Whet your appetite a little further on this curious cuisine of surrealist normalcy in an absurdist reality. In Part 2 of #weirdfrance, TheatreBloom continues its quest to learn about all the crazy things happening in the Cohesion Theatre Company production of 13 Dead Husbands. This time we’ve gathered the three leading men, Thomas Sinn, Bobby Henneburg, and Matthew Payne, to hear their take on #weirdfrance.
If you fellas can give us a quick introduction, tell us who you are, who you’re playing here in 13 Dead Husbands and where the readers might recognize you from in the last year or so around the area.
Bobby Henneburg: Hi my name is Bobby Henneburg and I’m playing Jean Pierre in this production of 13 Dead Husbands. Recently I was a part of the ensemble in Coriolanus with Cohesion Theatre Company, and before that I was Thisby in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
Thom Sinn: Right. So my name is Thom Sinn and in this production I am playing Hubert Q. Hubble, newspaper mogul, millionaire, and overall swell guy.
That’s a mouthful.
Bobby: It’s a legal name.
Thom: It’s also a line from the play. Recently you might have seen me at Pumpkin Theatre in their production of Snow White & The Seven Dwarves or Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Soon you will see me at Pumpkin Theatre in their production of The Frog Prince. I am not the Frog. I’m King Glum. I also performed in 86 a production that was a part of the Charm City Fringe Festival. That should cover— well a full year ago I was down in Annapolis at Colonial Players doing Coyote on a Fence.
Matthew Payne: Hello, my name is Matthew Lindsey Payne, I play Marcel in 13 Dead Husbands. In the last year I’ve been Spencer in Edward II over at Spotlighters, I’ve been Sebastian in Twelfth Night up at Milburn Stone Theatre, and in Single Carrot Theatre’s 24 Hour Play Festival, I played James in The Pairing Formally Known as Friends.
Talk to us a little bit about 13 Dead Husbands. You’re not the husbands, right?
Thom: Well…well…we’re not any of the 12 dead husbands. However, maybe one of us will be number 13.
Bobby: And nobody knows who.
Thom: And we’re not going to tell you!
Matthew: Which is why you have to come see the show.
So tell us from your actor and character perspective a little bit about this serial-marrying woman. I think that’s the best way she can be described.
Thom: Easily done since she’s not sitting here right now. I think she can take any and all of us.
Bobby: All at once too.
Thom: Yeah, definitely.
Matthew: She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, having successfully married and then killed— through fate— 12 different husbands.
Killed through fate.
Bobby: She did not kill them.
Thom: We don’t think she killed them.
Matthew: At least we don’t think she murdered them.
Bobby: The police ruled that out.
Thom: Many years ago.
Matthew: You find that out in the first scene.
Thom: So to refer to her as a murder or a murderess would be incorrect.
Matthew: Let’s not give away more of the plot.
Thom: She is, however, as Marcel has told us, the most beautiful woman in the world. This is why men from all over the world come to woo her.
Where does this play take place?
Thom: Weird France.
Matthew: Weird France.
Weird France? I have no idea what that means.
Thom: The coversheet of the script says this takes place in a Paris of our imagination.
Matthew: So it’s not set in any particular time period, but due to the fantastical nature of the events and the characters that occur within this play we’ve nicknamed it as taking place in “Weird France.” This is a world where when men set out to achieve amazing things they don’t’ just build the tallest skyscraper, they build all of the tallest skyscrapers in the world that practically touch the moon. That’s not an example drawn directly from the show, but I think it’s pretty representative of the husbands and how I think of Hubbard Hubble over here.
Thom, you were the only one that when we did the round robin, you gave us your character’s profession. Are Jean Pierre and Marcel French bums or what?
Bobby: Well Jean Pierre is a very content balloon salesman.
I’m sorry, a what?
Bobby: A balloon salesman! A balloon vendor.
Matthew: He’s the balloon man.
Bobby: He just walks through the park selling his beautiful red balloons.
