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Posts Tagged Madeleine George

Adam Whisner: The Two Merricks

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 From April 7 to 30, Park Square Theatre features the area premiere of THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE on its Proscenium Stage. A 2014 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, playwright Madeleine George’s play is described by Park Square as a “brilliantly witty, time-jumping, loving tribute . . . to the people—and machines—upon which we depend.”

The following is an interview with actor Adam Whisner, who plays two passionate men–both named Merrick and both experiencing women troubles, but each in different time periods:

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie (Eliza) and Adam Whisner (Merrick) in a rehearsal
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

On the cover of the script, under the title, includes the descriptor, “a play about others.” What does that mean to you?

 There’s the person who gets the credit, and the other person who has their back. The other person made them coffee so they could keep working through the night. The other person held them as they sobbed after failed experiment #486. The other person loved them no matter what. We’re not all wired to be that person.

 In the context of this play, I think “the others” are the selfless, generous, compassionate companions. They’re the people we all want in our lives, and hopefully strive to be, when and if we’re ready to set ego aside and move from getting to giving. I think the kind of others this play highlights are evolved people, whether they know it or not. You’re either born as one, or you learn how to let go and become one. I think most “Watsons” aren’t entirely consciously aware that they are one. Similarly, the Elizas and Merricks of the world are barely conscious of their need for the Watsons, but it’s a desperate need. In my mid-40s, I’m pretty sure I’m an Eliza/Merrick, minus the brilliant scientist part, who is just starting to learn how to be a Watson.

 What is the biggest challenge for you in playing Merrick?

The lines! The Merricks have a lot to say, and I’ve always been a slow memorizer. The more complex challenge is making sure the Merricks are assholes for whom the audience has some compassion. The Merricks’ need for the Watsons is part of what humanizes them. The genius inventor who doesn’t know how to find love is still just a person who needs love. The divorcee running for office who wants to make the whole world a better place is still just a man suffering heartbreak in his little world. Assholes need love, too.

What led you to become an actor?

I was a precocious, sensitive, creative little kid, but always felt pressure to be something else, especially from stronger, tougher, sportier boys. My version of “I’ll show them” was acting in comedic lead roles in junior high school plays. After one of my first performances, I was in the lobby getting a drink from a water fountain as parents were milling about. I overheard one mother tell another that she hated school plays, that her daughter was terrible in them, and that she wished she’d stop doing them. My spirits sank. Then she said, “But that Adam Whisner kid should be on TV. He was hilarious.” I think I went up four hat sizes in that moment. My fate was sealed. Sometimes I think the only reason I’ve been able to make a full-time living as an actor is that I’ve believed I could since 1982.

What are you working on next?

I’m a company member of Wonderlust Productions, a theatre company that gathers personal stories from various communities in Minnesota and then invites those communities’ members to participate in creating plays based on their own stories. Participation includes being an actor or musician in the final production of the play alongside professional theatre artists. It’s not community theatre; it’s theatre for and by a community. We’ve done two full productions: The Veterans Play Project and The Adoption Play Project. Our next play, The Capitol Play Project, will focus on the folks who work at the Minnesota State Capitol who aren’t politicians and will be performed in the state capitol building itself in early 2018. I may wind up in another production before then if it falls in my lap. I don’t audition often enough. 

Photo by Connie Shaver

Photo by Connie Shaver

Adam’s cast background:

Park Square Wonderlust Productions’ Six Characters in Search of an Author Representative Theatre Guthrie Theater/Workhaus Collective: Little Eyes; Wonderlust Productions: Veteran’s Play Project, Adoption Play Project; Walking Shadow Theatre Company: The Crowd You’re in With, An Ideal Husband; Theatre Pro Rata: The Woodsman; Loudmouth Collective: A Bright New Boise, Gruesome Playground Injuries; Gremlin Theatre: Burn This; Commonweal Theatre: The Rainmaker; Alan Berks & Company: #Ringtone; Hidden Theatre: This Is Our Youth Training B.A., Theatre Arts, University of Iowa; Actors Theatre of Louisville Acting Apprentice Co. Accolades City Pages Best Actor 2016; Lavender Magazine Crème de la Crème Performances 2015

Kathryn Fumie, The Essential Elizas

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 I was reading the script for THE (curious case of the ) WATSON INTELLIGENCE after having learned about the hidden history of NASA’s female “human computers” and read about the social challenges for women in technological fields (The Atlantic magazine has literally just come out with its latest issue covering “Why is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?”).

So it was to my delight that Watson Intelligence immediately introduces us to Eliza, a brilliant female artificial intelligence expert who is not a one-dimensional character. We get to meet this Eliza (there are three Elizas in this time-bending production) in all her fully human glory, whip smart but ultimately not invulnerable to the risks of human connection.

Despite the title and references to all the Watsons, the Elizas in the play are absolutely crucial to the plot. I now hand you over to Kathryn Fumie, who plays the essential Elizas, as she answers questions about her role:

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza and H. Adam Harris as Watson in rehearsal (photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza and H. Adam Harris as Watson in rehearsal
(photo by Connie Shaver)

Playwright Madeleine George claims that “Watson” is “a play about others.” What does that mean to you?

 In rehearsal, we talk a lot about sidekicks. The term “sidekick” sounds dismissive to me, but I think perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in the Curious Case–in our lives, we only become ourselves through the energy and presence of other people playing supporting roles.

 Also, my character is so very opposed to letting “others” into her heart and soul. The play shows the great struggle people have to be vulnerable and to actually need people.

 What drew you to want to play Eliza?

 To be honest, I was first and foremost drawn to working with Leah Cooper. I have wanted to work with her since I saw a show that she’d directed in 2010 at Theatre in the Round. I would have said “yes” to any show that she asked me to be in.

 What challenges are you experiencing in playing Eliza?

 I want her flaws–her inability to be vulnerable, her utter/unshakeable belief in the idea of herself–to be as genuine and relatable as her search for connection and her frustration with other humans. 

 Also, making the common thread followable for the audience through three different characters in three different time periods is an interesting challenge.

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza in rehearsal (photo by Connie Shaver)

Kathryn Fumie as Eliza in rehearsal
(photo by Connie Shaver)

 What is your relationship to your technology? 

 I like it. It’s pretty useful….

 I’m better at using technology than a lot of people who are my parents’ age, but I definitely don’t know how to use technology the way young people do. I’m scared to fall behind. Truly. But I’m trying to stay on top of it. 

 What else are you working on?

 I recently helped develop new diversity programming for GTC Dramatic Dialogues. We go to colleges and universities to provide honest dialogue about difficult topics. I look forward to proliferating the new material this year. 

 Kathryn’s cast background:

 Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Theatre Unbound: Hamlet; Savage Umbrella: June; Swandive Theatre: An Outopia for Pigeons; History Theatre: Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story Training B.F.A., Performance, Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts Other Company member of GTC Dramatic Dialogues Accolades 2016 Ivey recognition for June at Savage

 

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