For Marc Gonzalez, 5 ‘related’ players coalesce in a remarkable Rogue show
Note: In terms of COVID-19, the Rogue Festival is taking things on a day-by-day basis. Any change to the festival schedule will be announced by 2 p.m. Friday and noon on Saturday.
There’s the Bro, a partier who can make any room come alive with a rush of bravado and charm. The Academic loves to read more than just about anything. The Son in Mourning tries to cope. The Theatre Fan is addicted to the stage. And The Groom, or “Hers,” finds that love does matter.
Pictured above: Director Walter M. Mayes and Marc A. Gonzalez in a run-through for ‘Merely a Player.’
They’re all part of “Merely a Player,” a remarkable one-person show offered by local theater veteran Marc A. Gonzalez in the Rogue Festival. (It will be performed 10 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Revue.)
All of us have different sides or aspects of our personalities. We all present different “faces” depending on the audience. In a heartfelt and beautifully written and directed performance, Gonzalez offers us a glimpse into his inner sanctum — the place where all the “people” who make up who he is interact and coalesce.
Instead of a Rogue review, I decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with him about his show.
Donald: First of all, Marc, I’d like to tell people about my original concept for this piece. I thought it would be fun to interview the “five versions of Marc” in an irreverent way by asking some silly questions, such as: What is the Bro’s best hangover cure? If the Theater Fan had to choose to be stuck on an elevator with either Leo Norbert Butz or Kelli O’Hara, which one would it be?
But then I saw “Merely a Player,” and I realized that while your show can be quite funny, it’s also very moving. In the end, it’s much more an emotional journey than a mere, gimmicky, Marc-Plays-Five-Roles-on-a-Lark experience. So I decided: I think I’d just rather talk with you than do a “five person” interview. Of course, you can always call on your five characters at any time. How does that sound?
Marc: Sounds good, Donald. These characters are still very much part of me, so you can bet good money that you’ll get to know them all in this interview.
Donald: Can you talk about the timeline for this piece? When did you start writing it, and how long did it take to come together?
Marc: I first got the idea to do a solo show about four years ago, over drinks with my friend and Rogue regular, Dorian Follansbee. I had explained to her the very basic idea of this play, knowing that it should be about me because if I’m going to write a solo show it has to be about what I know best, which is me! I finally sat down to write the play about two months before I got married, so May 2018.
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And: FRIDAY CORONAVIRUS ARTS UPDATE: CANCELLATIONS BY FRESNO PHILHARMONIC, FRESNO STATE
Then, when I realized how the play should end, I decided to put it on pause until after my honeymoon. The final piece that Rogue audiences are seeing is a six-draft culmination.
Donald: First we meet the Bro. He sure seems like he was fun at a party. Can you tell us one story about him that you don’t include in the show?
Marc: The Bro is easily the most fun character to portray, and it’s a trip down memory lane for most Fresno friends, since anyone who knew me from 2012 thru yesterday knows the Bro me very well. A story that did not make it into the play but certainly is a Bro moment was a trip to Vegas where I went with a few friends, both of whom I knew wouldn’t drink as much as me. So, I decided to go “drink-for-hour” with myself. So, in the 52 hours we were in Vegas, I consumed 50 drinks ranging from shots to beers to mimosas to whiskey-cokes. I declared myself a god of drinking at one point, then proceeded to puke the whole 6-hour drive back to Fresno. Epic. Never gonna happen again, but epic.
Donald: You — or, should I say, the Bro — was also quite a Casanova. What was the Bro’s secret to wooing the ladies?
Marc: Wooing the ladies, as much as I pronounce my confidence and charisma in the play, really comes from me being at the right place at the wrong time with the wrong idea. I literally can not tell when a girl actually likes me, so until it’s blatantly obvious, I assume I’m just friends with everyone. I guess the ladies I have been able to woo enjoyed that naivete about me? At least that’s what I’d like to think, haha.
Donald: Are you fond of the Bro? Embarrassed by him? Proud? How much “Bro” is still a part of you?
Marc: I think there will always be a Bro-Marc living inside me, especially in how I carry myself. However, in no way am I proud of all the decisions the Bro made. Trail of tears, as referenced in the Prologue, could have been avoided had I given each decision a bit more thought. Sure, it makes for entertaining stories from the past, but if I met the Bro today I would certainly have a few tips for navigating through life with a bit more class.
Donald: The next character you introduce is the Academic. He seems a world apart from the Bro. Did the Academic and the Bro inhabit different worlds in terms of social circles? Would the Bro’s friends get along with the Academic’s friends?
Marc: All through school (K-12), I always had a core group of friends, supported by group-hopping. In junior high and high school I was at the same time playing three sports a year, eventually did year-round theatre, and was involved in my church and youth group several days/nights per week. So the Academic and Bro definitely crossed paths, and I was accepted for being both, as well as being a Christian.
Fun Fact, the original title of the play was “Mess of Contradictions,” which is a line toward the end of the play to honor that. These guys are a mess of contradictions, and yet, here I am, chatting with you about them all. Thank goodness my friends accept me for who I am, mess of contradictions and all!
Donald: You tinker with chronology in the show, which I think is one of its greatest strengths. But it did leave me unclear about something. Were these different phases of your life essentially linear in nature — were you the Bro, say, and then you transitioned into the Academic — or did they coexist alongside each other, with one eventually becoming dominant over the other? Where does the Theatre Fan figure in the timeline?