99 of them?
Matthew: That’s been a running joke through the show.
Bobby: Exactly. But you know, he knows it’s not much but he enjoys his life of selling balloons.
Matthew: Well Marcel is a man about town.
Bobby: Is he?
Matthew: Yes. He’s a part-time inventor, a sometimes scientific hobbyist, and even dabbled foolishly in alchemy but primarily he just plays his instrument, which for our purposes is a strumstick. A strumstick is kind of like a baby guitar with three strings. It’s very cute. Kind of adorable. Come see the show just for that.
Thom: Reasons to see the show…
Thom: And we’re not giving away any plot details in this interview.
Okay. So aside from the fact that she is beautiful, why are all the men taking an interest in Deedee?
Bobby: She’s from the country.
A country or THE country?
Bobby: The country. Like countryside. Hey, come on, just go with it, it’s #weirdfrance.
Alright. Since we have all you men here, does Deedee match up with what you’re looking for in the ideal partner? Why or why not?
Matthew: Because that’s not a loaded question.
Thom: Dear Casey…
Bobby: We all think you’re hot—
No, no, no. Not the actress. I’m sure she’s lovely. The character.
Matthew: Okay! So there’s kind of a split within the play of how people view Deedee, whether they view her as a person or they view her as this unachievable goal where all other men have failed because they’ve either not won her hand or died. The battle between those images is kind of an important motif within the play.
Thom: Yeah, Hubert Q. Hubble, who is a monstrously successful business person, absolutely sees Deedee as another conquest because she is the best and because she is the most sought after and because she is the most beautiful. Naturally she is perfect for him and more importantly he is perfect for her.
So he has a Gaston complex going on?
Bobby: Oh my God, yes!
Thom: See I didn’t get Gaston until a week ago! And you just pull it right out there! Man I suck! So yes, I have the Gaston-on-a-conquest thing going on.
And what was Marcel’s take on Deedee?
Matthew: Marcel’s take was that she was a discovery for him because I discovered the most beautiful girl in the world!
Right. Because Marcel is a French bum. No job, jack of many trades, man about town. Got it. What about Jean Pierre?
Bobby: Well Jean Pierre doesn’t actually pursue Deedee. She comes up to him. And it’s not because he’s the little idiot pushing the balloons, it’s because he doesn’t see her as an object or a discovery, he sees her as a girl. And he says “Hey, how are you?” And she says “Oh my God! No one’s ever said that to me before. Holy shit.” And then she realizes that the simplicity of Jean Pierre may not be what she wants after all. Gotta keep you guessing.
The simple gun-slinging balloon salesman, the pompous Gaston, and the bum. This sounds like a setup for a bad joke. How do you relate to your character? How are you different from your character? Matthew, we’re hoping you have a job…
Matthew: Like my character, I have more jobs than I can count. No, the thing with Marcel is not that he doesn’t do anything, it’s that he does so many different things. He dabbles. Part time inventor, scientist, all that stuff I said before.
Bobby: What’s the last thing you invented?
Matthew: That’s a good question…
Thom: Backstory. Backstory!
Matthew: I invented a backstory, that’s what I invented. So that’s the similarities. The differences? I’m not very musically inclined and Marcel has this very lovely little strumstick. So for this production I’ll be learning how to play an instrument. It’s going right on the resume.
Bobby: You know we open in less than two weeks.
Matthew: I’ll have one practice under my belt by then. It’s going to go well.
Alright. And Thom? How are you like Hubert?
Thom: Hubert Q. Hubble. He’s American. I’m American. But I think I’m like him in that I truly admire nice things. It’s not so much that I get hung up on does someone think it’s the best, does someone think it’s the worst, it’s just when there’s something that’s nice and I like it I like to have it and I like to have a lot of it. It’s not always possible but it’s something to look forward to. My hope, and maybe this is better asked to people I work with, but I hope I’m not as arrogant and as self-centered as he is.
Matthew: Not at all.
