Today’s Quick 5 subjects share the stage nightly in Theater J’s current production of Sons of the Prophet. Brigid Cleary and Chris Dinolfo are two of the area’s hardest working actors. When you look at their credits, you instantly see how versatile both of them are.
Chris is making his Theater J debut with Sons of the Prophet but he has worked extensively in and around the area. Select credits in the DC area include Hay Fever (Olney Theatre); The Lieutenant of Inishmore (Constellation Theatre ); Stuart Little and Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol (Adventure Theatre); Romeo and Juliet (We Happy Few); LATE: A Cowboy Song (No Rules Theatre); The Normal Heart (Arena Stage); Next Fall (Round House Theatre); Swampoodle and Johnny Meister and The Stitch (Solas Nua); King Lear, The Master and Margarita and Host and Guest (Synetic Theater); Clybourne Park (Woolly Mammoth Theatre); The Alchemist and The Imaginary Invalid (The Shakespeare Theatre); Henry IV, Part 1 (The Folger Theatre); and The History Boys and All That I Will Ever Be (Studio Theatre).
Brigid is returning to Theater J with this current show. She previously played Homebody in Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul, co-produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Theater J, plus Theater J’s world premiere of Richard Greenberg’s Bal Masque, directed by John Vreeke. She has performed locally at Arena Stage, Studio Theatre, Rep Stage, Ford’s Theatre, Warner Theatre, Smithsonian’s Baird Auditorium, and Round House Theatre (A Sleeping Country, directed by Gregg Henry). Brigid has performed in numerous productions spanning three decades at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, including A Streetcar Named Desire as Blanche DuBois, Doubt, The Savannah Disputation, and Da. Brigid made her West Coast debut at the Mark Taper Forum in Lisa Loomer’s Expecting Isabel, for which she received a Garland Award and an Ovation Award nomination, reprising roles she played in the Arena Stage production. A four-time Helen Hayes Award Nominee, Brigid is a graduate of Catholic University. She can often be found at the Kennedy Center in the long running record holding comedy who-dun-it, Shear Madness as the lady with the HUUUGE red hat Mrs. Shubert.
Have you noticed how seasoned both of these performers are? They are exactly what a play like Sons of the Prophet needs and the entire ensemble is right up there with Brigid and Chris.
At this time of year there are many fluffy pieces of theatre and that is perfectly fine for a light evening. For those of you that would like a little more substance included in your holiday theatre going, I urge you to check out Theater J’s production of Sons of the Prophet. It’s top-notch from start to finish inside and out. Everyone is working at the top of their game. with Brigid Cleary and Chris Dinolfo as two prime examples, I don’t need to say anything else. Ok, one more thing….you have until December 20th.
Can you each tell us a little something about the characters you portray in Sons of the Prophet.
Brigid- My character is Gloria, Chris’ character’s boss. She recently started a cottage industry book packaging company because a ‘fall from grace’ took her out of the Manhattan publishing scene, and a series of unforeseen circumstances land her in Nazareth, Pennsylvania where she finds herself starting over at an age when most people are retiring. She’s alone in this world, and has hired Chris Dinolfo’s character Joseph to be her assistant. When Gloria discovers that Joseph may be distantly related to Kahlil Gibran, Joseph and his family become her inspiration for a book project that she hopes will bring her redemption.
Chris- Joseph is young, gay man living in small town in PA. He has a brilliant mind and can negotiate situations quickly, but most folks perceive him as just a lovable, easy-going “regular” guy. He is also competitive and self driven, which is evident in his athleticism. He is a runner, and not just for fun. A celebrated cross-country runner in high school and college, Joseph is trying to qualify to compete in the Olympics. He’s a man with a plan! BUT….the plan is stalled when he has to deal with some unforeseen health issues, which is just peachy because Joseph is also a hypochondriac.
What are some of the underlined themes the play covers?
Brigid- This play is LOADed with so many themes, so many opportunities to identify with each of the characters. When we first started rehearsals, I found myself identifying with certain characters and their crosses to bear, and as life happens, I find others whose struggles now resonate in me. This play has always been a real challenge to describe. Every time someone asks me what the play is about, I have a different answer. I guess the one consistent one is that it is a comedy about people’s pain and suffering.
The genius of Stephen Karam’s writing is that it is so much like everyday conversation. So effortless to listen to. You hear real speech patterns, interrupted thoughts, overlapping dialogue, out-of-the-blue segues, conversations so real and the people so completely human and believable. It is real life, but RIVETING. I actually find myself listening better in my real life.
Chris- Shirley Serotsky told me that she benefited from seeing the play more than once (it’s her job but I encourage theatergoers to do the same!) because the themes are plentiful and keep revealing themselves in rewarding ways with each viewing. Also, due to the heavy amount of information the audience has to sift through, many themes only become apparent upon a second viewing (or reading) of the play. However, I will speak to this question as it relates to my character.
