Bell by Jim Lehrer, starring Rick Foucheux, runs through September 21
When we caught up with Rick Foucheux, he had just begun rehearsals for Bell, the new solo play written by veteran TV journalist and author Jim Lehrer. The short rehearsal period comes to a close this week as the play’s subject, Alexander Graham Bell takes center stage in what Foucheux describes as an interactive visit with the great inventor and teacher.
Producing Bell is a first for the National Geographic Society and, as producers, they’ve chosen well. Along with Foucheux and Lehrer, award-winning director Jeremy Skidmore is at the helm, who, in turn, has brought in a veteran creative team. “This is their first foray into live theatre,” offered Foucheux. “We will see what happens but we are all very excited about it.”
One of Washington’s most recognizable actors, Foucheux most recently appeared in the premiere of Stupid Fucking Bird at Woolly Mammoth, and Glengarry Glen Ross at Round House Theatre. Alexander Graham Bell joins Buckminster Fuller, Elia Kazan, Charles Darwin, and Samuel Clemens as historical figures given solo treatments by Foucheux.
Jeffrey Walker: Did you find Bell or did Bell find you?
Rick Foucheux: I have admired the work of the Society for years and went to them about this idea to help commemorate the 125th anniversary of the institution. I thought they would be looking for a special way to celebrate and knew that Dr. Bell had been the second president of the National Geographic Society.
And frankly, I was looking for a vehicle for myself.
When I met with the Society a couple of years ago, the folks at National Geographic asked who I thought might write the script, if they considered doing it. Among the short list of names, Jim Lehrer’s name was at the top of the list. I thought his natural inquisitiveness would be a good fit and he is certainly no stranger to the theatre, having written several other plays.
And, as the play was being written, how did you prepare for the role?
Whenever I do these historical-based shows, I do what I can to learn more about the subject. I read biographical material and this time my wife and I took a nice trip to Baddeck, Nova Scotia where Bell and his wife had a place in Cape Breton Island. There is a wonderful museum and I had a chance to visit the home he built there in 1893.
How did that visit fuel your feeling for Dr. Bell?
I really felt like I got a sense of his bonhomie, he was such a lover of life. His inventions grew from a lust for life, to make things better for all of us. He really loved people and the things he did were borne out of that love, I think.
September 12 – 21, 2013
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I started from the place of an average person – he taught the deaf and invented the telephone. But he invented the telephone at 29. He wanted to get that out of the way so he could concentrate on his real passion, which was flight. That is what he really wanted to do, to fly and spend time with his kites and gliders. His schematics for Canada’s first controlled, powered flying plane, the Silver Dart, was recreated just a few years ago in 2009.
He was not seeking celebrity, but looked at the intrinsic value of what he could do for others. He had a patent for a vacuum jacket that lead to the development of the iron lung, for example.
What did you learn about the man himself?
Really, his gregariousness, while he could be competitive and even egocentric. He was cloaked as “the Great Man,” complete with a god-like white beard and head of hair. But he had an essential guy-ness about him, with a joy to be alive and a sense of humor.
And he had the great love affair of his life, his wife Mabel, who was deaf. Their love lasted for many years. And that relationship is explored in the play.
That’s a wonderful segue. How is the play structured?
Without giving too much away, it begins with Bell on his deathbed, with his beloved Mabel beyond the fourth wall. Alec, as he was known to those who really knew him, is complaining that he knows the press will only mention the telephone when talking about him when he is gone.
Then, poof! He jumps up and gives an animated lecture to the audience, and really engages the audience for the 80 minutes of so of the play. It’s almost like an early TED Talk, which I think he would have loved.
He does return to the deathbed, but only after he shares enough that he hopes the audience will know him as Alec and not just Dr. Bell.
If you could meet Alec now, what would you ask him?
When did you sleep!? It is true; he was known to work until 3, 4, even 5 in the morning, when his “brain was on fire with a new idea.” The way the magic of those ideas fueled him astounds me.
What would he would have thought about today’s technology?
Oh, he would be on the computer until 3 am! I think Bell would embrace the great technological explosion we find ourselves in in 2013.
And how is Rick Foucheux coping with today’s technology?
My daughter turned me on to Spotify, the commercial music service. I have my Bluetooth speaker and earphones and nearly unlimited access to songs with a universal playlist. I may never have to buy another CD again.
Bell by Jim Lehrer . Directed by Jeremy Skidmore . Featuring Rick Foucheux as Dr. Alexander Graham Bell . Set Designer: Tony Cisek . Costume and Prop Designer: Marie Schneggenburger . Lighting Designer: Dan Covey . Projection Designer: Jared Mezzocchi . Sound Designer: Matthew Nielson . Assistant Costume and Prop Designer: Lucy Hinton . Stage Manager: Roy A. Gross . Assistant Director: Katie Ryan . Produced by National Geographic Live.