I’m sitting here with George Carruth, Jude Flannelly, and Chris Martin from the cast of Counter/Top, Endstation’s latest new work, a play that takes place in Lynchburg’s own Texas Inn.
In the last show, Two Gentlemen of Virginia, we saw you as these outrageous, over-the-top characters,. How is your approach to Counter/Top different from Two Gentlemen, and how did you feel coming out of one and into another?
George Carruth: There’s more at stake now, because there are actual human beings depicted on stage, and those actual human beings could be in the audience. There’s more pressure to do a good job.
Chris Martin: My character Gunner is interesting, as he does borderline caricature for me. The important thing is to figure out who he is as a human: his past, the conflicts there— there are very human conflicts going on that need to be present because he can come off as a clown, but he is so relatable. You immediately love Gunner. He’s so dumb, you know that from when he first walks onstage, but he’s got a respectable amount of grit and gumption, and his heart is in the right place. Gunner is going through very real things—
Jude Flannely: The acting style is certainly American realism—
Chris: Exactly. He is not a stock character; he’s not like the style of Two Gents at all, but a borderline caricature in a very real world with very real people. It is my job to make him as real as everyone else on stage. The language takes care of itself, and it’s up to me to bring in the honesty and myself into the character. Another beautiful thing about Gunner is that he’s too dumb to have subtext, so everything he says, he means. He can’t hide anything. That’s almost Shakespearian in a way, there’s no subtext in Shakespeare, there’s no hidden agenda with Gunner: it’s all out there and he doesn’t know how to deal with it.
Jude: You can’t just sit there and play a generic character. You can’t just play an old person, you need to play a person who has seen stuff that is specific to that person. You have to ask yourself: Is this guy a veteran? Where does he get money from? What does he do? You have to get very specific. That colors the character.
George: The process has been the same in that both Two Gents and Counter/Top are new pieces that are debuting here. There are rewrites and questions: we sometimes have the playwright in the room. The shows are different because one involves maniacal explosion of energy (in Two Gentlemen) while in Counter/Top, the explosion should maybe never happen, but it should always be on the brink of exploding.
George, you mentioned having the playwright in the room, can each of you talk a little about your relationship with Kirin, the playwright? How long have you each been involved in the play?
George: I met Kirin three years ago here at Endstation with the Playwrights Initiative. This play has been worked on I think as long as that. I’ve seen different drafts of this, and we’ve had readings— I’ve played different characters.
Chris: My first year here was three years ago. I think I originally read for Jude’s part, I think I was Brooks. Last year I read for Gunner. It’s interesting to see how it’s evolved through time. I love working on new work because it’s so alive: you come in, there are changes that are dependent on what we actors are doing. She’s watching the show and making changes that are dependent on choices that we’ve made. It becomes a piece tailored to us as actors.
Jude: Kirin is from around here, and has known these people for a while. I started last year, and read a bunch of different parts. Watching her adapt the piece to these specific actors has been a really interesting process.
George: It’s fun to see the life of the play change with the performers, and it’s a testament to Kirin’s writing that the play is not dependent on any single actor playing any particular role. The roles are ready for any actor to assume.
Chris: The first time I went, Josh Mikel, our resident playwright (who originally read George’s part), within like 10 minutes, proposed and was married to some woman who was next to him. They made these little napkin rings; it became this beautiful ceremony between these two people who had never met. It was exactly the kind of thing that happens at the T-Room: the most interesting people you could imagine. All walks of life. I’ve never had a boring experience there.
George: I’ve been to the T-room about six times? My experiences have been… I feel like I’ve been to the T-Room once. Every time I’ve gone it’s been the exact same thing. It’s like a pit stop on the way to the edge of the earth. It’s always open, and everybody who hits it, especially at the time of night it’s most populated, feel like they’re on the edge of the world, they’re on the ride of a lifetime. And the people at the T-Room are right there chugging along, doing their thing like always. They cater to men with button-down shirts, or denim cut-offs. Like Chris said—all walks of life.
Jude: I’ve only gone once; I think it was after a reading of this play at the Academy. It’s an interesting place. It’s like the most American thing in the world.
Chris: That’s a bold statement.
Jude: On a scale, of one to ten, it is like eleven on the scale of American things.
So, do you like Cheesy Westerns?
George: Yes, I do.
Chris: Love ’em.
Jude: Yeah, every day. I did get the chili. Everything was good.
Chris: I wouldn’t order anything else.
Counter/Top opens July 2nd at Lynchburg Park & Recreation’s Miller Center, with performances July 3rd, 9th, 10th, & 11th at 7:30 PM, and July 5th & 12th at 2:00 PM. Ticket information is available here.