I've seen a few productions at Potomac Theater Project over the past few years, most of them written by Howard Barker and starring Jan Maxwell. When Jan announced her retirement, I knew I had to attend Scenes from an Execution, her final stage production. After seeing this production, I was so impressed with David Barlow, I knew I just had to get an interview with him. When I got word from David Gibbs of DARR Publicity that David was game for the interview, I was thrilled to learn about his return to this production, after he (and Jan) starred in this show together seven years ago.
Scenes from an Execution deals with the eternally fractious and complex relationship between the artist and the state. Galactia, a 15th century Venetian painter, is commissioned by the State of Venice to portray the Battle of Lepanto, a naval battle described as "the greatest triumph of Venetian history." However, her 1,000 square feet of canvas contains quite a different interpretation. Thus the battle over truth, freedom and responsibility is engaged. Scenes from an Execution plays at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues) through August 9. Click here for tickets!
For more on David be sure to visit http://davidbarlow.org!
1. You are currently starring in PTP/NYC's production of Howard Barker's Scenes from an Execution, opposite Jan Maxwell. What made you want to be part of this revival production? The fact that Jan herself wanted to return to the play intrigued me. It made me consider what new kind of understanding and maturity we might as actors bring to this writing seven years later. They say all your cells replace themselves every seven years, so perhaps quite literally we are coming back to this production as new people. Also, to me Howard Barker's writing is so exceptional that it warrants revisiting; I love the ferocity, fun, and subtle complexities of what he allows actors to say.
2. What is it about Howard Barker's plays that keeps you wanting to be part of them? Barker's writing is bitingly funny. And whereas he is loath to passively "entertain" an audience or lull anyone into the complacency of enjoying theater as one might a nice meal, the very fact that he forces an audience to reckon with the discomfort of their own existence and heartache with such black humor is for me utterly refreshing. I want to speak his text. I am pulled toward it.
3. What do you enjoy most about acting opposite Jan Maxwell? What have you learned from her? Jan is a force of nature. Her commitment is 100% no holds barred. She attacks her roles with searing intelligence and then comes at you like a freight train at top speed. Anyone on stage with her better be ready to be on their front foot, and I like that, I respond to that. I have performed in three plays now with Jan, and I'm grateful for having had such an extreme sparring partner. It always demands I be at the outer limits of my own capabilities.
4. What do you identify most about your character "Carpeta"? Well, I guess at some point (or many points) in our lives we face the issue of being true (or not) to our own sense of integrity, and honoring an inner purpose that is not seduced by all the images of the culture's celebration of fame and "success." "Carpeta" is completely caught up in his own efforts to please and be embraced by outside authorities, and so he is for most of the play incapable of following an inner compass toward the true nature of his own talent (be it great or mediocre). Consequently he is, after his namesake, a carpet that can be easily walked upon. Compromise becomes a way of life for him, whether he admits it or not. I would like to say I couldn't relate to that scenario at all, but in truth playing this role is an invitation to have compassion for that same struggle within myself. After all one cannot mature beyond that painful human need to be recognized without fully embracing that the need exists in the first place, and that that need is often born of old wounds.
5. "Carpeta" seems to be quite a complex character who's deeply immersed in his love for "Galactia" (played by Jan Maxwell). How did you prepare for getting into character for this each night? When the writing is as strong and rich as that of Barker's, I think it best to get out of the way to deliver what's on the page. I did not do much psychological prep work for this role (if any), as I assume all of "Carpeta's" complexity will come through by simply being true to the words. And at the end of the day, perhaps "Carpeta" isn't all too complex anyway--he is in love with an artist who is more accomplished and gifted than he is, while coveting all that makes her great, wishing her talent were his own. For a shot at fame and glory, he is willing to throw his love under the bus, and then he is forced to confront the repercussions of his actions.
6. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing Scenes from an Execution? Scenes From An Execution is perhaps Barker's most accessible play, which I've read is why the playwright himself now dismisses it. So in light of that, I hope audiences come away from the play poked and prodded a bit, forced to reconcile the often all too corrupt relationship between art and sponsor, and to recognize how States and Empires often consume art to further their own agenda, thus neutering the very art they champion. Whether audiences like this play or not, I wish for them to engage it head on, not sit back waiting to be given their dose of entertainment. The play IS entertaining, thrilling even, but as an audience member you have to do your job and meet it half way. And we the company of course must do our job and serve the text with passion.
7. If you could give people one reason as to why they should come see Scenes from an Execution, what would that reason be? Come experience something out of the ordinary!
8. You've been in several productions at PTP/NYC. What do you like about performing there? PTP/NYC offers audiences the kind of work that you'll hardly ever encounter anywhere else. I'm sure there are people out there for whom that's just as well and good, as this is the very kind of material they would prefer to steer clear of. And that's fine. But to me and others the plays of Howard Barker and Caryl Churchill (for example) are totally vital to the theater. Since they are not ordinary safe fare for many established institutions though, PTP/NYC has become a home to dig into some really challenging and fertile dirt, and to do so without apology.
9. What's the best advice you've ever received? If you don't love it, don't do it.
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? I've learned that coming from a place of humbleness amidst intense collaboration creates one kind of experience, and coming from pure ego creates another.
11. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Flying, including off world, and at great speed.
12. If you could create your own signature drink, what would you call it, and what ingredients would you put in it? I already have, but there's no alcohol in it, so maybe it's too boring. In a Vitamix or other high powered blender, blend two bananas, a handful of raspberries, blueberries (or both), some flax powder, a dollop of honey, almond milk, a raw egg, and a fistful of spinach. I call it: Breakfast.
PTP/NYC: Gertrude, The Castle, Serious Money, Victory. Other New York credits include This Is My Office (Play Company, Drama Desk Nomination); The Film Society (Keen Company); Horizon (New York Theater Workshop); Oroonoko, Andorra, Saved (Theater For A New Audience); and Romola And Nijinski (Primary Stages). David most recently toured France in Jean Genet’s The Splendids. Regional theater credits include Pericles (title role— Berkeley Rep); Venus In Fur (Portland Center Stage); The Tempest and The Crucible (Hartford Stage); and Oleanna (Bristol Riverside Theater). His original show LA Party), directed by Phil Soltanoff, was first presented at the 2010 Under The Radar Festival, and has since toured venues around the country. Training: Middlebury College, NYU Graduate Acting, MFA.