INTERVIEW: Brian Friel play, ‘The Home Place,’ plays Irish Rep in NYC

Christopher Randolph, Stephen Pilkington, John Windsor-Cunningham, Johnny Hopkins and Gordon Tashjian star in The Home Place at Irish Repertory Theatre. Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg.

Brian Friel is one of the most celebrated Irish playwrights in history. His dramas have played stages around the world, and a few years after his death, his unbelievably extensive oeuvre continues to engross and engage audiences.

Friel’s The Home Place is now playing the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City. Detailing events that took place in the late 19th century in Donegal, Ireland, the drama is both eye-opening and challenging, especially how it showcases the historical misuse of Charles Darwin’s beliefs.

The play, directed by Charlotte Moore, runs at the Irish Rep through Nov. 9 on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage. The cast features a number of notable actors, including Christopher Randolph, who plays Dr. Richard Gore.

Randolph is an accomplished performer is known for his voice roles in the Metal Gear Solid video game series. Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Randolph about the new production. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

What first attracted you to this character and this play?

This play is the final original full length from one of the great dramatists of our time, and it’s barely been seen in America — and never in New York — so I was very excited to be asked to be a part of the production. The attention to language and character is so clear and detailed; it’s challenging to get it right but a pleasure to perform once you find your way into it. The character I’m playing is bright, articulate, amusing and frightening, which is a fun combination of traits to embody.

From an actor’s perspective, what is special about Brian Friel’s words?

Friel knows so much about history, language and culture, and he has an ability to put all that knowledge into his characters without it seeming at all forced or pedantic. He also understands how people speak, so all his characters come across as very real and grounded, even as they are sometimes speaking in incredibly evocative and poetic ways. It never feels forced, and yet it’s incredibly beautiful language.

Did you have to do any research for the role? Any research into Charles Darwin?

I didn’t do much research into Darwin, other than what I already knew from back in school. The Origin of the Species is less than 20 years old when this play is taking place, so in some way his theories are pretty new to these characters. Richard (my character) is a scientist, so, of course, he’s read Darwin and I think mostly accepts the theories, though Richard has his own rather disturbing take on them. We did do a bit of research into the accepted methods of measuring heads and faces in anthropometry, and it was very interesting to see how seriously most scientists took this idea, which has now been completely discredited.

What’s it like to work with Charlotte Moore?

Charlotte is remarkable — feisty, and full of energy and very much in command. She gave me plenty of room to work and find my own way into the character, but whenever I needed her, she was (and still is) there to help. She’s been declared a ‘Legend of the Theatre’ by the Off-Broadway Alliance, and I think she truly is. It’s been great fun to work with her on this show.

How did you first get attached to Metal Gear Solid? Do you enjoy voice work?

I kind of stumbled into MGS through Kris Zimmerman, who had been a teacher of mine and asked me to come audition for MGS I when she was casting it in the late ’90’s. I originally was asked to read for the role of Snake, but it quickly became clear I wasn’t right for that. Then they handed me copy for Otacon in the booth, along with a drawing of what he looked like in that incarnation of the game. I realized that the drawing actually looked a lot like me, if I had longer hair and was wearing my wire-rimmed glasses. That was encouraging, and I read the new copy for the audition. And things progressed from there. It’s been almost 20 years now I’ve been involved in the franchise, as either Otacon or Huey, which is a very long time. So many people have literally grown up with that series, and I think it’s had a huge influence on gaming. I’m very proud to be a small part of it.

I love doing voice work. It’s challenging but in a completely different way from performing in theatre or film. I’d love to do more of it, and if I was still living in L.A., I think I’d probably be doing it all the time. Most of that kind of work is done out there, unfortunately. That said, some big games do record here in New York City, and I’ve worked on two or three in the past couple of years, both voice and Mo-Cap [motion capture]. It’s always a blast, and I’m totally open to doing more of it whenever the opportunity comes up.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

The Home Place is currently playing the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City. Click here for more information and tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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