Tickets: 651.291.7005

Posts Tagged stage

Chatting with the Master Sleuth Himself!

Actor E.J. Subkoviak, who is playing Nero Wolfe this summer in Might as Well Be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery, graciously offered his insight into not only the character but to just how vast and enthralling the world of this play is!

1. What is like to play such a renowned character? You’re second time around, do you find yourself discovering new layers behind the character?

I first played Rex Stout’s armchair detective Nero Wolfe at Park Square a few years ago in The Red Box, and it was a real honor, as this was the first time Mr. Wolfe had ever been commissioned to appear onstage anywhere.

He’s very much an American Sherlock Holmes in many ways. (In fact, there are those devoted fans who believe – yes, they did the math – that Wolfe may be the love child of Holmes and his Jersey girlfriend Irene Adler. They even took the Jim Garrison conspiracy approach and noted that ShERlock HOLmes and NERo WOLfe both have the ER/OL in the middle of their names. Mr. Stout neither confirmed nor denied this theory, but was obviously flattered that people had put so much time and research into something he created.)

Like Holmes, he’s an eccentric genius who hides his emotions, and has his own addictions. (Holmes has his cocaine; Wolfe has his lavish gourmet meals.) And being a man of mystery, there is so much mystery about the man himself. Why is yellow his favorite color? (His dwellings look like Colonel Mustard’s house.) What’s with the orchid fascination? (We never see it onstage, but he has a rooftop full of them.) Why is he so hard on women? Why won’t he leave the house? Did something happen to him in his past life as an Albanian spy to create this corpulent grump? These are questions that can’t help but come to mind, and even after so many books, Stout leaves them as questions. What we know about Wolfe we know only through the eyes of his young protege, Archie Goodwin, who narrates the books and the plays.

In playing Wolfe a second time, I find he’s very much in my blood now. Based on the original reaction of the “Wolfe Pack” (the Rex Stout fan club – their name, not mine, I swear) and Rebecca Stout-Bradbury, Stout’s daughter and one of the heads of his estate, I didn’t see how I could change a thing I was doing. The only thing I looked for this time around were opportunities to show hints – and in such a plot-heavy venue as mysteries are, all we have room for are hints – of things Wolfe may be too afraid to reveal explicitly, so that he becomes slightly more than just a robust super-computer expunging deductions and menus. In this case, I found some brief moments in his interactions with Archie Goodwin (his Dr. Watson) that suggest he’s quietly aware that while he’s always barking orders and often scolding his protege’s antics, Archie’s the closest thing to family as he’ll ever have, which ties in somewhat with Archie’s final speech that invokes the title of the show. Again, it doesn’t play into the mystery as a whole, or the puzzle the audience is obviously attentive to, but it’s an attempted step up with the character in this second episode.

E.J. Subkoviak

2. Are you a fan of this genre and had you always known about Nero Wolfe? When did you first discover the series?

Indeed, mystery and thrillers have always been my favorite genre, even as a boy. While everyone else in my 3rd grade class was reading Judy Blume, I was reading the adventures of Encyclopedia Brown, boy detective, and trying to use my eight year-old wits to help him solve such mind-boggling capers as “The Case of the Broken Globe”.

Nero Wolfe was a name I was somewhat familiar with, perhaps remembering the William Conrad TV series that aired during my youth. When our director Peter Moore first told me he was considering me for the role, I said, “Oh yeah, isn’t he like a judge or a lawyer or something?” And he said, “No, he’s a detective. Look him up.” So I did – I googled “Nero Wolfe” and got my answer: “Morbidly obese private detective…” I had to stop for a minute and look at myself in the mirror at that point and do a little crying, but it wasn’t long before I became very intrigued by everything else I read about the guy.

3. What are some influences you draw upon as an actor taking on a great detective role such as this?

The Nero Wolfe books are, to me, a nice combination of the hard-boiled detective stories with the Jessica Rabbits holding a gun on the cover, and the more elegant Agatha Christie-like drawing room mysteries that always had the detective gathering all the suspects at the end and slowly, methodically, revealing who the killer is and how they did it. Being a mystery lover, I loved watching such TV sleuths as Stacy Keach’s Mike Hammer and David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot.

