Off the wall? Maybe. Wacky? Sure. But this Chicago actor's got range to spare. Hot off the heels of last summer's Goodman Theatre revival of the Lerner and Loewe Broadway classic, Brigadoon, actor Jordan Brown is turning his creative attention 180 degrees to play irreverent boytoy Spike in Goodman's summer production, Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike. Christopher Durang's wacky, but brilliant Broadway hit is far afield of this Jeff Award-nominee's standard fare. Having explored roles in works from Profiles Theatre’s In the Company of Men to Northlight’s Sense and Sensibility and done television stints with TV’s Sirens and Crisis, Brown knows his way around meaty roles. But he isn’t shying away from the challenge of a comedic jaunt into the mind of Spike. The scantily clad play-thing of Durang’s middle-aged stage actress, Masha,is certainly “out there.” But Brown is embracing it.
He’s worked extensively on creating a physique to fit the character, working with a personal trainer for all that shirtless stage time. And, trust me, he’s all-in on Durang’s madcap script.
Truth be told, Spike just may give Brown a chance to savor the other end of the spectrum on the live stage, but as he told me, it’s all just another thread of the fabric of the theater.
You’ve had a string of very diverse roles in your stage career in plays from Brigadoon to In The Company of Men. This new role, Spike, essentially a muscled up boy toy for a middle-aged celebrity, is about as over-the-top as anything you’ve done before. How have you prepared for bringing Spike to the Goodman stage?
It's a real privilege as an actor to get the opportunity to try your hand at such different roles. Even though I approach each and every role with equal importance, whether it's In The Company Of Men or Charlie in Brigadoon, the preparation varies depending on the demands of that particular story and where you fit in the ensemble. My study and breakdown of the script is the same for Durang as it is for LaBute: asking questions, digging for clues—just doing my homework. In this case, the first step was really just prepping my body for the role. Working out. I have a fantastic trainer, Adrian Aguilar of Peoples' Champ Fitness. I actually began training with him last fall to prepare for another role at Court Theatre that required similar demands. He's the man.
So Spike shakes things up a bit for Masha’s family reunion of sorts. How much fun has it been to flex your muscles (no pun intended) so much in the comedic end of the acting pool?
It's been great! You know, regarding comedy, I really have been given a priceless education working in Chicago. This town is filled with a lot of fantastic storytellers who have an acute awareness of how things land with an audience. I don't claim to be any sort of expert in comedy, because comedy is tough stuff. But in this case, I certainly get to lean into it and embrace my impulses, which is awesome.
Tell me about those famous dancing scenes. What's it like preparing for those?
(Laughing) Well too much prep for moments like that can kill the spontaneity, which I think is kind of crucial to the scene and my scene partners. I guess I'll know once we explore that in rehearsal. This is nothing like the dancing I did in Brigadoon, which required technique and lots and lots of practice. For the first audition I had to come in and do the reverse striptease dance, and my goal was to seduce everyone in the room. That'll be my aim, I suppose.
Amidst the insanity of all that’s going on in the play, particularly with Spike and Masha, there’s a little heart to the role you play in the budding relationship that starts to form between Spike and Nina. How do you balance the camp with the sincerity necessary to pull it all off?
The answer is that the sincerity is there the entire time for a character like Spike. I think he's sincere to the moment, and all that entails. Spike is spontaneous, highly impulsive, and incapable of stillness. I think he fears being invisible. He feeds off of other peoples' perceptions of him. His energy, or that camp, if you will, is simply an offshoot of his excessive personality. I don't think he intends anyone ill will. He just has an extremely short memory. It's like a dog with a ball. He's playing with it and he's playing with it, then someone throws a different, bright, beautifully colored ball into the picture (Nina). And he's like WOAH!
What guilty pleasures can you admit to away from the live stage?
I can admit to a lot of pleasures! I don't know how many of them are guilty...I suppose that's a very "Spike" thing to say! I love sports, so ESPN Sports Center is literally on first thing in the morning while I'm brewing my coffee. My wife and my two little doggies (Valentino and Pippin) bring me immense pleasure. I collect comic books and I'm a total nerd for DC and Marvel; I saw Avengers: Age Of Ultron and geeked out, but Batman will always remain closest to my heart.
You’ve had considerable experience Off-Broadway and you are a staple at some of Chicago’s iconic theater companies. What have you learned about Chicago audiences?
They are sharp, man! I must say, Chicago is home to some of the best theater in the country. So when you're treated to that kind of work on a consistent basis, you develop a really great eye for what great theater can be. I don't think anything gets past these audiences.
You can catch Brown when he stars as Spike in Christopher Durang's Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike, running at the Goodman Theatre June 20 through July 26.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Brown stars as Spike in the wacky comedy, Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike at Goodman Theatre this June.
By Adam McKinney
Actor Jordan Brown (photo by Alexa Lopez).