(Playwright Darren Callahan recently interviewed Mason Hill and filed this report): “Why?” It’s a common question put to an actor. Why that role, why that character? Mason Hill has kids and a wife – why put everyone through all that…drama?
“Okay,” he says, as if he’s settling in to tell a long joke, then raises his low-rent beer bottle up to his big beard (one that would make that guy from Iron & Wine jealous). He drinks and finally explains. “If you read the play, the actual text – not see it, but read it – when that guy enters the room, there’s a big ol’ description of him – it goes on and on. And in that description is the reason every American male actor between 25 and 40 wants to play that guy on stage.”
The character he’s talking about is the notorious Stanley Kowalski.
Though only one piece of the puzzle that is Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, working class louse Stanley Kowalski is right up there with Frank from Blue Velvet or The Joker in The Dark Knight for dangerous unpredictability. Impulsive, to say the least, Stanley is a man who is so brutally honest, he’s sometimes just plain brutal.
“I don’t hate him,” confesses Mr. Hill, “and his wife doesn’t hate him. He doesn’t feel he’s a bad person – he feels virtuous. He wonders, ‘Why aren’t more people like me? Why don’t they really see what they are, what they want, where they belong?’” But to play such a villain? “I don’t see him as a villain,” says Mr. Hill. “If he’s not loveable, he’s a fucking monster. Who wants to play a monster? I have to find the reasons his wife loves him, and the reason friends would love him.”
Charley Jordan, a member of Polarity Ensemble Theatre, the company behind this unique revival of the classic, remarks, “When I heard Mason was going to play Stanley, I was very happy for Polarity, and then I was very, very happy for Mason.”
Having grown exponentially since defining himself as a killer Iago in Othello, then a rock star Hamlet, and again appearing in last season’s quadrilogy of weirdness that was his four simultaneous roles in The White Airplane, Mason Hill has proven quite capable of slaying Williams’ bad boy.
The play’s director, the notable Ann Keen, has said of Mr. Hill, “There are certain roles an actor has only a small window to play. You don’t want to be fifty and play Stanley Kowalski. The text says he was relatively fresh out of military service, and he isn’t a general. When a chance comes along, an actor will want to take it.”
When asked how might an actor play ‘impulsive’ when everything is rigorously rehearsed, Mr. Hill smiles mischievously. In The White Airplane, he was known for curveballs. “There are certain actors you know can react to anything. If I throw a punch early to get a surprise, you want to be sure that actor isn’t going to blank and forget their lines. It hasn’t reached that point of ‘anything goes’ yet in rehearsals, but we’ll get there. The others might even do it to me!”
A Streetcar Named Desire performances will take place at the Polarity Ensemble Theatre in the Josephinum Academy, 1500 N Bell, Chicago. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. Opening Night: Monday, October 5th at 8pm. $19 general admission. $10 previews October 2nd – 4th. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-838-3006 or by visiting Brown Paper Tickets.