By May S. Ruiz
A Noise Within (ANW) culminates its 2018-2019 season with another staging of ‘Noises Off’ that’s guaranteed to make audiences laugh their socks off. This smash hit production of Michael Frayn’s riotous comedy will run on a limited engagement from May 21 through June 9.
Frayn’s joyfully out-of-control British farce features an under-rehearsed and over-worked cast and crew with a penchant for drama more personal than professional, preparing for the world premiere of a new play aptly titled ‘Nothing On.’ As the production progresses, the bumbling cast brings the house down – literally.
Reprising his role as Garry Lejeune, is Kasey Mahaffy, who was recently awarded by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) ‘Best Lead Performance’ for his role as Rosencrantz in ANW’s production of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.’ ANW also won the McCulloh Award for ‘Best Revival for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ and Geoff Elliott won for ‘Best Direction’ for the play.
Still basking from his newly received honor, Mahaffy sits down with me to talk about being a resident artist (RA) at ANW, ‘Noises Off,’ winning the LADCC award, and how theatre changed his life.
“I always knew I wanted to be an actor. My parents had cable and, when I was really young, I would watch a lot of Tom Hanks comedies like ‘Splash’ and ‘The Money Pit.’ I wanted to do what he was doing. But that was as far as that went. I wasn’t talented at anything; I couldn’t do sports – I couldn’t catch a pop fly, I couldn’t run. I was pretty good at Nintendo but that was about it. I felt worthless; I was an insecure, fat, gay (but didn’t know it) kid. In junior high, I was picked apart, shoved in lockers, and called faggot. Children would chase me after school and every day I would come home crying. I spent two years in agony, sobbing and wishing I could snap my fingers and disappear. I don’t want to trivialize it, but I was so sad, depressed, and scared of bullies that I contemplated suicide. I didn’t just want to hide, I wanted to disappear. In my heart if this was what life was, I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.”
“But I stuck with it through that summer before high school and then I saw this group of people in high school putting on a play, which prompted me to audition for the theatre program,” continues Mahaffy. “I got into my first play which was ‘Dr. Doolittle’ where I was Monkey #3. It was my premiere and I was hooked! I instantly had a family who told me that I had value, that I had something to contribute to the group. They laughed at my jokes and said I was handsome. It was the first time in my life someone thought I was handsome! There wasn’t even a question, I knew I was home. That was when I was 13 and this year I’m going to be 40 and it will be my home for the rest of my life. Theatre illuminated a way out for me; it’s the place that made me feel good and trust myself.”
Mahaffy, a Portland, Oregon native, went on to earn his BFA in Acting from Southern Oregon University. He completed an Actors’ Ensemble Internship at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts (PCPA) in Santa Maria, California then moved to New York City and did regional theatre for three or four years before coming to Los Angeles.
“I did the Hollywood schlog and some plays, but mostly I worked in retail,” Mahaffy reveals. “I was miserable at selling women’s shoes at Bloomingdale’s and that’s the worst thing you could ever wish on someone to do. My entire life changed when Geoff (Elliott) and Julia (Rodriguez-Elliott) invited me to be an RA at A Noise Within because that meant my day job was theatre. I didn’t have to wait a table again, sell shoes, or work in a mall. I could come here and do what I love and make money and have insurance. I can still get to audition and work for TV. I personally feel that I’m the luckiest actor in this town.”
The role of Garry Lejeune was one he had dreamed of. Mahaffy says, “I’ve wanted to play this part for 23 years. I originally saw ‘Noises Off’ when I was in high school – three acts of an ensemble running up and down stairs, tripping around, and telling the funniest jokes that I’ve ever heard. I looked at the guy who played Garry and I thought, ‘That! That’s the role I want! But it took 23 years for me to get it. I’ve auditioned for many productions of it and have been offered Tim, the stage manager, two different times in my career and turned them down. Nothing against him, Tim is a great part but I didn’t want to be in a play where I was watching my dream role be done by somebody else. I knew that Garry was the role for me. Geoff and Julia took a chance on me. I’ve played some really great supporting parts here but up until then, that was the biggest thing they’d given me. From day one, I knew who he was, what I wanted to do with it, and where I wanted to take it.
“Last year we had half the rehearsal time because it was a remount and most of the cast had already done it. But I was new and I had, arguably, the hardest and biggest role. I had a condensed period to memorize all my lines. It was a crazy rehearsal process. This sounds so tacky, but I think the thing that helped me get there quickly was that intense desire to play this part. Of course, Geoff and Julia, co-directing it and having experienced this play a few times before, gave me pointers on what to avoid and the pitfalls. You really have to pay attention to Michael Frayn’s direction particularly in Act 2 which has practically no words, just running around backstage. It’s wild. You can put your own spin to these roles but it’s all in his script. You have to do what’s written or you get off track and the whole thing falls down like a house of cards.
“It went so well, but it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I had to be in peak physical shape – I had never been in that shape my whole life so I’m kind of excited to get back to it so I can get abs again. I do three hours of cardio and I could eat anything I want during the show, which is fabulous. But it’s tough on the body – three hours of non-stop running and shouting. I have to fall down a flight of stairs twice – pants on, pants off, and shoelaces tied. It’s pretty taxing but worth it.”
While the actors put in so much physical exertion, they make it look like they’re having fun on stage and the audience never catches them sweating. ‘Noises Off’ is really a play made to showcase ANW’s ensemble work but the show belongs to Mahaffy’s Garry. He’s the one who’s doing the most on stage, trying to right all the wrongs, and keeping the show on track. He also has the best punch lines.
