One of the great pleasures of being part of the Washington, D.C. theatre scene for so long is that I get the chance to kick back and talk shop with former colleagues—especially those whose careers have been so much more successful than mine ever was!
I am proud to say I got my start alongside Rick Foucheaux, in a controversial play staged by Woolly Mammoth Theatre—The Choir. For years, the lobby at Woolly’s new E-Street space featured me and Rick, in character and choir robes, holding hands (which led to some ribbing—cut it out, guys). Rick went on to star in productions too numerous to mention here, at all the major houses in town, a remarkable career.
Mr. Foucheaux has recently transitioned to a quieter career mode, taking on gigs that appeal to him and giving back generously to the community that nurtured his talents for so many years.
In less than 2 weeks’ time, he will be featured at a fundraiser for Bethesda’s own Quotidian Theatre Company, performing a famous one-man comic monologue written by the Russian master, Anton Chekhov. “On the Harmfulness of Tobacco” is a classic, and hilarious given that Chekhov himself was a physician (who, like so many of ‘em, rarely took his own advice).
Foucheaux will also have another trick up his sleeve that night – the premiere of his own comic piece, Parts of a Night, featuring Rick, Kim Schraf, Matthew Valky and Chelsea Thaler.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Rick, in a digital sense, not too long ago and had the chance to ask him a few questions.
MDTG: What was your first contact with Chekhov as an actor? What were your first impressions of him, and how did your first efforts go?
Foucheaux: I think my first actual experience acting Chekhov was in The Cherry Orchard, the Mamet trans directed by Joe Banno at the Source in the late 90s. I played Gaev. I liked it very much. Joe’s direction was an added layer to the Chekhov ethic of presenting real people in real life. It was funny and sad and modern and as old as mankind. I did the same role in the same translation some years later with Nick Olcott at the helm at Roundhouse.
In the intervening years between the two productions I had grown as an actor and as a person, and I had gotten closer to Gaev’s middle age and so perhaps had a slightly better understanding of that family’s predicament and their individual modalities for dealing with life. That’s a common roadmap in the plays I think — how various people who are close to each other deal with the same problem in completely different ways (Hey! Just like Life!). Joe and Nick were very important to me in my learning and development as an actor and theatre artist, and they got me started on a love of Chekhov.
MDTG: How has your understanding of Chekhov changed over the years?
Foucheaux: In 2011 I did a Chekhov workshop with Olympia Dukakis as part of the Lunt Fontanne Fellowship. This followed on what I had already learned in my reading, in those two productions of The Cherry Orchard, and in conversations with [Quotidian Theater co-founder] Jack Sbarbori. The takeaway in this semi-immersion into it was — over and over again — it’s as simple as life, so don’t be afraid to go deeper and deeper at every turn.
Olympia stressed the multiplicity of feelings possible in a single spoken line: fear, anger, love, regret, joy. This is why Chekhov helped turn the acting art on its ear — that multiplicity of feelings is something that on the surface appears so simple. But that IS human psychology, right? Gaev returns to his family after an attempt at a loan for the cherry orchard. All he brings back is a package of kippers, but he also brings a new world of dejection, regret and failed hope. Then a few scenes later, he is his old cheery self, seeking a new and happier life. Seemingly incongruous, but, for an actor, rich in possibilities for examining the human heart.
MDTG: Audiences these days tend to think of Chekhov as a serious dramatist. What would you like to tell us about his funny side?
Foucheaux: I will tell you this: there is plenty enough comedy in these dramas to go around. A good director and a good cast will lead the audience to find it. But for a reading exercise, try reading one of the dramas to yourself, thinking of it as a comedy. You’ll see what I mean. Or if you’re going to see The Seagull also read Aaron Posner’s Stupid F***ing Bird, which premiere I was in at Woolly Mammoth in 2015, for the comedy and the pathos all mixed together in a wonderful and modern way.
MDTG: Describe the set-up for this solo piece; any previews of coming attractions you’d like to offer us?
Foucheaux: David Dubov is a great director, and he’s going to help me reveal some things about this piece that will have connections to all of our silly human foibles. And my wife will be in the crowd, so when the lecturer talks about his home life, there will no doubt be some extra laughs coming from her side of the audience.
MDTG: Stephanie Mumford and Jack Sbarbori, the co-founders of Quotidian Theatre, have a special touch with Chekhov (having worked with them myself, I can attest to their passion and attention to detail). Are there any Chekhov pieces you’d love to see Quotidian do in the future? Any neglected gems they might polish and bring to light?
Foucheaux: I’ve seen The Seagull done at Quotidian and The Cherry Orchard, and the company aced them both. I’ve seen a couple of Uncle Vanyas elsewhere. I’d like to see Quotidian tackle the other two major plays which I haven’t seen: Three Sisters and Ivanov. That would be good continuing education for me.
Quotidian Theater Company’s Fundraiser will be at 8:00 PM on November 3 at The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
For tickets to the fundraiser, go to: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3414168
P.S. – Tickets for Quotidian’s 2019 Season are on sale now! $50 for 3 tickets to see “Ghost-Writer” and “The Mollusc.” Tickets useable in any combination.
FOR SUBSCRIPTIONS, go to: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3410971