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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

An Artist for All Seasons

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He is an actor, a published writer, a playwright and a native of Long Island, N.Y., who makes his home in Spring Green, Wis. He is Jim DeVita. And this artist-for-all-seasons will be appearing in the Rep’s production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross starting Jan. 30.

Despite a busy schedule, DeVita graciously makes himself “open and present” for an interview:

How do you typically prepare for a role? I generally do very little “preparation” (aside from research and memorizing the lines) outside of the rehearsal process. When I was younger I did a lot of planning and making of choices before going into a rehearsal; now I’ve come to believe that almost anything stage-worthy which I discover happens with my fellow actors and my director in the rehearsal room. The process of rehearsing is really everything to me now.

What kind of research did you do for your role in I watched the documentary Salesman—a great movie which has a bit of a cult following. The Bible salesmen in it are right out of a Mamet play … The director [of Glengarry Glen Ross] also brought her sister in who has sold real estate and many other things. She was invaluable. We even did a mock “sit” where she sold me marshland in Florida. Glengarry Glen Ross?

It’s been 24 years since The lion’s share of the play sounds like it could have been written today except for the absence of cell phones and computers on the desks. Some of the issues which run through the play—ethics versus greed, money versus friendship, working with colleagues versus cutthroat one-upsmanship, old guard versus the new, survival of the fittest (or perhaps the “dirtiest”), office politics, inexperienced management versus experienced workers in the field, using workers while they are productive and then discarding them when they no longer produce as well, among many other issues—are relatively timeless in their relevance. Glengarry Glen Ross first ran on Broadway. How timely and relevant is this material today?

Have you ever identified with a character—or aspects of a character—you’ve played? If so, how do you use that in a performance? Oh, I think every character has something which anyone could identify with if we look deep enough—and sometimes not so deep.

I don’t think anybody is completely above or below any human trait. But we make choices throughout our lives of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable— we have things like ethics, morality, religion, and our own conscience, to guide us. Thankfully, most people do not “act” on some of the more negative human traits. Nevertheless they are all part of the collective palette we call human nature. Put any of us in a “survival” situation—job, life or limb—and most of us will become very different beings … Often, plays like this are about people thrust into a survival situation to see who sinks and who swims, who eats and who is eaten. You put them in a room and see what happens.

How do you keep a role fresh night after night? By truly striving to be open to the “personality” of the audience (their energy is an integral part of the evening), and also trying to be open to your fellow actors on stage on any given evening. Both are always differ-

Jim DeVita | Photo by Chris Bluhm

ent: the weather, how the day went, people’s moods, parking, etc., are all a real part of the evening that we spend together—and this changes things, both for audience and actors; these things affect us in the subtlest ways.

Any favorite roles over the years? Stock answer after many years in the business: my next one. Naming favorite roles is like naming a favorite child. I’m also horribly superstitious and it always feels oddly wrong to do that—I don’t know … I’m weird that way. Now, if you’d have asked me any roles that I hated over the years… Glengarry Glen Ross runs Jan. 30 through March 2 at the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater located in the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex. For more information, call 224-9490 or visit www.milwaukeerep.com.