Mahaffy is extremely proud to be at ANW. He says, “We’re pushing and stretching ourselves to do the shows. This company has always been incredible but, in the last five or six years, I’ve felt that they’re leaping into a new level of excellence. Julia is fantastic, she can tell a story while making everything visually stunning. Geoff, whom I had never been directed by and then got directed by him two shows in a row – ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ and ‘Glass Menagerie,’ – is an actor’s director. As an actor himself, he knows how to speak like an actor and how to deliver a note, so he gets these acting ensembles just singing. They’re in a really exciting place artistically and our productions are more ambitious. Audiences can tell. They come up to us and say ‘We’ve been subscribers for ten years and the shows are great, but they’ve gotten better and better the last three or four years and we’re bringing in people!’
“A Noise Within opened doors for me. I’d never been up for anything before now and I just won the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award a couple of weeks ago for ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.’ I tied with Tom Hanks! He’s my idol! Watching him in movies all those years ago made me want to be an actor – it sort of looped back around. He wouldn’t remember me but I’ve met him a few times, mostly during catering jobs when I served him shrimp, and he’s just as lovely as you think he is. It would be a dream come true to work with him one day. But it was a neat moment, particularly, to call home and tell my mom ‘I just won best actor in L.A. and I tied with Tom Hanks!,’ and my mom going, ‘What the f– are you talking about? Wha….’ I’m sorry, I know I sound really smug, but it was just this really glorious moment for me.”
In the last two years, Mahaffy has done frequent TV guest appearances, like NCIS. Additionally, he’s had some life-changing auditions for a network series – they were at the point where it was him and another actor. And while they didn’t work out, he knows it was a matter of time so he has to keep away at it.
Mahaffy adds, “I’ve also done a couple of those Wix commercials, which were filmed in Tel Aviv, Israel. I had to fly there – it was really beautiful and exotic and fun. Next month I’m going to Hong Kong to do a play. I’m flying around the world to do art; I’m getting closer and closer with those TV jobs. My TV agent is so supportive – they come out here and see our plays. So when they see ‘Noises Off’ they know how to pitch me and call casting directors and producers and say, ‘Listen, you’ve got to come over and see this kid fall down a flight of stairs,’ and they do. Ever since I became an RA here, my life has been expanding and I owe this company the world for that.”
As to roles he would like to play someday, Mahaffy discloses, “I’ll tell you an interesting story. My other dream role was Tom in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ and they offered it to Raf (Rafael Goldstein, a resident artist an ANW). He’s my brother so it was fine, but I was going to be a little bit jealous nevertheless. Geoff said, ‘I want you to play the ‘gentleman caller.’’ I read it 15 years ago and I just remember him as the guy who comes in, kisses Laura, and they dance and then he leaves. But in the rehearsal of that show, I realized Jim is the role I want to do, not Tom. There are so many pockets and corners of this character that you could explore. I had the time of my life playing the ‘gentleman caller’ because of that, which surprised me.
“I’ve only got a few more years left to play Prior in ‘Angels in America.’ It’s another role I’ve been chasing around for 20 years. There have been other opportunities where I’ve almost gotten it, but it wasn’t quite right. But, who knows, maybe they’ll do it here one day. I’m not egotistical enough to think they’d do a show based on their RA or do star vehicles for people. But we have a whole group of RAs and we can do ‘Angels in America’ here – it’s one of the hardest shows to put on and it hasn’t been done in L.A.
“Coming from the theatre, I like shows that have different layers – those which are actor and character-driven, like ‘Russian Doll.’ I don’t know if you’ve seen it on Netflix, but the tone of ‘Russian Doll’ is very much like what I enjoy – dark, funny, quirky, and surprising. A dream would be a series on HBO. People who create for cable, like Allan Ball, who did ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘True Blood’ for HBO, want to get to the nitty gritty of stuff and his characters express their ugliness and their pain in the most truthful manner possible. You really can’t do that with network because they’re worried about advertisers and if they’re going to push away people in the mid-west.”
“Being able to play a variety of roles is one of the blessings of being at A Noise Within. And to win an award for a show that was like an existential treatise on death – what happens when people disappear from your life – not long after my brother’s passing meant a lot. I dedicated that show to his memory, he was with me the entire time. And then there’s ‘Noises Off’ where you carry boxes and fall down stairs – they couldn’t be any more different in tone. But that’s why we do theatre and the fun of being an RA is that you could do crazy, dark things one show and then walk around wearing a big mustache and make an idiot of yourself. By the way, I based the look of my character off of Burt Reynolds – I was going for a ginger Burt Reynolds. My character loves getting all the ladies so I grew that mustache and it was my homage to Burt,” Mahaffy says with mirth.
The same day that Mahaffy and I meet, A Noise Within announced the theme for its 2019-2020 season, an event as highly anticipated as it was closely guarded, that all the resident artists were on pins and needles to learn their fate. ‘They Played With Fire’ season begins with the California premiere of Nick Dear’s adaptation of the chilling fable by Mary Shelley, ‘Frankenstein’ (August 11 to September 8, 2019) to be directed by Boston Court Pasadena’s Artistic Director Michael Michetti.
As if to underscore the diversity of acting parts he tackles and his versatility in inhabiting these characters, Mahaffy will be taking on the role of Victor Frankenstein. I can’t wait to see what he does with it!