Photo: Benjamin Marcum Photography
By Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Louisville actor Neill Robertson has twice played Maurizio Le Grande for Pandora Productions: first in 2012 for My Big Gay Italian Wedding and again in September of this year for its sequel, My Big Gay Italian Funeral. It was after one of those performances, just one month ago, that the playwright himself, Anthony Wilkinson, invited Neill to bring his memorable take on the outrageous character to New York City. Both are still running and Neill was asked to be a guest in one performance of each play. Saturday, November 8th and Sunday, November 9th. He teaches at Walden Theatre and is also an Artistic Associate with Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company.
Keith Waits: Anthony Wilkinson asked you personally to come to NYC and perform. Did you have any idea that was going to happen?
Neill Robertson: I had no idea! We didn’t find out about him coming down until about a week before tech. He joined several board members and myself after the show for a drink, and we had a pretty quick conversation before he offered me the shows.
KW: Have you seen the NY productions?
NR: I have not seen the NY productions of either show. When we did Wedding, I was in New York shortly before rehearsals began, and I had actually looked into seeing it. The show closed three days before I got there. I’m glad I didn’t see it though, as I had no preconceived idea of what Maurizio should be at all. I began the process with a completely clean slate. Lucas Adams (director of My Big Gay Italian Wedding at Pandora) and I built him up from there.
KW: How long have the NY shows been running?
NR: Wedding was revived when Funeral premiered. They have both been running since November of 2012. They hit such a specific audience up there. Pandora has an extremely loyal audience, and they have thoroughly enjoyed both productions, but you can only imagine how a show like that sells with Jersey to the west, and Staten Island to the south. Both shows have an open ended run.
KW: You’ve played Maurizio brilliantly in both of the Pandora productions, yet stepping into such long-running productions must be daunting. Are you nervous?
NR: Anthony Wilkinson insisted that I bring my own wardrobe, and perform Maurizio exactly as I did in the Pandora production, so I don’t have to necessarily worry about people trying to change anything about it. I feel very confident that I can take this character I’ve worked on, and apply it to a different production. If anything, I’m really excited to revisit both shows in new settings. I can’t wait to see what the New York cast brings to the table, and how I can discover all kinds of new moments with them. It is a very fast process – that is what makes me nervous. I have a few hours of rehearsal to learn blocking for both shows, and then I do Wedding on Saturday night, and Funeral on Sunday night. I also know that both shows have changed, however slightly I do not know, and I have no idea what to expect! It should be an exciting weekend.
KW: Playing that character looks like a romp. How is it different from other roles you’ve played?
NR: Playing Maurizio is so liberating. Actors are often trained or directed to simplify, and to relax, and to keep things natural. I am a big fan of realism, but I’m an equally big fan of style. I love that Maurizio gives me the chance to play on stage, and be as campy and ridiculous as I possibly can be, but I always make sure to play the moment-to-moment reality. As large and flamboyant as Maurizio is, he is still a human being, listening and responding to the circumstances around him. Every character should be like that, no matter how nuanced or melodramatic you are. I’ve had many opportunities to really be myself on stage, like Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman, or Aidan Ainsley (Auctioning the Ainsleys), but Maurizio is such an unfiltered manifestation of every side of myself as an artist. I can’t express to you how fun it is to step into his shoes.
KW: New York is not a new experience for you. Is there any chance this could be a first step towards going back? Does Louisville risk losing you?
NR: At this moment in time, I am very content being where I am, and I am not currently going anywhere. I couldn’t tell you that I will be here forever, though. If a really wonderful opportunity came up for me that was out of town, and all my ducks were in a row, I’d go for it. You have to take these opportunities when life gives them to you.
Tickets are available for both NYC shows: Telecharge.com
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com[/box_light]