Barbra Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: You will soon be portraying the role of Professor Serebryakov in Annie Baker’s translation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. What intrigued you about taking on the role?
Harry Groener: It's less about the role and more about Chekhov. I've never been in one of his major plays. I've done scenes from his plays when I was as student but never an entire play, so that is what is interesting to me. And, I had such wonderful time working with my wife Dawn Didawick in the Antaeus production of THE BEAR in CHEKHOV X 4. That production was a “back to the well” experience for me. It made me remember why I went into theatre in the first place.
BD: Many of the world’s most esteemed plays have been translated and adapted throughout the centuries in order express a new creative vision or to connect with new audiences. Even Uncle Vanya is a reworking of its original production, The Wood Demon. In what ways do you feel that Annie Baker’s translation of the play will resonate with audiences, and what do you hope that viewers will take away from the performance?
HG: I think this translation is more accessible for those watching it. It feels in many ways more contemporary. I'm hoping they will take away what Chekhov intended his audiences to take away, and that is the idea that we have control over our lives and can change our circumstances for the betterment of ourselves, our culture, and our society, if we just get off our butts and “do something with your lives,” as Serebryakov says on his final exit. We have the power to make things happen.
BD: Given your extensive experience in the theatre, as well as in television and film, do you find yourself gravitating more towards a specific medium of performance? Likewise, do you find that the mediums offer their own distinct tools to utilize as an actor?
HG: I enjoy working in all mediums. You have more control in the theatre, and the response to your work is immediate from the audience. I think all mediums help the work. From the theatre you learn discipline and stamina and how you can affect an audience. From TV and film you learn economy and how to simplify your work. The focus is more on behavior and how to make that as believable as possible.
BD: You have quite a talented cast and crew surrounding you within this production. How would you describe your creative process in working together on Uncle Vanya?
HG: Because we double cast our plays, we have the luxury of being able to watch a scene you're in from the outside as your partner plays it. In this way you can learn from what your partners does in the scene, something that might help in the storytelling. It's a very creative process, working on the same role with another actor, because of all the discussion and analysis that goes on. You will both be very different and, hopefully, equally interesting in the playing of the play. Each actor’s approach can help and stimulate the other actor to make different choices they may not have thought about, and that, in turn, can help the telling of the story.
BD: The characters in this production have all been double cast, with Lawrence Pressman also portraying the Professor. Have you found that the actors portraying the same role have worked together throughout the rehearsal process to craft their shared character?
HG: Yes. First of all, Larry and I have been friends and colleagues for years, as well as original members of Antaeus, so it is a blast and a hoot to share this role with him. We respect each other, and we make each other laugh. It's wonderful to watch the pairs of characters off in a corner working on the role, collaborating and figuring the role and the play out along with the help and guidance of the director.
BD: Are there any other upcoming projects that you are able to share with our readers?
HG: Actually, I'm leaving tomorrow to finish shooting a film in Germany called A CURE FOR WELLNESS. It's directed by Gore Verbinski and written by Justin Haythe and stars Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, and Jason Issacs. It will probably come out sometime late next year as these things go. It's been very interesting flying back and forth to Berlin, and when I'm here in LA, I'm rehearsing Vanya. From Russia to Germany, Russia/Germany . . . strange but fun. This is another reason why double casting is so important for our company. We cover each other in these situations. A lot of us who would have trouble committing to a production because of our film or TV schedules can still do a play with our company. Many of these factors contribute to the ensemble building which is one of the strengths and joys of being part of Antaeus.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Uncle Vanya?
HG: Read the play, read about Chekhov, check out films which are adaptations of his plays, and, most importantly, come see UNCLE VANYA at The Antaeus Company.
Performances of Uncle Vanya take place October 15 through December 6 on Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. (No matinee performance on Saturday, October 17.) Talk back Thursdays begin on Oct. 22; stay after the performance and discuss the play with the cast. Six preview performances take place October 8 through October 14.
Tickets are $30 on Thursdays and Fridays (except October 15 and 16 which are $34 and include a post-performance reception), and $34 on Saturdays and Sundays. Preview tickets are priced at $15. The Antaeus Theatre Company is located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood, CA 91601. Parking is available for $8 in the lot at 5125 Lankershim Blvd. (west side of the street), just south of Magnolia. The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 818-506-1983 or go to www.antaeus.org.
Antaeus is excited to announce its move to the new Antaeus Cultural Arts Center in Glendale next year. To make a donation to the Play On! capital campaign and help Antaeus raise the $800,000 still needed to renovate their new space, call 818-506-1983 or go to antaeus.org/support-us/play-on/.