Director Jerry Whiddon and actor Marty Lodge are back at Round House continuing a long friendship and professional collaboration. Jerry Whiddon was co-founder and producing Artistic Director of the company for twenty years. He helmed Travels with My Aunt, Our Town and The Swan, to name but a few. As an actor, Whiddon appeared as King Henry in The Lion in Winter and Alceste in The Misanthrope.
Marty Lodge was a mainstay at Round House for more than a dozen years. He appeared in more than 30 plays as an artistic associate, and most recently returned for Double Indemnity. During those years, Lodge and Whiddon found themselves on the same stage for 15 productions.
After a 20 year hiatus, they are working together once again as director and leading actor in Theresa Rebeck’s provocative play Seminar; Whiddon returning to Round House to direct, while Lodge plays a veteran writer hired by a group of aspiring authors to coach them.
The two old friends sat down with Jeffrey Walker during their dinner break between snow storms to talk about the play and their history together.
Jeff Walker: Marty, you are a seasoned actor working with a group of presumably younger actors. And you are playing a seasoned writer mentoring a group of young writers. Have you thought about those parallels?
Marty Lodge: I am in a transitional phase in my career; I’m not used to being the oldest guy in a show. (He laughs.) There are some parallels. The cast is made up of young actors but they are all very gifted and talented. Anything they can learn from me, they are doing on their own. I don’t assume much more than they do. There are four really fun actors in it and we’re having a great time.
Jerry, what kind of a play is Seminar?
Jerry Whiddon: I have always been loath to attach a tag to a play, especially the more contemporary works because if I say something is a comedy it usually proves me wrong within five or ten minutes. A lot of people call Seminar a comedy, and I can see that because there are really strong comedic elements running through it; the dialogue is rife with humor. These are very bright people that say some biting and funny things to each other and at each other. It ends with the protagonists changing their view of their relationship with the universe in a positive way, so in a sense, it’s very much a comedy. But there are moments of pathos and pain which are more than just passing moments; they are part of the plot of the piece, too.
What kind of guy is Leonard? And should he be giving advice to anyone?
Marty: He’s a bitter old coot whose career did not go the way he wanted it to go. He’s really angry with the world, but he is kind of a genius, especially when it comes to teaching and editing, so, yes, he should be.
Jerry: Yes, he’s an extraordinary talent in terms of recognizing good writing. And he doesn’t mess around, he gets right to the truth of what he’s reading; it’s all about the work to him. He doesn’t care whose feelings he steps on as he talks about whether a piece is good or whether it’s bad. He does not mince words. He tells the truth.
Aside from the truth-telling, what kind of relationship does Leonard have with the young writers and how does it change?
Marty: It changes over the course of the play, and he does some things we don’t want to spoil for folks who have not seen the show.
Jerry: Leonard’s sex drive is very strong, let’s put it that way.
Marty: But he respects them all on different levels even though he has a funny way of showing it. Some of the students get to know him a little more personally than the others do.
Jerry: I think he relates to them through their writing. If he can get through that and past that and the relationship can take on a life of its own, he will. But he sees them first through their writing and if that scares them off, it’s their loss to him.
Let’s talk about coincidences for a moment. Marty, in my research I see that you were in the HBO film “Something the Lord Made” which starred Alan Rickman. Rickman played Leonard on Broadway and now you so are you.
Marty: First of all, I love that coincidence because I think he’s such a fantastic actor. Not long ago, I moved to Chicago with my family, so I live there now. I had heard they were doing this play, so I approached Round House to see if they were interested in me. Ryan Rilette, the artistic director, asked if he could see some tape and I sent them my acting reel, and there was a scene with me and Alan Rickman from the movie, and Ryan said, “Give him the part.”
This play marks yet another project for you two working together after many years.
Jerry: Working together, we push each other, and we’re both the better for it. The work is the important thing; that’s what really evolves when you work together so many times. But I would want to be Marty’s friend even if we hadn’t ever acted together before.
Marty: Other than working together, years ago we started socializing together, sometimes we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner together. I’m friends with his wife and he with mine. It’s been over 20 years now.
What was the first time you worked together?
Marty: Was it Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf??
Jerry: It was before that. Back when I was running Round House, Marty had worked there for several years before we worked together in the early nineties. I directed him in The Swan, which was before Virginia Woolf, about 1993. We have acted together and I have directed him many times.
… is there a stand-out among the productions?
Marty: When we did Uncle Vanya (1997), that clicked on a lot of different cylinders. We had some great scenes together in that show.
Jerry: And The Weir by Conor McPherson, that was in 2001. The Weir was probably the last time we acted together.
Any memorable stories?
Marty: Jerry directed me in a play called Dog Logic at the old Round House space (1994). It had a lot of direct speeches to the audience. One of the ushers had moved a chair to accommodate a wheelchair and he stuck it right in front of a lighting instrument. So, I’m giving this speech to the audience and this little, old lady in a wheelchair, kept saying “Excuse me … excuse me.” Finally I couldn’t ignore her anymore and she says, “This chair is on fire.” Luckily, the set was this garage with all these things in it and I had a canteen filled with water. I just continued my speech, came down and put the fire out and went on and did the play.
What’s it like being back at Round House?
Marty: It’s great. This was my artistic home for 13 years. I was able to play roles here that I might not have been cast in at other theatres, so it really stretched me and pushed me to be a better actor. And I’m from Bethesda, I grew up here, so I have family in the area; I love coming back here. I’ve been in Chicago about a year and a half, with my wife and step-children. I had been in Los Angeles for seven years before that.
And Jerry – you are still in the area, correct?
Jerry: Yes, I’m still here, I just live a few blocks away. I’m very excited. It’s always nice to come back here. I did a couple of pieces under the previous artistic director. Now Ryan [Rilette] is a terrific, terrific artistic director; he’s brought great energy to the place, and it’s good to be part of that for a show.