Bobby: Is there a sarcasm font?
Thom: I will tell you this, I wish I were more focused. Clearly Hubert Q. Hubble is a very focused person. I would like to have a little bit more of that in my personality. But as far as the arrogance and the pompous and the Gaston-y kind of thing, that’s not me.
Thom: I’m a great ad-libber. I can do that.
Yes you are. Now, Bobby, how are you like and not like your balloon man?
Bobby: Well, like my balloon man I enjoy a nice simple life. I like the simple things. Unlike him, he takes things and absorbs them and just says “ok.” Or “I don’t know.” Me? I tend to get a little off the wall when things happen. But I do try to keep calm and carry on, all the jazz. He’s a very simple, very calm, very nice guy. Those are things I appreciate in people and they are things I would like to say that I appreciate in myself.
We might have some absurdism going on here in this show, what with all the #weirdfrance.
Matthew: Definitely a little surreal.
Thom: Wait, you think the show might be absurd?
Bobby: That’s absurd.
Katelyn: I think the word we might use is whimsical.
I’m sorry, who are you again?
Caitlin Carbone: I’m Caitlin.
Matthew: She’s our AD.
Thom: Assistant Director.
Bobby: She doesn’t even go here! #meangirls
Caitlin: I just have a lot of emotions.
Casey Dutt: Hey she brought the gummy bears.
Bobby: She always brings candy— wait. When did Casey get here?
Casey: I just dug my car out of the snow at BWI, but I’m back from Disney World—
Ok, nobody wants to hear about warmer weather while we’re sitting here interviewing in single digits.
Casey: Well I ran a marathon while I was there, so my legs hurt. That’s a consolation, right?
Bobby: Not really.
Caitlin: Anyway…we’ve always described this show as a fairytale. So I do think the word is whimsical.
Alright, so in this whimsical absurdist fairytale murdery non-murdery, husbandy non-husbandy thing, what has been the biggest challenge for you guys as a performer when it comes to finding your niche in this fantasy world of #weirdfrance?
Matthew: What was that question again?
Caitlin: Focus. Finding your niche in #weirdfrance.
Thom: This is where it’s good that we still have a few days to go because I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. I just found Gaston a week ago. Related to that, initially as I would talk with Brad, our Director— who’s a genius, by the way.
Bobby: Total genius.
Matthew: Brought this show out of the abyss of Chicago.
Caitlin: He really did though, he found this thing and resuscitated it into life.
Bobby: Did you guys know that if you remix the name Tom Horan, it spells out—
Thom & Matthew: Brad Norris.
Caitlin: Tom Horan is the playwright. Inside jokes.
Thom: Back to what I was saying about Brad. I would be looking at this characterization as sort of a Superman, or I always like Mighty Mouse— you know, here I come to save the day! Because in Hubble’s mind that’s what he’s doing. He’s coming to save the day. But part of my initial problem is that Superman and Mighty Mouse, those are nice people and you want to have them around. So I asked Brad. Give me someone else I can put their picture in my mind, and indeed Gaston came up. So I thought, “Okay, I can go that direction.” But that whole niche thing? I guess I have a place as just another suitor, another husband, like all the others that Deedee has had up to this point.
What is your main approach to getting Deedee?
Thom: Money. I have wads of cash.
Is that how Thom Sinn would woo a girl were he not happily married with a lovely family?
Thom: I am happily married with a lovely family. And no, that is not how I would woo. A.) because I have NEVER had wads of cash! So it’s never been an option.
Bobby: He’s more of a quarter wad kind of guy.
Thom: Are we going to talk about my wad here? Because I don’t think that’s appropriate for this conversation…but no, I always more of the “once somebody broke the ice for me…” I needed an icebreaker, big time. But once that happened I prefer to shower with compliments. And actually gifts. I was about the gifts too. But not fancy diamond-whatevers. I would do things that would be meaningful for her or for us together. Not necessarily a Maserati or diamonds. But chocolates, yes. Now, if you were to ask my wife what’s the last gift she got? She’d probably say “Well…back in 2001…” and probably not remember what it was. I don’t remember what it was.
