Monday, Sept. 28, 2009

A Few Words With David Ferrie

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Local actor David Ferrie has a very smart stage presence. In Boulevard Theatre’s production of the two-person drama Roses In December last year, his performance as an author who reluctantly exchanges letters with a young woman sparkled with intelligence. This week he takes the same stage in a ONE-person drama as he stars as the title character in David Rintels’ Clarence Darrow. I talked with him at the Boulevard Theatre a few weeks ago prior to a rehearsal.

Me:  So you’re playing arguably the single most famous lawyer in history short of Lincoln. He’s a character who has been played by some really, really famous actors. But no pressure, right?

David Ferrie:
Nonono. No pressure.

[LAUGHTER]

David Ferrie: Not until now.

Me: The entire production is riding on you. You’re the one actor.

David Ferrie:
That’s the joke is that I’m still trying to find someone to blame if things don’t go well.

Me: [laugh]

David Ferrie:
But yeah, I know. But you have to approach a character—you have to approach the essence of the character and what part of you—yourself relates. What you have in common. You have to have empathy for the character. Darrow is . . . a bit of a kindred spirit. He’s got a lot of interests and a lot of . . . his upbringing. His ability to question authority—to get his own answers. I’ve got a lot in common with him. And so if others have played Clarence Darrow before . . . of greater stature—it kind of falls into that questioning of authority thing . . .

Me: Were you approached about doing this?

David Ferrie: I was.

Me: And what was your first reaction?

David Ferrie: No.

[LAUGHTER]

David Ferrie: No . . . it wasn’t. "No." I was flattered, of course. My goodness. How flattering that is for someone to say, “yeah, you could do a one-man show.”

Me: And what had been your familiarity with Darrow prior to that?

David Ferrie: The Scopes Trial . . .Inherit The Wind. . . By name . . . His being a very famous guy. I think there was something on the Leopold an Loeb trial that I had read something about. But not a lot. When I first read the play, I didn’t think it was a good match for me. 

Me: Really?

David Ferrie: Yeah. But I’m like that. I didn’t think it was a very good match for me and I wasn't real impressed with the script. But then I read it again a second time. As we got closer to this season, I read it again . . . and I thought . . . this is pretty good. This is a pretty well-written play. Now that I’ve been looking at it and reading it even more, I’ve grown to appreciate it. So maybe I’m a bit of a slow learner in that way. Mark [Bucher. Artistic Director of the Boulevard Theatre] is a very fast learner with this sort of stuff. He can look at a script and REALLY has it . . . and maybe I’m a bit more of a slow learner. I’ve got to churn it a bit more. It an excellent . . . a VERY well-written script. It’s orchestrated well.  You know what I’m saying?

Me: The composition.

David Ferrie: The crescendos and whatnot. A very well orchestrated script. And although they’re edited versions, it is Clarence Darrow’s speeches. It’s amazing. This guy was one of the finest orators I’ve . . . read. The nuance. Mark and I had talked—of course there is a bit of the actor in a good lawyer.

Me: Absolutely.

David Ferrie: It’s kind of been my conceit to think that lawyers could learn a lot from actors. And that it’s not just a matter of presenting the evidence. It is also a matter of persuading and allowing the jury to feel the story. Because that’s all lawyers are actually doing. Each side is telling their story. That’s it. They’re doing it from examination and cross-examination. But they forget that as part of that story being told, the jury has to feel the story. With Darrow—that wasn’t lost to him. He was almost a dramatist. He was almost a playwright. And Mark [Bucher] thinks that he memorized his speeches—his closing arguments. If he didn’t memorize them, he REALLY rehearsed. Because this is good stuff. This is not extemporaneous. The language in it is WAY too good to be extemporaneous. And the logic of it—the orchestration is way too good.

TOMORROW: Ferrie, Darrow and creating a character onstage.

Boulevard Theatre’s Clarence Darrow
runs September 29th through November 1st.

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