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Posts Tagged Merrick

Two Words

H. Adam Harris as Thomas A. Watson & Kathryn Fumie as Eliza, the radio interviewer (Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

H. Adam Harris as Thomas A. Watson & Kathryn Fumie as Eliza, the radio interviewer
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

The lines that stay with me in THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE are delivered by Thomas A. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory assistant, played by H. Adam Harris:

“If I may, this is significant. What my friend and mentor called out to me in that famous first sentence ever conveyed by wire was “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.’ It is often misquoted.” (Click here to listen to the account of the real  Thomas A. Watson.)

Watson tries hard to set the story straight for his radio interviewer, who has it incorrectly in her notes that Bell had said, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.” However, she considers the misquote “a minor difference”; whereas Watson sees it as “a crucial one” for the following reason:

“The two words that seem to you a minor difference, to me spell the difference between a man calling out to an acquaintance for generalized assistance, and a man calling out to his intimate friend for a service only he can render.”

Watson had dedicated his life to helping Bell, an extraordinary act that could easily be judged by others as too unfairly selfless. After all, Bell got the fame as Watson fell into obscurity. But Watson sees that interpretation as “a gross mischaracterization. If I opened myself to my friend, he opened himself to me no less profoundly.” They’d developed a strong friendship built on shared vulnerability, commitment, respect and trust. They’d both gone into the relationship with eyes and hearts wide open; they both had each other’s backs.

I found myself pondering their powerful bond the other day as I monitored school groups during the intermission for The Diary of Anne Frank. Friendship is also a strong theme that runs through that play, and here I was watching hundreds of young people coming together to take it in.

It was in this uplifted mindset that I suddenly witnessed this scene: A small group of white girls standing by the stage and one girl a few steps above them. The apparent leader of the group yelled out to the lone girl, “Angela, come down here with us!”

I smiled at these welcoming words.

When Angela had not yet moved, the leader repeated more forcefully, “Hey, Stupid! Come down here with us!”

Two words added.  A crucial difference–the difference between friend and foe, invitation and threat.

Angela chose to return to her seat rather than join the girls, who were now giggling hysterically but also nervously, realizing that an usher had been a witness. Then the leader started a frenzied dance to shake off the moment, with some of her friends following suit.

THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE, playing on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage until April 30, is, as described by Director Leah Cooper, “really a play about making yourself vulnerable to love.” It is about opening ourselves to help and hurt as we navigate our way around forming mutually beneficial and meaningful human connections.

Very heartening to me is what Adam Whisner, who plays Merrick in curious case, had said about himself during our interview (see the April 2 post “Adam Whisner: The Two Merricks”): With age, he steadily becomes more of a Watson–that genuinely kinder, less self-interested and guarded person who lets more expansive and truer human bonds form.

I think about the girls and how they will choose to relate to others in the near future and as they continue to grow up. I hope for them to steadily develop the Watson intelligence, too. And I hope in doing so they will add two more words omitted from their vocabulary: “I’m sorry.”  The crucial difference between relationship and disconnection.

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

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