In many ways this play about Mortality. Throughout the course of the play, Joseph realizes that he isn’t indestructible. Health issues will make even the most determined person slow down and reassess their life.
This is a play about Acceptance. Joseph is a young man who has to “grow up” faster than he would like and he cannot bury his head in the sand when it comes to this issue.
This is a play about Identity. Who is Joseph if he isn’t an athlete? What does he have to contribute to the world?
This is a play about Familial Love. Although his family members irritate him at times (and let’s be honest – Joseph isn’t alone there) he is fiercely devoted to them and their well-being. Being a caretaker is a role that Joseph has to assume very quickly in this play.
This is a play about….oh, just come see the show.
Brigid- You have worked all over the DC area but you spend a lot of the year playing Mrs. Shubert in Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center. What do you enjoy the most about working on that show and what keeps you coming back to it between other productions?
Part of the answer is in your question! I am lucky that I have a theatre job to go to “in between other productions.” Nearly every actor in this city has to have a “day job” to support their theatre work. I have been lucky over the years to be one of a roster of actors who can call Shear Madness home for a good part of a year.
Shear Madness gives an actor the opportunity to use and hone every possible skill an actor needs to have at the ready. Without giving away too many of the Shear Madness secrets, it is a scripted comedy murder mystery who-dun-it, which also has plenty of opportunities of UN-scripted responses to audience participation, when the “fourth wall” suddenly disappears. It is an actor’s job to give any role a freshness and energy that is the “illusion of the first time.” It is a real discipline to play that ‘first time’ for some things that happen out there for the hundredth, even thousandth time, and simultaneously for those moments that ARE happening for the first time. It takes an actor’s full bag of tricks to pull that off.
I also love being a part of a company. I was first inspired to be an actor when I was awestruck by the productions of the resident company of Arena Stage. Those performances still remain with me decades later. Stanley Anderson, Robert Prosky, Richard Bauer, Halo Wines, Tana Hicken, Dorothea Hammond, Henry Strozier, Ralph Cosham, Terry Currier. My dream was to be an ensemble player in a resident company surrounded by other actors whose work I respect and trust. There aren’t a lot of places today where an actor can enjoy year round employment in the theatre. Most working people who are not in the theatre take a steady paycheck and being able to qualify for a mortgage for granted.
Chris- You have performed in a wide range of roles in and around the area. What do you enjoy the most about working as an actor in and around DC?
Being an actor in DC has provided me many opportunities that I don’t think I would have otherwise been given if I lived in, say, New York or LA. I’m not on TV (yet!) so I think if I lived in one of those cities I would just be another actor in the crowd. Yes, there are arguments to be made against what I’ve just said, but one of the reasons I love working in the DC theater community is simply because of that … I work. That’s all I really want to do in the end anyway. I want to keep working in order to become a stronger, more specific actor so I can play more demanding roles and tell complex stories, like the one in Sons of the Prophet.
I also love working in DC because, as a theater town, it is really picking up steam. It already has a tremendous foundation going back to the days of when Zelda Fichandler created the company at Arena Stage. Also, the formative work that Michael Kahn, Joy Zinoman, Howard Shalwitz and Eric Schaeffer have done in Washington is something I greatly admire and appreciate. (I would also add that, more recently, the contributions of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili have been vital to DC’s theatrical fabric.) They have all made major contributions to our community and those contributions continue to pour in from theaters large and small; from veteran theater makers to the new pioneers. The DC theater scene is alive and relevant.
With all of the theatrical holiday offerings that are being presented right now, why does each of you think audiences should come see Sons of the Prophet?
Brigid– One MUST see this production because it has the PLAYWRIGHT’S endorsement! Stephen Karam came to see one of our early run-throughs in the rehearsal hall. We were all just freshly “off book,” but we were so grounded in Gregg Henry’s direction that we were able to do a run of the entire show for him when he stopped by for a quick visit in the midst of opening his show “THE HUMANS” on Broadway.
As soon as the run-through was over, Stephen Karam beamed and said, “I think Gregg Henry should direct ALL my shows!”
Chris- 1. Sons of the Prophet is an amazingly well written new(ish) play by one of America’s greatest rising stars of the theater, Stephen Karam. His career was already going well – when Sons of the Prophet premiered in New York in 2011 it was the winner of the 2012 Drama Critics’ Circle, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel Award for Best Play, and a 2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist. Do I need to go on? I will: Stephen’s most currently play, “The Humans,” has been so well received it is being immediately transferred from it’s Off-Broadway run at Roundabout Theatre Company (who commissioned most of Mr. Karam’s work) to a Broadway run early next year. BOOM.
2. There is great work being done by everyone involved in this production, both onstage and off. Who cares if it isn’t a “holiday show.” Haven’t you been bombarded by enough holiday themed stuff already?!
3. For what it’s worth, if you see the play you will see me scantily clad. That might not be so appealing to everyone, but…just sayin’.