Saturday, August 2, 2008

Profile: David Ferry

From Richard Ouzounian at the Toronto Star:

"Talk about perfect casting.

"When Morris Panych went looking for someone to play the madly driven Captain Ahab in his new adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick – now in previews at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival prior to an Aug. 17 opening – he was lucky enough to get his first choice: David Ferry.

"It's not that the rugged 46-year-old actor actually has one leg or spends his nights and days chasing after an elusive white whale, but he does know more than a little bit about obsession.

"For 30 years now, Ferry has been pursuing his dream of creating great original theatre in this country with a single-mindedness that the captain of the Pequod would have envied.

"'Sometimes you want something so badly that you turn your back on other things you know you shouldn't ignore,' admits Ferry, blurring the line between Ahab and himself even further.
It's a day on which Ferry has no rehearsals and is ostensibly off, but the workaholic is spending the free time renovating his Toronto home.

"'I never knew there was so much to faucets,' he sighs. 'It's mind-blowing.'

"His wife, the equally talented actor and director Kyra Harper, is keeping a wary eye on the proceedings in the background. She's totally on side for the home renovation, but wonders – with a streak of practicality that Ferry blissfully lacks – if it's the kind of task a man ought to undertake while he's in rehearsals as Ahab.

"'Kyra,' he sighs, with that wonderful mix of resignation and affection only those married a long time can feel, 'she's the one who's always asking me, Do you have to take that third job?'

"But he does. That's what makes Ferry tick and it always has, although the clock only really seemed to start working in overdrive once he passed his 40th birthday, 'So much to do, so little time left,' he explains. 'I saw friends dying all around me with things left undone. I didn't want to be one of them.'

"If truth be told, Ferry was born to the breed. Some suggest he must have left the womb emoting. His parents back in St. John's were both heavily involved in the community theatre of the time. His father also ran a chain of radio stations in Newfoundland and his mother, while ostensibly a housewife, still found time to direct the first stage works seen on television in the region.

"Young Ferry had a baptism of fire at age 15, when he was cast in the leading role of Tom Cahill's Tomorrow Will Be Sunday, a play light years ahead of its time about a young man dealing with the emotional damage of having been sexually molested by an elder.

"In 1967, the centennial year, the Dominion Drama Festival decided that everyone should present a Canadian play, and Newfoundland's entry was Cahill's searing drama, with Ferry along for the ride. 'I got hooked for sure,' he laughs. 'We were all in the festival that year, R.H. Thomson, Terry Tweed, Robert Charlebois. It was amazing.'

"Taken with the young man's talent, Newfoundland playwright Michael Cook insisted that the National Theatre School audition on The Rock for the first time. Ferry became a student.

"After graduation, he soon found himself in what he called 'the defining theatre moment of my career' – the production of James Reaney's The Donnellys, directed by Keith Turnbull, which became the signature piece of the NDWT Theatre Company.

"But Ferry kept moving, and a stint opposite Glynis Johns in Terence Rattigan's Cause Celebre at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre wound up bringing him to Broadway.

"'They had mounted Hugh Leonard's play A Life with an all-American and British cast,' recalls Ferry, 'and they were going to take it to New York. But one of the young men wasn't any good and director Peter Coe remembered me from the previous year. So they flew me in and I got the part.'

"The show wasn't a hit, but one of its cast members, Helen Stenborg, was a member of the renowned Circle Repertory Theatre.

"She insisted that their resident playwright, Lanford Wilson, see Ferry in action. He was so taken that he wrote a part for him in their next show, A Tale Told.

"Ferry was well launched in America at that point, but his heart belonged up north, and he returned. For the next quarter century he criss-crossed the country, playing a wide variety of roles and eventually emerging as a first-rate director and administrator as well.

"But, as he puts it, "This was going to be the first summer I didn't have to run a theatre," and he was looking forward to resting, when Panych paid him a call and Ferry couldn't say no.

"'I've never done a piece like this. There's very little text, just voice-over, mixed in with the movement. Morris is truly in phenomenal form. At the end of every day's rehearsal, there's been applause from the actors to salute him for the work we've done that day. Man, that never happens.'

"The often-deadly Stratford buzz is good on this one, and Des McAnuff, Christopher Plummer and Michael Langham have reportedly seen it in previews and been generous with their praise.
To Ferry's eyes, 'It's about Ahab and his obsession. It's an insane spiritual journey. He chases himself trying to kill what he hates in himself and it drives him crazy.'

"All this sounds exciting enough, but the Studio Theatre is extremely small. What are they doing about the whale itself?

"The answer is vintage Ferry: 'There's no frigging way we can build a whale on that stage, so why even try?'

"Good point."

No comments: