This week, we meet the parents: James and Mary Tyrone, and we are fortunate enough to feature two of the finest actors in Memphis performing with us in this show. This is their first time working with Threepenny and we are very excited to have them. For our last interview, we meet the patriarch of the Tyrone family, played by the outstanding Bill Baker.
|Bill Baker - James|
Welcome Bill. How long have you be involved in theatre in Memphis?
I've been involved in Memphis theatre for about forty years. Since I was in my twenties. When I started out I was doing stuff at Circuit Playhouse and they had a little attic theatre they had started for experimental work and I was working there, creating new things.
What are some past favorite roles?
I played Lenny Bruce in a play called Lenny. That was in the 70's and was a big one in my life. More recently, I played King Lear with New Moon ensemble. But very recently, the last play I did was an original adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland called Madhatted, where I played the White Rabbit, and that was a great deal of fun.
Who was that with?
That was with Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe, which is a theatre company I'm one of the founding directors of.
Long Day's Journey Into Night, what are your thoughts on this play?
I guess the big thing for me is that it's heavily literary, and I don't usually do that. At least I haven't in the last twenty years. Most of my work has been much more focused on experimental and improvisational work, sort of ensemble-created pieces, so those texts are played with a sort of free and loose mentality. But what I've come upon recently, doing Lear and now doing this, with this piece of great literature as your text, there's a certain sort of sacred quality to the language, and we have to respect it in a way that you don't have to when you're writing the piece as you go. So, it's this way of regarding the text that is so interesting. Even though it's very traditional and I worked that way when I was younger, it's very new to me again.
How are you connecting with the character of James?
I mean, I am a father, so I connect with him in that way. I connect with him in terms of feeling for one's children and feeling for one's spouse. Also, in my day job, I work with a lot of people who suffer from addiction, so I connect to the struggle that he has with his wife, who is a morphine addict, and I can empathize with how he feels. I also grew up in a household where alcohol was a regular part of the world, and that's a big part of Tyrone's life, so I think the dysfunction of the family is just as much a result of alcoholism as it is of morphine addiction, so I can also relate to the way substances can alter the family dynamic.
And what do you do during the day?
I'm a psychotherapist. I work with people with both severe persistent mental illnesses and also with substance abuse issues.
What is it like working with this cast?
Oh, it's great. They're all so talented. I worked with both Dylan and Christina on King Lear, so it was nice picking up that relation, but Gabe and Jillian are great as well. Gabe and I have this long, interesting scene together that sort of comes near the end of the play and it is really a pleasure to play that.
Long Day's Journey Into Night is a very dark play, darker than a lot of shows Memphis audiences are used to. What do you think are the merits of putting on a show like this?
Well, the darkness is about something that is very much a present problem in our culture, which is addiction. The show is fashioned as a tragedy. Although no one dies, we see that they are all sort of going down in flames in their substance abuse. We are a chemically dependent society, you know, and it is a tragedy, and we see it over and over again. People allow the drugs in their lives to just pull them down. So, if the Aristotelian theory of catharsis is something that is healthy for us as a culture, which is somewhat debatable, it may be interesting to see if a few people who may be struggling with these problems themselves may end up being enlightened or purified by the experience of seeing the tragedy of this family.
Any last words to audiences coming to see Long Day's Journey Into Night?
Uhm, come sober *laughs*. And prepare to be sobered, I think. And be persistent, stick it out. It is long and it is demanding, but it is definitely worth it, so come with yourself ready to make a long day's journey into night.
Thank you, Bill. This concludes our interviews for this show. Check back a little later this week, when I take a stab at the darkness that seems to pervade this classic work and try to convince you, my beloved reader to join us this weekend.