Curtain Call: A Director Debuts

Bolstered by his conservatory training and professional experience with the recently closed Electric Theatre Company, actor David Hunisch had a script in mind when he offered his directing services to Actors Circle.

The Board of Directors took him up on the offer with a compromise. With several dramas coming up later in the season, it wanted a comedy in the opening slot. Instead of the adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Lady of the Camellias the debuting director had in mind, they opted for the comedy The Ladies of Camellias by Lillian Groag. Hunisch read the script, liked it, and agreed.

The production opened last weekend and will continue through Sunday with a 2 p.m. matinee. Shows Friday and Saturday are scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

Fate wouldn’t let Hunisch transition from actor to director so easily however. While last weekend’s performances went over well, said Hunisch, Thursday’s preview saw a casting emergency that left the director no other choice than to don a Dumas costume fit for actor Mike Lally and take the stage in his stead, script in hand.(Yes, Lally is fine. A Scranton firefighter by day, he was unexpectedly detained at work.) Other than that, the greatest direction challenge the artist faced, after casting, may have been working around renovations to the Providence Playhouse.

"It’s much more than staging. You really have to have eyes open all the time and be noticing everything – not just what’s on stage," said Hunisch.

The Ladies of the Camellias is often described as a farce. Hunisch doesn’t disagree with this but he’d characterize it more of an "intellectual farce"-less physical in nature and funny more for the comedic phrasing of the language. While the script is more or less contemporary in tone, characters such as a Russian anarchist speaking of wars of the late 19th century and the differences in Russian and Western Europe theatrical conventions, are specific to another time. The questions it raises about whether art, and specifically theatre, matters are more timely than ever, he agreed.

Hunisch is open to taking on the challenging of directing again in the future – specifically he’d like to stage AR Gurney’s The Grand Manor, which he saw at Lincoln Center a couple of years ago.

"It’s a backstage, theatrical kind of a story about when Gurney was a young man in New York City and met Katherine Cornell and how she inspired him to become a playwright."

Acting, however, remains his main passion.

"Acting is really where I feel the most comfortable. I tend to be a very quiet, reserved person when I’m not on stage. But when I’m on stage I feel like I have the freedom to let loose – I just love being on stage with other people and getting into a character."

Among the advice he’s been able to pass along to his cast from his own acting experience, "be a good listener," ranks high.

"Listening to what fellow actors are saying on stage and being a good observer always heightens the performance."


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