Gagnier brings ‘Menagerie’ to life
You can make Derek Gagnier’s day by calling your mom. Or dad.
Or your kids, for that matter.
That’s all he asks after you’ve seen “The Glass Menagerie,” which he’s directing during a five-day run Feb. 13 to 17 at 7:30 p.m. nightly and a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 17 at the Valborg Theatre on campus at Appalachian State University.
His directing twist on the Tennessee Williams’ play: Present it in such a way that the audience is viewing it as it is being written, which reinforces Williams’ intention that it be staged as a “memory play.”
And when the curtain comes down, it will have jogged yours.
“I would love it if when people leave the theater they immediately want to call their mom or dad,” Gagnier said. “Or even their kids. It’s a classic family play, a uniquely American play, after all. It’s not stuffy – in fact, it has much humor, some of it slapstick, and it should make you think of family memories, conversations.
“It’s alive. Not some English lecture.”
Speaking of alive, the ubiquitous Gagnier, 47, is full bore, wasting not a moment to tout the hard work and energy of his “Menagerie” cast, recount his own career teaching voice and dialect, or praising the acting talents of his wife, Lara, or the smooth jazz from the trombone of his son, Parker, just 15.
The only thing even a bit boring about Gagnier, who grew up in the Adirondacks near Lake Placid and went to college there and later got his master’s from UNC Chapel Hill, is his official bio from ASU: “an associate professor of theatre and the coordinator of the concentration in performance within the department of theatre and dance at Appalachian.”
While he also is an accomplished singer and versatile actor who has popped up artistically all around the High Country these past two decades, Gagnier seems most energized by his study and coaching of dialects.
“It also keeps my classes awake when I switch dialect in midsentence during a lecture,” laughed Gagnier, who is close to signing on as dialect coach for a major motion picture.
The epitome for mastering dialect, Gagnier said, is the work of Hugh Laurie, the lead actor in the television series, “House.”
“He’s unbelievable,” Gagnier marveled. “He has a profound British accent, but you’d never know it watching him act on ‘House.’ And the ‘Harry Potter’ (movies) actors changed dialects to Irish, Scottish, Welsh, according to their character's birthplace. They had to, in many cases, lose their English dialect or modify it to fit the character.”
Dialect was a challenge, as well, for his cast of ASU students in “Menagerie,” hailing from areas like Boone or Winston-Salem and being charged with recreating the characters from Williams’ Depression-era family in Mississippi that moved to St. Louis.
“But I think you’ll find our actors managed it,” Gagnier said.
He also hopes you’ll manage to see a little bit of your own family as “The Glass Menagerie” unfolds before you at Valborg.
“It is,” Gagnier said, “the recollections of a young man coming of age, having to face the realization that to be happy, he must abandon his beloved family. It’s as if we are witnessing him purging his conscience by writing the events on paper.”
And if it does bring back any memories for you, don’t forget to call home.
Want to Go?
The Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance will present Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams’ highly acclaimed masterpiece, “The Glass Menagerie,” in its Valborg Theatre on campus.
The performance has a five-day run Feb. 13 to 17 at 7:30 p.m. nightly and a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 17. Ticket prices start at $8 for students, $13 for faculty, staff and seniors and $15 for adults. For more information, visit http://theatre.appstate.edu/events/glass-menagerie, or call the Valborg box office at (828) 262-3063 or (800) 841-ARTS.