.  He’s got this way of working where he goes so deep into his own feelings.  He couldn’t really say out loud the truths that he wanted to tell, but he was adept at looking back in a mirror of his own life in the body of the plays. To me (Tennessee’s characters are) all Tennessee.  It’s all his mind, his heart, his family being represented by these outside characters. It’s all so alive, and when you put those characters up with the words that he writes and the poetry of his life, there’s not a character that you wouldn’t want to play.

The setting of Orpheus Descending:

The South in the ‘50s, as we’re setting it, is so alive with voodoo and latent racism and sexual inequality.  The way that Williams works, it’s like he sees so far into the future while putting things in a contemporary setting and drawing on the past. He’s almost so good that it’s terrifying.

Why Orpheus Descending wasn’t a hit back in 1957:

I had a meeting with the director about this the other day and it’s kind of like the play is so far ahead of its time.  It’s such a visceral, dangerous play, and the topics Williams is dealing with are so live-wire.  I don’t know how you could present that to a late 1950’s Broadway theater crowd on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon in a way that they could understand.  And if you really tell the truth about it and play it out as it’s supposed to be played, I think you’d terrify people at that time.

Staging a Tennessee Williams play like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof back in the 1950s:

When you think about theatrical stylistics and theatrical arts and the way that parts were played in the 1950s, you can’t really tell Cat On A Hot Tin Roof a hundred percent as it should have been back then.  It’s all subtext, because Tennessee couldn’t say it out loud.  He couldn’t be, “Here’s the deal. Here’s the story.” It was all so couched in the poetry and the drama and the family relationships.  If you played Brick like Brick’s supposed to be, and if all that honesty comes out, and Maggie responds to it like what she’s hearing and saying.  I don’t know how you could do that before perhaps the mid-to-late 1970s in the United States without getting in a lot of trouble.  There are certain postures on stage, there are certain communicative gestures you could do now that you couldn’t do then.

The expurgated film version of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof:

I can remember seeing Paul Newman, as a kid, as a teenager, on television once or twice, and what I see is a handsome, hard-drinking, injured white man in the South, and that’s absolutely true.  Until I was in my mid-twenties and had thought a little more about Tennessee and life in general, I couldn’t have picked up the subtext. And who knows what the studio did, and how it was edited, and who knows what the restraints were.

Tennessee Williams’ stage directions for Orpheus Descending:

I think that this play has many of (the same aspects as Cat On A Hot Tin Roof) but it’s kind of overdriven by the fact that it goes from realism slowly spinning into a surrealist work, an incantation.  And even in Tennessee’s stage directions.  He worked on this play for so long that his stage directions got specific and annotated and revised.  And whether you even stage the play like that or not, the way he describes the action is not just strictly how you would perform it, not just simply a structural observation of how to play it.  It’s the sound and the feeling of the air and the feeling of the sound of someone’s voice, as a stage direction. This play is searching for something.  It’s really like a call out into the underworld and to the history of human storytelling. I think it’s scary.  I think it’s very gothic. 

The many layers of meaning in a Tennessee Williams script:

The fascinating thing about Williams’ work is that if you pull these layers back and you get deeper and deeper, a simple three-word line could be a hundred feet deep depending on where you are and the level of communication between the different characters as you get to that line.

The musicality of Tennessee Williams’ writing:

We’ve discussed this a lot.  As we started to coalesce as a group and all of the relationships in and out are starting to coalesce, now we can play riffs on what we played earlier.  You start to hear these echoes within the dialog. The way that my character speaks is so different from the way that Lady speaks which is so different from the way that the sheriff speaks which is so much different from the way that Carol and Vee speak. They all have a different cadence, so that if you really orchestrate it, it’s like the counterpoint that you hear in a musical setting.

The rehearsal process:

You get through it, you do a run-through, you get it up, you run it again, you run it again, and all of a sudden you realize, my God, I have no idea what this play is about. I have no idea what I’m saying.  I have no idea what we’re doing, or what the subtext is. But you do, but it’s like these flowers just popping up all the time.

Gale Harold and Tennessee Williams fans will be able to discover the garden that has bloomed during the Orpheus Descending rehearsal process beginning Friday January 15 at Theatre/Theater. This is one Opening Night StageSceneLA wouldn’t miss for the world.

Photo: Robert E. Beckwith

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