Matt McGrath appears in the World Premiere of Caroline in Jersey by Melinda Lopez at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (Show and Ticket Information). It plays on the Nikos Stage through August 16. There are low cost rush tickets sometimes available. Matt plays the best friend to Lea Thompson's complex Caroline. You can read the funny preview interview I had with the two of them here. In it, Lea Thompson is the jokester, and Matt plays the, um, straight man.
But Matt's a complex person, and he's far more than just a great actor, he knows LGBTQ issues inside out. Different aspects of his life and career have brought him in touch with them, even as he continues to hone his stagecraft. The darkly handsome actor has one of the most diverse backgrounds in the business. And he was happy to talk about his many unusual roles for both this Gay in the Berkshires blog and for Berkshire Fine Arts.com.
Matt's unusual in that he has been part of not only gay movies, but those that deal with transgender issues as well. "I've worked on a number of movies dealing with transgendered issues, with Boys Don't Cry being the best known. But Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which I ran in for the last four months of its run, was a joy and an honor, and I am so proud of being part of that production. What John Cameron Mitchell (Book) and Peter Askin (Director) created there is an important moment in time, and thankfully lives on in the film version made later.
I wondered what Matt did just before he came to Williamstown, and what is up for him in the future. His answer was exciting.
"Right now I am in development with the Scissor Sisters, Jason Sellards (aka "Jake Shears") and John Garden who are writing the music for a new musical based on Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City books," he replies. Matt played Norman Neal Williams in a staged workshop version at the O'Neill Center in Waterford, CT last month. The show has a libretto by Jeff Whitty and direction by Jason Moore, both of Avenue Q.
"Tales of the City has had a wonderful life, having begun as a series of articles in the San Francisco Chronicle, then the full length books, the television series (there were two with different casts and directors) and now this. The workshop was really magical, recreating the residents of 28 Barbary Lane on stage. Of course, with its variety of characters gay, straight and transgendered, it is a perfect platform to describe what it is like to be a trans person. Through the portrayal of their struggles - whether in the book, on the screen or on stage - we come to understand each other as human beings, to see the struggle so many of us face in order to live a full and honest life.
"It's hard to predict exactly how the show will continue to develop, it will probably go to San Francisco next for additional development. I of course hope it might go to ACT where I did Black Rider. It's a wonderful place for developing original work." This is all in the works for this winter, with a hoped for New York Broadway opening in 2010. Of course if it opened to raves in San Francisco, it could easily run for months or years before even needing to head back to the left coast.
Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets was a cutting edge piece of theatre, almost opera, that turned into a phenomenon. With a book derived from the work of William Burroughs, staging concept by Robert Wilson, and music by Tom Waits, young audiences came out of the woodwork. 15 year olds were lined up buying tickets to see it, truly a phenomenon not often seen in the theatre.
"To get a fifteen year old to spend that kind of money on tickets, it has to be something they really want to see." If the performing arts have difficulty attracting younger audiences, perhaps they should reconsider just what they are putting on stage that would attract them.
"That demographic is incredibly important for the future of the theatre."
Matt should know. He has been attracting younger audiences in virtually everything he does, from Hedwig to Tales of a City, and now, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Caroline in Jersey.
One lesser role that I found very appealing was his appearance in Boys Life 2, a typical collection of short gay films. In it Matt plays a son being driven back to the station by his father. "That was written by my friend Tom Donahue, I actually do a lot of his plays, I am a real fan of his work. It may be short, but it is an important film about HIV as it affects the young man and his partner. It takes place just after Thanksgiving dinner, and it addresses our complex familial issues as no other film I have ever seen." That does seem to be one of the payoffs of these collections, they cover areas and issues larger films often overlook or take for granted. As Matt says, "The writing is just so exquisite."
Tonight is the official opening of Caroline in Jersey at Williamstown, and all his friends send him the traditional "break a leg" greetings. Can't wait to see it myself.