'Stuff Happens' in Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre Production
Carter, Alice T., Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
For actors Allen Gilmore and Pascale Armand, developing their roles in "Stuff Happens" has been an experience unlike any other in their careers.
Gilmore and Armand are appearing in the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre production of David Hare's play that begins performances today.
Part documentary, part imaginative reconstruction, "Stuff Happens" is Hare's take on the closed-door deliberations, political maneuvering, public statements and private discussions, between and among President George W. Bush, his administrative team and world leaders, that led to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
In "Stuff Happens," Gilmore plays Colin Powell, who was Bush's then-secretary of state. Armand appears as Bush's then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who now serves as his secretary of state.
They're finding that playing real-life characters dealing with recent events is different from playing fictional characters or even historical figures such as Brutus and Portia, the characters they just finished playing in Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre's production of "Julius Caesar."
With fictional or long-dead characters, such as those in "Julius Caesar," actors have more license to construct their own interpretations or motivations, and create a character's inner life.
"My Portia is going to be different from another actress'," Armand says.
But when the characters are people who appear on our television screens, and the story evolves daily in newspaper reports, more authenticity is required.
Consequently, actors find they must call on different tools and resources to shape their portrayals.
"These are actual persons represented onstage, and you have a personal reaction to it," Gilmore says. "These events inspire in me such a personal reaction that the trial has been to remove my personal ideas and crawl inside the logic of the character and leave Allen's ideas out of it," Gilmore says.
In other roles, it was enough to find clues provided in the text and interpret them to invent a three-dimensional character from her own perspective, Armand says.
"I have to approach (my character) without judgment because she is here and living. To insert my judgment would be wrong. The challenge is to find that part of me that intersects with her. She's living. She's here," Armand says.
Part of the challenge of shaping these two characters is that they prefer to keep themselves in the background, Armand and Gilmore say.
Rice can be seen testifying at congressional hearings. But those appearances seldom offer Armand the information she's seeking.
"I need to know tangible things -- the way the woman carries herself, the way she interacts with people, how far her smile goes when she's thinking about something. There isn't that much coverage. She's very good at staying in the background," Armand says. "Every time I see her, she's got a desk in front of her as she's being grilled. …