Ok, back to the niche question for whoever wants to jump in.
Bobby: I can jump in here. I think the trouble that Jean Pierre in this world is a lot like a weekend update anchor. He’s sitting here, he’s a normal person and there is just insanity all around him. This girl who is insane, his friend who is insane, this guy who is insane, some sneaky spy vs. spy newspaper reporter running around in the background. And he’s just like “Or we could be normal people.” And no one listens to him. So in that way he’s a lot like Seth Meyers. Or Norm McDonald.
I think as a performer I try to go for the big, physical laugh and Jean Pierre is not that. He’s the straight man. Now, there’s a lot of funny in that, but it’s tougher to get to funny. He is straight and serious, and that’s what makes him funny. Like a Frank Burns. I’ve been watching a lot of M*A*S*H lately. Thank you, Netflix!
Thom: I watched it when it originally aired.
Alright, jokes, your niche struggles?
Matthew: Oh wow. Ok. Like I said earlier, part of my difficulty of fitting into Marcel is that he is a very musical individual. And as an individual, I play no musical instrument. So fitting into that niche has been kind of difficult, but it’s also been really fun because I’m surrounded by all these musical people. I have no idea how the musical character got assigned to the one guy that doesn’t know how to play any instrument whatsoever. I like to think it’s because I’m really funny and Marcel is a very funny guy.
As far as fitting into the niche, it’s interesting that you brought up the dichotomy of Jean Pierre, who is the straight man, and all the insanity that goes on around him. It’s really fun to watch all that insanity. Marcel is kind of caught on that spectrum a little bit. He’s just as crazy as all these other guys, but having JP grounding him as his friend, it reins him in a little bit. I think that honestly when he is reined in by JP that’s when he is doing the best for himself. Among other things.
Caitlin: I will say as well that with the world being so fantastical— I won’t say that the actors struggled with it— but we had to calibrate where realism is and then where we need to be.
Bobby: Where #weirdfrance is in relation to that.
Caitlin: You have to have your point of starting normal so you can jump off and get to #weirdfrance. You can’t just start there, so I think that was a challenge for everyone. Finding the normal so that we could go outside of it. Casey can talk a lot about that. But Marcel, when he first talks about the legend of the most beautiful girl in the world, he says—
Matthew: It is a story a little too fantastical to be true, but I assure you that it is most real.
Caitlin: That’s what I’ve held onto. It’s a crazy story, but it’s based in someone’s reality. All the people are rooted in existence. It’s like Big Fish, where he tells those tall tales and at the end you find out they’re all real just not as exaggerated. All the characters here are rooted in truth, and they are all emotionally present.
Now, I plucked at Thom a little bit, so Matthew, if you had the most beautiful person in the world, how would you go about wooing them?
Matthew: I mean, I already do. She just happens to live in Connecticut.
Bobby: Aww! Gosh golly!
Matthew: Yeah…so lots of text messaging and emails and gifts in packages shipped to Connecticut. You put a date in a box, and she opens it, and then you Skype. And instant date-in-a-box.
Casey: That’s so awesome.
Caitlin: That’s so sweet.
What about you, Bobby?
Bobby: Me? Well, I don’t have a Connecticut girlfriend. Nor do I have a wife and family. So sad. I would be so nice to her. I would buy her gifts. I would offer her the last gummy bear, that’s what I would do. I would take her on dates and stuff and be really nice to her. I’d cook for her, that’s really important. I cook.
Do you guys have a favorite line or moment that tickles your funny bone in this show?
Matthew: Oh this whole show.
Thom: My God, I hope there’s a lot of laughter.
Caitlin: Let’s hope!
Thom: Otherwise it’s really sad and we haven’t gotten across the fantastical fairytale otherly world, or other worldly— that. When you read that first page of the script and it says “this is a Paris of the imagination” and if the audience gets caught up in “this wouldn’t happen in Paris” then we’ve lost them.