Other than that, I try not to do too much, and I just try to remain confident that our playwright Joseph Goodrich is right when he tells me, “You ARE Nero Wolfe.” That takes a little pressure off me acting-wise, but puts a lot of pressure on me to start some kind of exercise regiment.

4. What’s your favorite part of the show and what do you think audiences will enjoy the most?

My favorite parts to play are the moments that highlight the differences between Wolfe and Archie. Archie is Wolfe’s Dr. Watson, but what sets this team apart from the Holmes/Watson relationship, and indeed adds some fun and interest, is not only the age difference and the mentor/protege picture, but that these two are really cut from two very different cloths. They’re an odd couple solving mysteries together, and when their tactics, behaviors and vocabulary clash, it makes for some often laugh-inducing fun. Archie is also a much more outgoing, dare I say likable guy, so to see him throw grouchy Mr. Wolfe a little sunshine now and again is rewarding, especially in the middle of so much murder and mayhem. I really think this relationship is at the heart of what makes the Nero Wolfe stories fun enough to give it a real fan base.

Peter Moore [director], always finds a group of terrific and talented people, and this is no exception. I am delighted to be working again with so many old friends and many new ones, cast and crew alike. Wolfe would call them “satisfactory”, which, to the rest of us, means “exceeds all expectations”.

 

The Writer Behind Nero Wolfe

When I learned that Park Square was going to be producing Might as Well be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (June 16 – July 30), I was excited for the chance to do some sleuthing myself into the background of this character and series of stories that were published between 1934 and 1975. That’s a remarkable span of time for one detective, really only comparable to Sherlock Holmes (who appeared in novels and short stories between 1887 and 1927).

A portrait of Nero Wolfe by Kevin Gordon.

With such a rich history then, where are the countless movies and television series’ to depict Nero Wolfe? I believe it would be because the appeal of these stories are found in the pages of a book, the stage of a theatre, or even the homey atmosphere of a radio broadcast. Indeed, many of the Nero Wolfe mysteries have been adapted to those formats (and to be fair, there have been several successful incarnations for TV). Nonetheless, even with all the various media formats, Nero Wolfe is a flavor of detective fiction best-suited for the thinking man. Philip Marlowe, he is not, as he and his sidekick Archie Goodwin prefer to solve their crimes from the comforts of their New York City brownstone.

Like I stated in the beginning, the chance to dive deeper into the history of Nero Wolfe excited me, but even more so I wanted to get to know the man behind the character. Just who was the author and how might that real life have affected the fictional persona?

Writer Rex Stout (biography.com)

Well, to begin with that author is Rex Stout and he was an American born in Indiana in 1886 (what do you know, a year before Mr. Holmes debuted) and died in 1975 in Connecticut. While he was a lifelong writer, he actually took a number of years off from the profession to simply just make some money. His money-making venture was actually through an invention all of his own by which schools could keep track of money saved by students in accounts at the school. That made him enough money that he could then devote his full-time to the writing of short stories. I certainly know a few artists who wouldn’t mind that kind of income source! I can also see that Stout was definitely an intelligent man, who’s mind was mirrored in that of Wolfe’s.

Another element mirrored in the stories would be the captivating real life adventures of Rex Stout. As a young man he served as a yeoman in the Navy for two years, even serving aboard Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential yacht. I am sure that seeing the world in such a way, with so many colorful real-life characters inspired Stout in his writing of adventure, crime and fantasy stories.

All of those stories were written and serialized in pulp magazines such as All-Story Magazine (later Argosy). Between 1912 and 1918 he honed his skills for the Nero Wolfe stories to come. Then, even when they did come, he again wasn’t afraid to take time off of writing for pursue other interests – this time to write propaganda is support of the war effort of World War II.

For so many achievements, Rex Stout will always be defined by his greatest creation, Nero Wolfe. It turned out all right for him, for sure, and he is up there with Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Arthur Conan Doyle when it comes to the Mount Rushmore of fictional crime writers. Good of Park Square then to produce a show featuring such a legacy this summer! Might as Well be Dead: A Nero Wolfe Mystery plays from June 16 to July 30 on the Proscenium Stage and features E.J. Subkoviak is the title role.

    tagline-color

Theatre News for you!

Sign up to get the latest Park Square news