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by Daniel Collins
This is the last week for director Michael Spellman's The Holdup, now at the Spotlighters Theater (www.spotlighters.org). I caught up with actor Frank Vince who portrays "The Outlaw" in this "inventive, picaresque play that mingles humor and sentiment," as noted on the Spotlighters website. I've had the opportunity to review Frank's work in the past, such as his performance as Roy Cohn in Angels in America, and have "strode the boards" with him when I played Jimmy Tomorrow to Frank's Rocky in the Fells Point Corner Theater production of "The Iceman Cometh" this past winter. In this interview, Frank discusses his love of acting, his time at the Spotlighters, and his role as "The Outlaw".
My love of theatre began as a child growing up in New York City. My parents took me at an early age to the Westbury Music Fair to see musicals like Oklahoma and Carousel. Later, in high school I went without lunch to save up enough money to buy tickets to Broadway plays. I was attracted to shows like Wait Until Dark, Stop the World I Want to Get Off and a long forgotten, but amazingly funny confection that starred Paul Newman and JoAnne Woodward, Baby Want a Kiss.
In college I majored in theatre and art. My first role was as a chorus member in The Boyfriend. It was the '60s and avant garde creativity was boundless. I was lucky enough to see productions of such companies as The Living Theatre and The Performance Group. This kind of wild, political, sexy theatre inspired a college production of a devised piece called Heat. A group of theatre students banded together to conjure up an evening of allegory and atrocity woven together with original music. Heat was such an astounding success in the college playhouse that the ensemble took the show out and produced it Off-Off Broadway where we ran for over a year.
After that my attention turned away from theatre toward the business world and I did not return to the stage until I relocated to Baltimore about six years ago. In those years I've done all I could to Make Up For lost time by appearing in scores of stage productions, films, commercials and industrials. Of my many careers, rock singer, businessman, chef, scuba instructor and contractor, acting rises above all the rest. I'm so pleased and honored to return so successfully to this rewarding occupation.
It was Spotlighters that gave me my first opportunity on the Baltimore stage and for that I will be forever grateful. That first show was Angels in America in which I got to play the powerhouse role of Roy Cohn. Since then I've been fortunate to play many such roles; powerful men whose self hatred lead them to trample on the hearts and souls of those around them. Can you imagine anything more enjoyable than letting your inner demons loose to run rampant on stage? In the hands of a brilliant playwright like Marsha Norman, author of The Holdup, this kind of character barrels onto the stage with colorful language, explosive dramatic action and riveting plot twists.
In The Holdup I play just such a character, The Outlaw. (I can't reveal his name because his identity is one of the surprises of the play.) Although he is not the lead character he is the catalyst that sparks all the action of the play. The Outlaw is an aging gunslinger, the last remnant of the old wild west, who has had a violent and tragic history. The year is 1914. The place is the middle of nowhere, Clovis, New Mexico. After twenty years in hiding The Outlaw resurfaces to seek out his long lost love, Lily, played by Stephanie Ranno. Formerly a whore, Lily is now the rich, proud owner of the biggest hotel in town. They have agreed to meet at a remote spot, a water hole 40 miles from town. When The Outlaw arrives he finds the water hole occupied by two brothers, Archie and Henry who are part of a wheat threshing crew. All hell breaks loose when The Outlaw discovers the presence of the brothers interfering with his plan to sweep Lily off her feet. The older brother, a fan of the old outlaw lore, confronts The Outlaw with his sordid history. In a play called The Holdup one would expect a shoot out and indeed that is what ensues. Brother Henry is played by Zak Zeeks.
The lead character is the younger brother, Archie, played by David Shoemaker. Archie is a naive and charming seventeen year old. Wheat threshing in New Mexico is tedious and unrewarding, but Archie has higher hopes. He dreams of distant places and daring endeavors but for now he is trapped in the same dust and despair as his older brother. The arrival of Lily and The Outlaw set violent and tragic events into play that will alter Archie's future in unexpected ways.
It is a great privilege to work with the talented, dedicated and inspired actors in The Holdup. All three, Stephanie, Zak and David have appeared with me in other plays and it is a great joy to play with them once again. David Shoemaker recently played the pivotal role of Dan Parrit in The Iceman Cometh in which I played the bartender, Rocky. Stephanie Ranno played psychiatrist Agnetha Gottmundsdottir in Spotlighters' critically acclaimed production of Frozen. I played her subject, Ralph Wantage, a pedophile serial killer. About three years ago Zak Zeeks appeared at Spotlighters as Christopher Wren in The Mousetrap. I played opposite him as the mysterious Mr. Paravicini.
The process we used to develop our characters and elucidate the plot of The Holdup was inspired by our director, Michael Spellman. We began with extensive table work, that is, discussion of the themes, plot and characters. In my experience this kind of deep exploration is only done for Shakespeare's plays but it proved invaluable to The Holdup. The play's many twists and it's characters' seemingly inexplicable shifts in intention might well have proved confusing to audiences. As the essence of the characters came to light in the process it enabled us as actors to play our roles as fully realized, believable human beings. By taking the time to fully uncover the play's mysteries we are able to present a clear and logical development of its surprising story.
It is always a joy for me to work on stage at Spotlighters. The small space puts the actors in such proximity to the audience that the energy and excitement of all are shared. There is such an immediacy of interaction and shared experience that all emotion is heightened. With a play like The Holdup with its humor, drama, violence and passion the audiences have been galvanized into a rousing response at every performance.