Matthew: The first scene does have a lot of exposition but I think that with the way we’re doing the cadence of the lines you get the idea that there’s a lot of whimsical about to happen.
Caitlin: It’s not about the accuracy of dialects and there’s not time period, which will be clear with the costumes—
Matthew: Definitely about accuracy of dialects.
Thom: Come along and suspend your disbelief!
Anyone have a line that’s jumping out at them? Funniest line?
Matthew: I think that my favorite line might actually be: “Marcel!” followed by “JP!” Damn there not being a French-accent font! It’s this big boisterous greeting between me and JP.
Bobby: Well as the straight man…I’ve got nothing.
Thom: Early on I describe myself— I think I’m meeting Jean Pierre for the first time— but I say “I have a keen understanding of a supernatural phenomenon.” Which to me is just such a ridiculous thing to say about yourself. A keen understanding of a supernatural phenomenon. What in the hell? Who is this guy?
Bobby: Plus I read about it in the paper.
Thom: Yeah. So he’s describing how it was that he as this American was brought to this place, to #weirdfrance, and he says “The powers stronger than gravity, stronger than magnetism pulled me here. Plus I read about it in the paper.” So I just find that really absurd and a good description of how he’s all full of shit and full of himself, which may be one in the same. It’s just fun to toss that out at someone. He thinks he’s Yoda. He thinks he has Yoda’s power. He is Jedi. But he wouldn’t just be a knight, he’d be the Jedi King.
Bobby: My favorite JP line, it’s right after Marcel says “I have found the most beautiful girl in the world!” And I go “Oh, you have.” And that’s it. You know, that’s really nice to know, let’s have some coffee. With a croissant.
Why do you want people to come and see this production?
Matthew: It’s kind of interesting because previously Cohesion, with both Coriolanus and Edward II took this very dark route. Very dark and very classical. That’s the direction that I feel like a lot of— I don’t want to call us a Fringe company— but a lot of smaller companies are taking. This show is so light and whimsical and it really is kind of a fairytale. But that doesn’t detract or distract from how real it is. It’s also really cool because this is a show that’s only been done one time ever. It was produced once before in Chicago. Brad resuscitated it and said “Hey. We’re bringing this to Baltimore for a city wide production, for the second time this show has been done in its life ever.” So that’s really cool. We’re lucky enough to be able to do that.
Thom: I’m going to go back a little bit to the fact that there are just so many cool, smaller theatres here in Baltimore. This is nothing to take away from the glory or grandeur of Everyman or Centerstage. Because I’d like to work there again someday. But also because I love seeing shows there. But this show is just so wacky. And it’s so fun. And you’re not going to get this show at Everyman or Centerstage. Maybe this is simplistic, but it’s different. You haven’t seen it before. If you’re at all interested in the live theatre experience, then come see a show that has not been done before but deserves to be done. We’ve got it here in Baltimore at Cohesion Theatre with some fucking amazing talented people. Good God, it’s incredible.
Bobby: I think it is a lot of what Matt and Thom said. A lot of companies these days they want to do bigger and edgier or they want to do smaller or grander, closer, anything to just get out there and be different. But this is simple. It’s a story about love. It’s not small. But it’s not one of those one place pieces. But it’s not one of those gigantic musicals. It’s a story that has a good pace and tells a great tale without being edgy or gritty or anything like that. And that’s something that hasn’t been done in a really long time. And we’re doing it here now.
Excellent reasons to come see this show. Really quickly, I know we have #weirdfrance going on, but if you had to come up with a quick handle for this show from your character’s point of view…
13 Dead Husbands plays through March 29, 2015 at Cohesion Theatre Company currently performing at The Church on The Square— 1025 s. Potomac Avenue in Baltimore’s charming Canton neighborhood. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.
Click here to read Part 1 of #weirdfrance