As part of our ongoing Meet the Cast of The Realistic Joneses Blog Series, let us introduce you to Eric “Pogi” Sumangil:
ROLE: John Jones, husband of Pony Jones, late 30s-40s
DIRECTOR JOEL SASS’ COMMENT:
When Eric accepted the role of John Jones, I joked that it only took 15 years for us to get a chance to do a show together. I’m so glad it’s finally happening! I first met Eric at an audition when we were both quite new to town and have always enjoyed his auditions and seeing him onstage in other productions. The character of John Jones is a great one: he’s rather zany, a bit of a trickster and the most peculiar, yet charming, guy in the neighborhood. But he’s in the grip of an incredible crisis, a curve-ball life has thrown at him, and discovering what that is all about is one of the great discoveries for the audience.
QUESTION FOR POGI:
In the play, John is very deadpan funny but actually quite often serious about what he’s saying. What challenges you in playing him?
One of the things I’m bringing to the role of John is that I think I’m the first person of color to play the role. That doesn’t necessarily make it more challenging by any means, but it’s something I’m aware of as an actor. John and Pony in our production are an interracial couple, so I’m curious to see if or how that might affect things as the story unfolds.
Truth be told, I actually have a pretty dry sense of humor like John–people sometimes don’t know if/when I’m joking. I’m a fan of comedy, and there are some great dry/deadpan comedians out there, from the classic deadpan of Buster Keaton to Bill Murray and Stephen Wright in the 80s on down.
There’s a great standup comic named Tig Notaro who had a famous set that was recorded just a few days after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Around that time, her mother suddenly passed away. Tig had also gone through a bad breakup and almost died herself from C.diff, an intestinal infection, all in a matter of a couple months. So she gets up on stage days after being told she has cancer and just starts talking about it. Talking about her pain through comedy. And it’s amazing and honest and vulnerable and smart and dry and cathartic. And that’s what I think is the challenge of playing John; I think there are moments where his sense of humor might be hiding something; but more importantly, I think comedy is his way of trying to connect and be understood and find some catharsis.
Comedy is a powerful thing. The court jester was the only person who could openly criticize the monarchy without losing his head (if he was funny enough). You can speak great truths through comedy, and that’s what’s interesting and tricky about John. He often plays with the idea of what you’re supposed to say in particular situations, so it’s almost like he’s satirizing on his feet. I know people who are great improv and sketch comedians, but I’ve never considered myself quick-witted enough to be that kind of funny.
I worked for years doing sexual assault prevention, and our presentation was created in part by a former standup comic who actually got her doctorate studying how humor affects one’s willingness to talk about taboo topics. So we learned to use humor strategically while talking about something that was really serious.
There’s a comedy term called the way homer; it’s a joke that you don’t laugh at until you’re thinking about it on the way home. Using comedy to talk about really serious topics is sometimes like that; you get the audience to laugh initially, but you’re really planting the seed of something they’ll think about later. It’s a tightrope to be sure, but I’m definitely up for the challenge.
Park Square Debut Representative Theatre Mu Performing Arts: tot: The Untold Yet Spectacular Story of (a Filipino) Hulk Hogan; La Jolla Playhouse: The Seven; Children’s Theatre Company: The Monkey King; Chanhassen Dinner Theatres: Altar Boyz; Mixed Blood Theatre: Bill of (W)rights; Frank Theatre: The Cradle Will Rock Training B.A., Communication; B.A., Asian Studies, St. John’s University; The Actors Workout Awards/Other Many Voices Fellow 2009-’10, ‘10-’11, Playwrights’ Center; 2002 Fil-Minnesotan Association Excellence in the Arts Award Upcoming Projects Jungle Theater: The Oldest Boy
The Realistic Joneses – Area Premiere – Andy Boss Thrust Stage – September 23 to October 16