Everything Is Already Something Week 8: My Favorite Bay Area Character Actors

Allison Page tells you who she likes. Don’t hate her for it.

If someone asked me what kind of an actor I am, I’d give it only the briefest pause and reply: “I’m a character actor.”

Dennie Moore as Olga in The Women from 1939 - one of Allison's absolute favorite lady-character-actor movie moments.

Dennie Moore as Olga in The Women from 1939 – one of Allison’s absolute favorite lady-character-actor movie moments.

I realize that sounds kind of silly, any actor is playing a character, so we’re all character actors, right? Not exactly.

Wikipedia (go ahead and admit that Wikipedia is your primary source for quick descriptions of things that aren’t earth shatteringly important) describes a character actor as someone who “predominantly plays unusual or eccentric characters”. There may be some people in the world who might not like being called a character actor, but those people are silly. I think it’s a wonderful thing to be. I say that because I think I am one, and I’m totally happy with that. I’ve never considered myself an ingénue even though I have played my fair share of young women in love. So, now, without further blahblah, I present to you: MY TOTALLY BIASED, COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE, SHORT LIST OF PERSONAL FAVORITE BAY AREA THEATER CHARACTER ACTORS THAT I LOVE TO WATCH, BOTH MALE AND FEMALE. Vol I.

In no particular order:

CALUM GRANT

Cal is phenomenally hilarious. He’s got that grizzled voice, permanent 5 o’clock shadow, and wild look in his eyes that you want in a classic character actor. You need a crazed cowboy? Cal’s your man. You need a vagrant stockyard worker? Cal all the way. Psychotic murderer? Call Cal. Droopy the Dog? Nobody does it better. He manipulates his voice expertly and has caused me to fall over laughing several times, sometimes without actually saying anything.

JAN CARTY MARSH

Jan constantly elicits this feeling of complete safety. If I had two weeks to live, I’d want Jan to be the one to tell me about it, because I suspect it wouldn’t feel as scary. I saw Theater Pub’s production of TAMING OF THE SHREW, and though I really enjoyed it overall, I was surprised by Jan’s ability to sparkle in the role of Baptista. Not exactly the most glamorous part, Baptista is Katherina’s father, so naturally he is usually played by a man. I found myself always excited for Baptista to come back in because I just loved watching her in the part. As this list is already admittedly biased, I will say that she has now played my mother twice, and the characters were completely different, but both were so easy to connect to – both for me and for the audience. Funny, warm, heartbreaking, mother-licious: Jan’s the possessor of all these characteristics.

PAUL JENNINGS

If you missed YOU’RE GOING TO BLEED at the Exit as part of DIVAfest, I feel bad for you. It was brutal and fantastic. Paul played the husband in a discontent couple for the ages, who fantasized about a young woman who had been taking his one-on-one acting lessons. That character did some big, bad things. Made some big, bad choices. But somehow I found myself trying to empathize with him, which made it all the more shocking when he came running at a petite Margery Fairchild (who was amazing) and strangled her, screaming “YOU’RE ALL WHORES!”, I was not the only one who gasped, that’s for sure. Watching Paul, you feel like something really intense is lurking in there and then when it explodes, you’re caught off guard in a really interesting way. I’m not sure why Paul wasn’t in GOODFELLAS, but it was clearly an oversight.

KIRSTEN BROADBEAR

Oh man. That voice. It’s like a young Kathleen Turner with more oomph who’s always having a really fucking good time. Kirsten is boisterous, exciting, undeniably hilarious and seemingly fearless. I always get the feeling that her power can only be turned up to 7, because if it went up to 10 you might not live through it – but you’d go out happy. She played a beer (yes, her character was actually BEER), in Pint Sized Plays last year, who is trying to convince a man who has never had a drink, to start with her. Every time she said “Drink me!”, I just kept thinking “YES, DRINK HER! WHY WOULD YOU NOT DRINK HER?! COME ON!”, she’s always a joy to watch and I never know what she’s going to do next.

MARIE O’DONNELL

When I grow up – which I probably never will – but if I do, I want to be Marie. She spent years working for David Letterman, she’s lived and acted all over the country and (for now) she’s settled in the bay. I acted alongside her in BOOK OF LIZ, which is an odd show to say the least. She played the eponymous Liz, who is an odd character in an odd show, and she managed to make her feel grounded as a woman navigating a crazy world. You know what she has? She has pluck. She has all of the pluck. She radiates friendliness. You just want to be around her; take her to a carnival, buy her something alcoholic, and record your adventures on video. She’s mega talented and always up for a challenge.

MATT GUNNISON

One word: Sincerity. Matt is always sincere. Sometimes I’m not sure how he does that. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a conflicted businessman or Jesus at an American Apparel photo shoot – you believe it. He doesn’t do anything that seems at all fake, exaggerated or pandering. He played the man being persuaded by Kirsten Broadbear’s beer, and I really believed how conflicted he was. I think it would be hard for me to suspend my disbelief watching many other actors in that role, but somehow Matt pulled it off – as he pulls off pretty much everything else. I think it might be related to his amazing ability to seem sort of meek or downtrodden without eliciting pity, but instead a sense of “Oh, I have so been there. I have SO felt that. I hope he gets out of it. I think he will. Will he? Yeah, I think he will. Man, I hope he does.” Secondarily, he’s HILARIOUS when he’s angry – like watching David Hyde Pierce try to assemble a bicycle or something.

SARAH MITCHELL

So, Sarah made me like something against my own will. That’s pretty impressive. I admittedly don’t like musicals about 85% of the time. They’re just not my jam, and that’s fine, but I went to a production of GUYS AND DOLLS at Berkeley Playhouse recently and she BLEW ME AWAY, and I know I’m not the only one. There were lots of things about that show that I didn’t like, which is fine because most of the audience was composed of parents taking large-ish groups of children to see a musical – which is great, you should do that – and I wasn’t really having a good time…until Sarah entered. Her take on Miss Adelaide was so spot-on perfect, I could have watched a one-woman show version of it all night and been extremely happy about it. You might say “Hey, hold on lady, Miss Adelaide? Sounds ingénue-ish to me, are you sure she’s a character actor?” And I’d say “Shut up” for several reasons, but the main point is – she put so much detail and oomph into her (fabulous sort of nasally but not irritating voice, and a way of carrying herself that just projected sparkle.) that I actually liked a show I didn’t even like. That’s a hell of a thing.

So, those are my first 7. A pretty diverse list, I think, but I’ll admit I haven’t seen every show and every actor in the bay area – SO, who am I forgetting? Who are you angry at me for leaving off the list? Give them the shout-outs they fully deserve!

If you’re angry at Allison for leaving someone off the list, you can find her at Custom Made Theatre Co.’s production of PRELUDE TO A KISS and throw a drink in her face. (But please don’t.)

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4 comments on “Everything Is Already Something Week 8: My Favorite Bay Area Character Actors

  1. Jeremy Cole says:

    Allison Page. If you’ve never seen her play a drunken bear, you’ve missed half your life. Over in the East Bay, I’m always happy to see the names Ann Kendrick and Beth Chastain in my program.

  2. Lance says:

    Craig Neibaur!!!

  3. SFDex says:

    Donald Hardy, a regular at Butterfield 8 in Concord is fantastic.

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