A Dialogue with a Dandy

By Pang, Cecilia J. | Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

A Dialogue with a Dandy


Pang, Cecilia J., Restoration and 18th Century Theatre Research


In order to further understand Danny Scheie the actor, to see if he were truly as excessively vain and in love with himself as his character is, I met with him one glorious afternoon in March at Balboa Park between his matinee and evening performances for a chat. Deliberately dressed in his "LA casual chic" pink shirt and designer denim and hoping not to appear as superbly concerned about his appearance and manners as a conventional fop, Scheie tries to come across as a regular bloke who happens to know how to ooze with charm and confidence. But make no mistake. Betrayed by his pumped up biceps and sexy salt-and-pepper sprinkled hair, he is a real dandy at heart, a vivacious debonair, who is also superbly articulate, incredibly bright, insanely sharp, and nastily funny like his Restoration forerunner. By the end of the interview, I am utterly convinced that it is precisely his studious but sassy smartness that puts him in a league of his own.

CJP: What attracts you to this play?

DS: I like Amy Freed's writing-Her Beard of Avon is very smart. The combination of intellectual rigor colliding with contemporary sensibilities with these maniacal canonical works-obscure canonical works that are like PhD subject matter-the western canon, which I like a lot. I know it's very shameful to say that but here it is. I like the subject matter as well as its post-modem frame.

When I first heard of a staged-reading of the play at the South Coast Repertory, I got a peep at some of the lines such as "rape myself in my own BATH" and even lines that were cut such as "the brain is a shelf for the skull." I said to myself "I have to play this part. " Basically what I'm saying is I fell in love with this part because of its sense of humor; it's smart, it's nasty, and it's very funny!

CJP: What research did you do for this character? Did you read both plays?

DS: I did, especially since some of the lines are straight out of The Relapse. My first scene from the second act, for instance, was completely Vanbrugh. Whereas Amy Freed completely rewrote my first speech about fashion because what Gibber wrote is hard for the contemporary audience to understand. I really think Amy did an amazing job wedding the classical with the contemporary sense of humor.

The truth is I did not read those plays in depth; I feel that I've done my PhD and I don't need to do any more of those. So I only read the parts of Fashion and Foppington and not the entire plays. Of course my intention was to read everything Cibber ever wrote, Vanbrugh ever wrote. Some of the actors intentionally did not read the original plays. Amy said to us "you can or not," it's entirely up to us whether we get something out of it. The fact is this has to work as its own play because this audience is not going to know what Restoration drama is. Also I did watch the movie Tom Jones . . . since Fielding and Cibber were contemporaries. And the French film Ridicule. I bought An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber but I thought it pretty slow moving. I also found an audio tape through Amazon with a Canadian actor who did a one-man show as Cibber.

CJP: Your performance demonstrated a vocal pyrotechnics phonetically. Did you consciously play with the alphabet?

DS: No, but I did use an accent modeled after Mr. Mantalini, the character I played in Nicholas Nicholby. Cibber did write the character's speech in an accent but it's different than the one I'm doing. It's sliding over the "Ah" sounds to the "oe" sounds but I'm taking the "- oe" sound to the extreme so it sounds like "-jioe" as in "-mijioedm. "

CJP: The way you grind your "m" is almost like a cat "meowing."

DS: I think there's a class of people in England still must talk that way-it's pretentious like Noel Coward with the "a" like Queen Elizabeth said on TV "DiAna" which is so over-bred. In the original play, Cibber wrote "four-o'clAck" and he calls his brother "TAm" instead of "Tom. …

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