Veteran D.C. actor Tom Story describes Moth, a tale of high school bullying and its violent repercussions closing this weekend at Studio Theatre’s 2ndStage, as the kind of play he would have loved to have done when he was in his early twenties. Now somewhere in his “later thirties,” Story has turned to directing for the first time, helming this two-person show starring twenty-somethings David Nate Goldman and Allie Villarreal.
“It’s such a great acting challenge for young actors,” Story says of Moth, in which Goldman and Villarreal play the main characters Sebastian and Claryssa, as well as secondary figures in the pressure cooker of high school society. Their forced partnership in outsider status is solidified by obsessions with Japanese anime and Goth culture, neither of which Story knew much about. But as a professional actor for the past 16 years with nearly 60 credits to his name, many at leading Washington area theatres, Story figured he had something to share with actors just starting out.
“It’s a great challenge, to work with young people playing multiple characters in a kind of kaleidoscopic play like this,” Story reflects. “I thought maybe I had something to share from my experience, that I could help these young people tackle an almost insurmountable text.”
Story has great respect for the surrealist-style play by young Australian playwright Declan Greene, which is making its U. S. premiere under Story’s direction. Particularly appealing were the play’s strong visual elements, which struck a chord with Story’s own interest in art (he has collected around 40 contemporary paintings over the past decade or so) and in visual storytelling.
“I’ve always responded really strongly to visual things, to design and architecture and theatre with big gestures,” Story says. “I decided that if I ever became a director, that’s the kind of director I would be.”
Moth is full of big visual gestures, including a bank of high school lockers from which Sebastian emerges and in which items mysteriously appear.
“I love to go to the theatre and to see something visually very bold,” Story says, adding that the bank of lockers, which physically opens up, reflecting Sebastian’s own psychic divide, provided that in Moth. The lockers were designed by scene and lighting designer Colin K. Bills, whose other Studio shows include Pop!, Bat Boy, and Circle Mirror Transformation.
Story credits director Rebecca Taichman, with whom he has worked as an actor, most recently in The Winter’s Tale at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2013, with inspiring him to make bold visual choices. He also cites longtime directors and mentors Joy Zinoman, who gave him his first role in D.C. in Studio’s 2001 production of The Invention of Love, and Michael Kahn, who has directed him numerous times at The Shakespeare Theatre, with encouraging him to try his hand at directing.
“I’ve known Michael all my adult life, he was my first major acting teacher, and he always said I should be a director,” Story asserts. “Joy gave me my first job here. I’ve done so many plays with her, and she’s told me the same thing.”
Story eventually took Zinoman’s much-sought-after master class in directing at The Studio Theatre and began to seriously think about getting into the director’s chair.
“For the first time, in that class, I was able to formulate things that had just been theoretical to me,” Story says. “I was able to put them into works [on the stage].”
Story says he also began to recognize the “huge differences” between being an actor and a director, differences he had not completely understood before.
Closes May 4, 2014
Studio Theatre 2ndStage
1501 14th St. NW
1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $35
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
Story has learned that “there’s nothing like the stress of a director,” but also nothing that is “so completely liberating.” He says that directing, whether in Zinoman’s master class or now at the helm of his first professional production, has never felt unnatural. He values the opportunity for more creative control, and especially, for closer collaboration with designers and costumers. He speaks with a mix of praise and wonder for the team that worked with him on Moth.
But one question remains: Is he ready for the criticism, both good and bad, that comes to every director as well as actor? Story says he is.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he asserts. “I’m in control of this thing, so criticism doesn’t mystify me as it sometimes does when I’m an actor. I know that, with the huge help of some incredible artists, I made the thing up there on the stage. No matter what others think, I can always point and say, ‘This was my show. I did it.’”
Tom Story returns to the director’s seat in July, helming Berkshire Theatre Group’s production of Noël Coward’s Design for Living in Stockbridge, MA.