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By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — The Wake Weekly on Monday caught up with the 11-person primary cast of Harvey, Forest Moon Theater Company’s fall comedy, which opens Friday.
Following is a smattering of their answers, providing insight into who they are — as characters, actors and lovers of the theater.
Briefly describe your character.
Gregory Bruce, Raleigh, (plays William R. Chumley, M.D.): “He is a man who believes in the ultimate righteousness of psychiatry and sanity who is presented with an insane reality that he finds ultimately more appealing than his previous concept of sanity.”
Heather Dahlberg, Wake Forest, (Veta Louise Simmons): The character is narcissistic, a socialite and opportunist. “Though I’m not an opportunist, I can be a snob from time to time. She loves everything to look beautiful and I love everything to look beautiful. That’s fun.”
Jeri McKee, Raleigh (Betty Chumley): “She’s a social butterfly, likes to party. Married to a very overpowering doctor whose schedule conflicts a lot with her social schedule.”
Raymond Jaquez, Wake Forest (Duane Wilson): “He wants to get stuff done around the sanitarium. That’s it. He ain’t the Cinderella man, he’s the mash, he’s the steak and potatoes.”
Shawn Smith, Wake Forest, (Judge Omar Gaffney): “He’s really a complex man and a close friend of the family as well as the family lawyer. There’s so many different things I get to bring out in the play. He’s multifaceted.”
Who is your favorite actor?
Meredith Feldman, Youngsville, identifies as living near Rolesville (Myrtle Mae Simmons): Tom Hanks, modern day, not Sleepless in Seattle. “I love him. It is Castaway Tom Hanks. It’s him and a beach ball and he makes that movie something worth watching. You’re alone with him, the waves, the beach. If that isn’t the mark of an amazing actor I don’t know what is.”
Aaron Dunlap, Wake Forest (Lyman Sanderson, M.D.): Philip Seymour Hoffman (who won best actor for Capote). “How grounded he is, how relaxed and committed. The key to any approach in acting is to be committed to the role.”
Tell us about Harvey Director Cora Hemphill.
Dahlberg: “What I really love about Cora is because she was trained so technically as an actress she really knows how to dissect everybody’s character and put them back together again ’til they fit this picture. She has an overall image tableau about how these characters all fit together while keeping the integrity of the playwright’s intentions.
“I’ve directed before, so I have a pretty good idea of how difficult it is to be responsible for everything … you have to get everyone on the same stage. It’s very difficult. And she has worked very hard to create this new cohesive approach to this play that was done in the ’40s.”
Are all actors crazy?
Jacquez: “We all have to be slightly mentally insane, at least some sense of personality disorder, to do what we are doing. Sometimes stepping into the shoes of another character helps us realize flaws in ourselves. You never know who you really are until you’ve been someone else.”
Explain the allure of teaching theater.
Kirsten Ehlert, Raleigh, (Ruth Kell, R.N.): Teaches theater grades K-8 at Endeavor Charter School, which is moving to Wake Forest next year. “I start teaching kindergarteners. There’s something about being able to teach them something that’s brand new but still familiar to them. They are so good at pretending and imaginative play and it’s exciting to be able to develop that skill into something more focused.”
Explain how this is a “bucket list” role.
Mark Anderson, Cary, (Elwood P. Dowd): “I didn’t do a lot of theater after high school up until my early 30s when the Cary Players community theater started up in Cary once again. There’s always certain plays that I’ve enjoyed that you hope sometime you’ll get a chance to do. Harvey is one I’ve always been interested in doing. A couple of times it was done in the area and either I didn’t audition or I did audition and didn’t get cast.
“I knew a few of the people associated with Forest Moon Theater and I knew they were doing Harvey and I thought ‘I love that show — it’s all the way across Wake County, but if I get cast, it’s worth the drive and fun to do.’ I’m very happy to be working with this group of folks.”
Why did you audition?
Feldman: “I have always wanted to be a part of a production since I was little and I never had the opportunity to be a part of a real one. I did some tiny school plays, but nothing professional. The second reason is I’ve only been here about a year. I’m from Houston. I figured it would be a great way to enjoy this local culture and get involved in my new community and meet some people. It has been great so far.”
Is it hard to come back as an actress after 25 years?
Pam McClure, Raleigh, (Ethel Chauvenet): McClure, 58, was house manager for Forest Moon’s Academia Nuts, but hasn’t acted since she was in her 30s. “It’s very hard. I’m grateful it’s a small role and I’m grateful for them casting me so I can get back in. I thought I’d throw my hat in. When I looked at it I realized it would be a good role.”
What’s harder, your time in the Coast Guard or acting?
Dunlap: “In the Coast Guard, there are rules and discipline, but there are a lot of rules and discipline in acting, so they’re a lot alike.” With the Coast Guard, Dunlap often had the duty of helping secure on the vessel 9-ton buoys connected to chains and a 2-ton sinker. “It’s very dangerous. It’s intense. Again it’s like the cast. Working for a director, you follow directions or it hurts everybody.”
Why support the theater?
Stephen Clos, Wake Forest, (E.J. Lofgen/cabby): “The arts have so much to offer, especially to our young people. It gives you a tremendous outlet. Especially with the pressures of school, it’s another way to break out from that.”
You’ve lived all over. Which town is best for theater?
Smith: “At this point I’d have to say Raleigh, because there are so many theater groups here. When I moved here seven years ago, there was not a theater group in Wake Forest, so I spent about six years driving back and forth to Raleigh. That got really old and I decided I just can’t hack that.” Crediting Forest Moon co-founders Bob Baird and Cathy Gouge, he added: “This being the second show, I’m really proud of them, the cast, the director, everybody. I love Wake Forest.”
Explain the allure of the theater.
Bruce: “Community theater is art at its most basic. It’s people coming together for the love of theater. It’s not being done to profit investors or producers, it is an act of love and a labor of love.”