Q: What attracted you to this project? Were you familiar with the script, the company, or did it just sound fun and interesting? A: The story attracted me to the project, as did Dustin and Jolin. I also enjoy working with folks I don't know. Although I had directed both James Sullivan and Michael Tuefel in "AS IS" just this past December, they were fantastic, I had not worked with either of them. And, I needed to be involved in a comedy. Q: Ben Hecht is known for his fast-talking characters and scripts. Did you feel any pressure to bring your performance "up to speed" to convey that screwball style? A: No, I don't feel any pressure to convey that "style". I believe by just playing the truth of the moment, the quick thinking, "politico", passionate man comes to the surface. Q: No names, please: have you ever worked on a production that was similarly chaotic behind the scenes to the making of "Gone With The Wind"? A: Nothing as clearly chaotic as the making of "Gone with the Wind." But I can certainly imagine. I've certainly come close. Q: Hecht also did an incredible amount of uncredited work. Do you prefer being an actor onstage and receiving the plaudits immediately from the audience, or working behind the scenes as a director/producer/writer? A: This is a great question. I love embodying the life of somebody else, seeing the world through their eyes and taking the audience on a ride only to return safely after 2 or so hours. If an Actor says they don't enjoy the applause I would believe them to be lying. Of course I like the applause. there is a little ego in what we do. But, of course I don't do it for the applause. As a Director I'm somewhat jealous of the actors who continue to explore the roles long after I'm gone. I feel ripped away from my family prematurely. However, I enjoy creating an environment where each artist can do their very best creative work and I've learned from some amazing mentors and friends that above all this thing we do ought to be fun. If not, why do it. Life is way to short. So, to answer your question I prefer neither but embrace either, I'm passionate about each for different reasons. Q: You have an extensive mix of comedy and drama on your resume. I was surprised to discover that in addition to his screwball classics like "Twentieth Century," "Nothing Sacred" and "Design For Living," Hecht also wrote dramas such as "Wuthering Heights," "Scarface" and "Notorious"—quite a change of pace. Do you have a preference for comedy vs. drama? A: I have no preference. However, this past year I've gone from ADDRESS UNKNOWN-dealing with the rise of fascism and how it comes between a friendship to destroy these men; to ORSON'S SHADOW- playing Kenneth Tynan a witty, troubled man killing himself by smoking, doing whatever it takes to create art; to HOUSE AND GARDEN- a comedy with quite dark overtones to AS IS- a world of fear, prejudice, pride and passion, the first to fight were the first lost. It was the first AIDS play. It did make humanity "look it's ugly mug in the face". So, as I said before I'm ready for a comedy. I loved the Bathhouse Theater's Shakespeare adaptations—"Midsummer" in the 1950's, "Macbeth" as a Western, "Twelfth Night" in the Jazz Age, a Kabuki "Lear." I also loved their more off-the-wall shows, like "Invasion of the Wet Ones." Q: Did you work on any of those shows when you worked with the Bathhouse in Seattle? A: At the Bathhouse Theatre I played in John Dos Pasos' "U.S.A." directed by Jack Clay. I played Valentino and others. I was in my mid to late 20's. Ah, youth. Q: Do you have a favorite role of all time? A: Of all time is a lot to consider. I find it very difficult to choose one role over another. Leontes- I played "The Winter's Tale" with Maureen Porter as Hermione and Sarah Lucht as Paulina, directed by Jon Kretzu at Tygres Heart Shakespeare Company. This production reminded me how glorious the work can be. There are certainly others which have meant a great deal to me. Garry Essendine In PRESENT LAUGHTER, John and James Jeckyl in LOVE!VALOUR!COMPASSION!, and Carl in LONELY PLANET are just three of the many. Q: What role have you not tackled yet that’s on your “short list?” A: Shylock, my short list changes all the time. Sometimes my short list is very long. Q: What show would you love to direct? A: I hesitate to say which shows I'd like to direct for that changes too, pretty quickly. PLAYING FOR TIME, THE FOX, and LOVES LABOURS LOST. I've been thinking about all three, and there are others that folk have asked me about and I can always find an in...well, most of the time. If I'm not moved by my initial reading of a play it most likely means I oughtn't consider it. I've been learning to trust my instincts even more acutely. Q: Are you a "Gone With the Wind" fan? If so, do you remember the first time you saw it? Who’s your favorite character? A: Although I am a fan I'm not fanatic about it. I think my favorite character is the production itself. Lavish in every way. When I do see it, I'm always entertained. Q: What are your hobbies when you’re not doing theater? A: I would say gardening, relaxing and even when I'm involved in a production I'm still teaching and coaching privately and looking to the future to plant some seeds. Q: How do you view the Portland theater scene right now? A: It feels as if the Portland Theatre Scene is doing quite nicely. it seems as if the bar continues to raise. More classes being offered, more actors involved with productions. It feels good. But again this is my view, ask somebody else and they may offer a very different opinion. Q: With all the places you've worked, do you see Portland as your home for the foreseeable future? A: Yes. It certainly won't prevent me from working out of town. Q: Do you have any other roles or productions currently in the pipeline where audiences can see you again? A: Yes, but I really don't like to talk about them until the information has gone out by the theatre itself. So many things can happen before the first rehearsal. Let's just say that if things go the way they are shaping up for the remainder of this season into 2008-2009 season, it will be exciting. but things have a way of changing and if nothing else, in our profession, it's great to be adaptable.
Michael is referring to "Moonlight and Magnolias." Public Playhouse's production is running through March 15 at CoHo Theater.
This interview Michael Mendelson was conducted by Dean Backus, dramaturge and founding member of Public Playhouse.
Mendelson didn't mention his playing the role of Man in "Laughing Wild," but it was one of the best, funniest performances in a comedy I have ever seen. That must have been 15 years ago or more, and I still get a smile or a chuckle just thinking about him. Jennifer Moore, too, was phenomenal.-A. Collins
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