by Darren Callahan, photos by Emily GranataWould you trade places with Tom Jones? On paper, he seems to lead a charmed life. But look a little closer. “The common answer might be ‘yes,’ but I wouldn’t trade places with him,” says actor Marcus Davis. Davis plays the title character in Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s 2012 stage production of Tom Jones. “Tom may have women throwing themselves at him, but every time he gets involved with one, someone seems to be looking to stab him or beat him to a pulp.”
Despite that, the treatment Davis has had in the press has been anything but cruel. In a three-star review, the Chicago Tribune said: “Davis’ choirboy features make for a wholly believable Tom.” The Chicago Reader raved: “Marcus Davis and Alex Fisher are fresh-faced and likable.” In a four-star review, Chicago Stage Style said: “Marcus Davis embodies the more-sinned-against-than-sinning Jones (reminding me of the naively sexy Hugh Grant at his best).” Read reviews.
So how does one uniquely portray a rake, a roustabout, a Man About Town – particularly one known to centuries of readers via Henry Fielding’s classic novel (adapted for Polarity by playwright David Hammond)?
Davis has learned that when someone watches a play, they register what happens as though it were real life. Having the audience come along for the ride, with sympathy for Mr. Jones and all his travails is at the forefront of Davis’ and director Maggie Speer’s minds.
“Every character I do is also an opportunity to learn about myself. The thing that I’ve loved about working on Tom is discovering his pure altruism. His brother treats him like a second class citizen, and still Tom’s sympathies for him are genuine and remain so until the end of the story. There’s so much cynicism in the world today; I enjoy the relief of creating a world where the few who are honest win out in the end.”
But, really – Tom is a bit of a bastard, isn’t he?Davis may not agree, but he gets to the heart of it when he acknowledges his fellow actors. “First, I’d be remiss not to give a nod to the women who have to put up me and throw themselves at me. They’ve all been good sports. Second, all the people that have fights with me in the show have been fantastic. Stage combat is a big thing for me, and it’s especially when you’re working with good partners, which everyone has been.”
Speaking of ACTION! SEX! DRAMA!…
For a detailed and involving show, with a large cast and ambitious staging, it’s important to keep one’s energy up. “I think everyone underestimates how much energy they have,” says Davis. “Any runner can tell you that they stop feeling tired at a certain point. Not to say my task is as grueling as a marathon, but shutting off the brain and letting the body just do what it knows how to do is the same in both activities. Besides, an audience is a more potent source of energy than any caffeine or B vitamin I’ve had.”Tom Jones provides Davis a strong vehicle to flex his comic and dramatic muscle, but when asked about any concern of comparisons with past Tom Joneses, particularly the iconic film performance by Albert Finney in the 1963 Tony Richardson version, he replies, “To make a truthful character, actors have to be truthful to themselves. That actually takes care of most of the job when it comes to setting their interpretation apart. I have a unique experience that I bring to the table. If I’m true to myself, then the very things that set me apart as a person will hopefully also be the very thing that makes my performance unique.”
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Tom Jones performs at 1500 N. Bell Street in Wicker Park through April 29. Tickets are $19. Senior discount tickets (age 65 and older) are $15, and student discount tickets are $10 with valid ID. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Seating is general admission. Click here to purchase tickets online or call the box office at 800-838-3006.