After a whirlwind of success on Broadway, featuring five Tony Award wins including the 2015 win for Best Play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has launched its national tour and has landed in Washington DC. In a TheatreBloom exclusive interview we take a moment to talk with Gene Gillette, playing the father character of Ed Boone, to hear what the experience with this evocative drama has been like.
Thank you so much for giving us a moment of your morning, if you’d like to give us a brief introduction, we can get started.
Gene Gillette: I’m Gene and I play Ed in The Curious Incident, he’s the father of Christopher. Some of my favorite credits, let’s see, most recently I did Macbeth with Frances McDormand out at Berkley (Berkley Repertory Theatre) that was a lot of fun, it was a blast. Daniel Sullivan directed it and Conleth Hill played Macbeth, it was a really, really good time. I had a chance to do the tour of War Horse before that. I did the second leg of that tour. That was also with the National Theatre (National Theatre of Great Britain.) I’ve worked at Shakespeare Theatre Company and The Folger Theatre down here in DC. I was also did this play called columbinus, directed by PJ Paparelli, who was the old associate Artistic Director at Shakespeare Theatre here in DC. That was at Round House Silver Spring. I’ve worked around the country in regional theatres, I’ve been very lucky and I’ve had a lot of fun with this career so far. It’s been a blast.
What was it about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that made you take interest in the project and want to be a part of it?
Gene: Well, Marianne Elliott had directed it, and she had directed War Horse, and I had heard about the show when I was out at Berkley doing Macbeth. I knew they were getting ready to do the national tour and I thought, “I should submit myself for that!” because I had such a blast working on War Horse. So I read the book, and as soon as I got back to New York I went and saw the play. I had my agent submit me for it straight away. I just love the work that they do over there [at the National Theatre of Great Britain], it’s such a different structure than in America. They get time to develop these projects, time that you just don’t get in America. The movement aspects of it with Frantic Assembly (Frantic Assembly Choreography) is gorgeous, and I think Marianne’s direction is just beautiful. I’m just so excited to be a part of this second one.
You mentioned that you had read the book, how do you find that the book differs from the stage show?
Gene: It all takes place inside of Christopher’s head. I think that the play does a really good job of showing that, both with the technical aspects and then with all of the movement that’s choreographed by Frantic Assembly. I think it even opens up new doors that you don’t get in the book, doors into Christopher’s mind and how it works. They’ve done a really beautiful job with it. And I love the book too, they’re both very individual experiences.
Are you similar to or very different from Ed Boone?
Gene: Oh I don’t know. I don’t think I’m that similar, I don’t have any children of my own. But I do get cast as the gruff dad a lot of the time. I guess people really see that in me. But Ed is a gruff guy but he’s got a good heart to him too. That’s a really tough question, I’ll have to think some more about it.
Is there a moment in the show that defines the show for you?
Gene: Well I don’t want to give anything away but there’s a moment at the end of the first act that’s really a defining moment for my character and for Christopher’s character. That moment between our two characters really hits home for me. It really gave me an ability to hook into the play and really want to be a part of it. It’s a really beautiful moment and I do believe people will enjoy it if they are able to come out and see the show.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge taking on this project?
Gene: It’s the hardest show I’ve ever been a part of. It’s physically demanding and then there’s also all the emotional demands that go along with going on this journey that Edgar goes through all during the play. We’ve only been in previews for roughly a week and before that we were in rehearsals for six weeks. The mornings were completely devoted to physical stuff: movement and getting everything choreographed. And then the afternoons were scene work. So we would come in and do this boot camp. It was literally like a boot camp, just physical activity getting everybody into shape. And then we’d spend three hours working on the movement, you’d go and have lunch, and then you’d come back and work on scene work. You’re drained physically in the morning and then when you get back from lunch you’ve got to dive into these really emotional scenes and you end up being drained emotionally. It’s been challenging but it’s been fun. It’s the most demanding but also one of the most satisfying shows that I have ever been a part of in my life. It’s just been a blast.
What do you think the message is that this show is going to present to audiences that see it?
Gene: I think everybody has their own journey in life. It also reminds us how important family is. We all have our own challenges and gifts and we have to celebrate them.
What would you say taking on this project has taught you about yourself?
Gene: That’s another tough one! I’m 42 now, and I haven’t been a part of something this physically and emotionally demanding in a long time. It’s just shown me that I’m still able to rise to the occasion. It’s just been so great to be a part of this ensemble, it’s such a beautiful group of people.
Why do you want people to come and see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time?
Gene: It’s such a beautiful play. It’s such a gorgeous play, the movement, the sound and the lights, the story, it’s all just so beautiful. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about finding yourself and coming of age. I think people will really, really enjoy it if they’re able to come out and see it. I’m so excited to be back in DC— I haven’t been here since 2011— and it’s such a cool town.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time plays through October 23, 2016 on the Opera House Stage of The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts— 2700 F Street NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or purchase them online.