Marc: The time jumps play a role in redeeming the Theatre character and making him better than the other characters. If done chronologically, the high school years would involve my Dad and the Academic with a bit of Theatre, followed by Bro and major Theatre. However, as I was writing the play, I started to see the implications of the different characters being born out of another and influencing the others. So I tried my darndest to ensure that the audience gets to know each character as their own person while leaving bread crumbs for them to see how one affects the other in the timeline of Marc.
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Donald: I don’t want to give away too much about the Son in Mourning because it’s such a tender and powerful part of the show. Most people would have preferred to bury that part of their lives. Were you hesitant at all to share as much as you did?
Marc: I wasn’t as hesitant as I thought I would be. In fact, Walter M. Mayes (who directed the show) edited my drafts, and that particular monologue saw very few changes from draft one to draft six. The biggest change was me acting the parts rather than just telling the story/narrating. That makes it more fully-realized and lived-in for me. I am not a fan of Therapy Theatre, I want to make sure my feelings are in check prior to getting that vulnerable, and thanks to an incredible support system over the past 15 years, I have processed what is needed in order to deliver the performance in a way that is in emotional control.
However, I did do a staged reading preview in Half Moon Bay where a lot of my family saw it, and a certain action I mention in the play they really had no idea about, so I was a little nervous about them finding out through the play. Yep, true story.
Donald: Yet another touching and revelatory part of the show comes when you talk about your relationships with Walter and Allison Gonzalez (who did the costumes). You eloquently express your love for both of them. (You are in a monogamous relationship with Allison, your wife, which you talk about through your final character — Hers, aka The Married Guy — but you share an emotional intimacy with Walter as well). Can you talk a little about this? I think it could be uncharted territory for many people in the audience. Do you feel like you are an emotional trailblazer?
Marc: Yes! The car conversation gives a lot of context to Walter and mine’s relationship, which is why I also give it some Academic context, a little bit of Bro, but all of Marc.
Walter and I first did “Anything Goes” together, which is where I was a tap dancing sailor, serving as my biggest tap part yet. We never could understand what it was that drew us together, until Walter did some deep exploring into his time during the AIDS crisis (Walter is 30 years my senior), so we met where I was at an age where he lost a lot of his friends. And, as seen through the play, I was lacking a male authority figure in my life. I do believe God placed Walter into my life for a reason, and me into his. And here we are. Also, he and my wife, Allison, are my team handlers, because, according to them, I do need multiple handlers in order to make it through life haha.
Donald: I have known you for many years, Marc, and can remember some of the early shows you were in, such as “Grapes of Wrath.” I’ve also long admired your passion for theater and your “The Road to 1,000” website in which you write about the shows you attend. But, like many of the actors with whom I interact, I didn’t know much about you as a person, deep down — who you are behind “the mask,” as you put it in the show. (You could say that about most of the people in most people’s lives.) Now, I feel as if you’ve given me — and others in your audience — amazing access to your inner world. How does it feel to do that?
Marc: The best feedback I’ve received is when people say what you just said: “I had no idea about that part of your life!” My family, my best friend since kindergarten, my in-laws, my theatre friends, fellow castmates, my students, etc. have now seen the play, and they’ve all come away saying that. It feels amazing! It makes me feel like the crazy parts of me and my history are worth sharing, and certainly sharing them on stage makes them all the more entertaining.
I think the parts where I mention my dad bring the most impact to the play because all roads lead to and then respond to that monologue. But by the time I bow, I do feel like I’ve been honest, vulnerable, and true to delivering these characters.
Donald: How long has it been since you have thought of your life as divided into these phases, or characters, or whatever you want to call them, like you’ve done? Was the Bro self-aware at the time? How about the Academic? Do you think most people look back at their lives at some point and do the same thing?
Marc: I’ll rely on comments from my Theatre Dad, local theatre vet, Greg Ruud, to give my response: Wherever I end up, I find contentment. Though I am the guy who always has a Plan B, C, D, E, etc. I do very much love to live in the moment, finding joy and happiness with where I am. So though I knew I was being a Bro, I didn’t think about being different, same with Academic, Theatre, etc. I just figured that’s who I was and I was fine with that. I didn’t start realizing the compartmentalized thoughts about each character until I started writing the play, and it just makes so much sense to me now.
Donald: Is there anything you’d like to add about the experience of putting on this show?
Marc: This experience has exceeded my expectations, challenged me in ways I thought Theatre wouldn’t, and has allowed me to collaborate with some of my favorite people in a new way. Julie Lucido’s choreography is always a welcomed challenge for me to learn, which is why I asked her to stage my tap piece. She always makes me a better dancer and performer. Walter is my life’s editor, so his role in this experience was and is integral. Getting to work on this show with my wife, Allison, which is the first time she has ever been backstage working a show, has been amazing, as she sees what my process is like, both backstage and onstage. And Gary Craig Schoenfeld and Chris Hoffman with the tech aspects are design voices I know I can blindly trust. A solo show is no joke, so I’m glad I’ve got some of the best people in my life helping me.
Donald: Finally, Marc, I think I do have to ask the Theatre Fan that question. Who’s it going to be on the elevator: Norbert or Kelli?
Marc: I would love to be stuck with Norbert because I would convince him to sing a lyric from every musical he’s ever done, and then I feel like we could just Bro out until the firefighters come rescue us.