Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spotlight On...Matthew Van Gessel

Name:  Matthew Van Gessel

Hometown:  Westport, Connecticut.

Education:  BFA in Drama from University of North Carolina School of the Arts

Select Credits:  Jene in Miss Julie by August Strindberg; Bobby Gould in Speed the Plow by David Mamet; Robert in Planet Heart by Hong Yi Tian; Melchior in Springs Awakening by Frank Wedekind

Why theater?: Theater is an artistic medium that stands out from others in its ability to reveal to spectators something about humanity and the world around them. As theater artists, we must train ourselves to be able to reflect and focus our unique perspective of the world into a palatable and accessible experience for the spectator. There are precious few moments in life when a room full of people will silently give their full attention to a person playing make-believe, but theater is one of them. The challenge of acting in theater (as opposed film, where you need only nail it once) is Sisyphean in nature and makes the returning to the playing space an almost holy practice in the struggle for honesty, vulnerability, focus, and specificity .    

Who do you play in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui?: Arturo Ui

Tell us about The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: Arturo Ui is a parable play written by Brecht in 1941 as an allegory to Hitler's rise to power transposed to the 1930’s Gangland of Chicago. That's what Wikipedia will tell you. But what it won’t tell you is that it is also a rollicking story filled with outrageous characters and intrigue. We have taken our production and brought it up to speed by setting it in a modern-day campaign office and making clear the prophetic resemblances to Ui and our current demagogic threat: Donald J. Trump.    

What is it like being a part of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui?: It's been a dream working on this show. Not only am I completely jazzed to be playing such an excellent part, the show is very current and gives the work a special weight of importance. I have been continually impressed by the work of the whole production team and the genius guidance of Noam Shapiro, our director. Rarely have I met a director so articulate and generous towards actors. He believes in the fostering of impulses which is something I greatly respect. The acting ensemble is top tier, and it is a gift to be able to work with them. They are constantly challenging me and pushing me to work harder; many of them play 5+ characters over the course of the two-hour evening.  

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: The theater that excites me is immediate. I'm excited by theater that is relevant or captures a moment. I’m inspired by the work of Mike Bartlett and Annie Baker, both playwrights who write in a highly current style that seamlessly marries conversational dialogue and pure poetry. They both examine themes I consider immediate, like isolation in the digital age, defining modern relationships, and even veering into political drama like Bartlett’s recent Charles III.    

Any roles you’re dying to play?:  Lete in The Ugly One by Marious von Mayenburg; Billy Claven in The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh; Richard II in Richard II by William Shakespeare

What’s your favorite showtune?: "Franklin Shepard Inc." from Merrily We Roll Along by Stephen Sondheim

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:  Director: Ivo van Hove; Actor: Mark Rylance.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself, and what would it be called?:  Steve Buscemi would play me, but he would be in his high-school-skater-kid outfit from 30 Rock, and the movie would be titled "Let's Do it Next Weekend; or An Exercise in Futility"

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: Probably Elia Kazan's original production of Streetcar. Heard that was pretty good.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui presented by Lyra Theater! duh.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: You don’t want to know.....  America's Got Talent

What’s up next?: Why, what you offering? Next I plan to produce a one man show called The Bread and The Beer by Tristan Bernays that accounts the return of the god of party animals; John Barleycorn.

For more on The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui visit