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Onstage / TEN QUESTIONS FOR Chris J. Handley

(Matt in TALLEY's FOLLEY at Jewish Repertory Theatre)

Photo by Tall + Small Photography


What’s your relationship to this show? 

I’ve been in love with Talley’s Folly since I saw it off-Broadway. Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson were mesmerizing. I reread it in grad school. And then this opportunity came along. I think it is one of the most beautiful little plays. It is a dream piece to get to work on.


What’s the best acting advice you were ever given?

This amazing period-movement specialist, Nira Pullin, came to work on a production I was doing in Indiana. And one day, I think it was actually the last thing she said at the last rehearsal, she said, “Play the games you’re not good at.” I mean, of course! How could I grow as an actor or artist if I was just sitting around always making the safe choices?


What’s your best “the show went on” moment?

It was my first season of summer stock. I was in New Hampshire playing Shrank in West Side Story and the cigarette pack didn’t get set before my scene at Doc’s. The stage manager told me before I made my entrance and I decided I’d just skip the first lines about how much I needed to smoke and go on with the rest of the scene. I got out there and blank. Nothing. I didn’t know who I was, where I was, what was happening, what play I was in...nothing. I think I called somebody a traitor and I knew there was supposed to be a scuffle, so I pushed one of the Sharks and basically ran off the stage. Apparently, “nobody could tell.” Yeah, right.


What’s the role that got away?

My very first New York audition was for the circus. My grandfather used to take me to the old circus that was at Darien Lake years ago. And since then, my dream has been to be the ringmaster. I flew to New York to do that audition, and then, once I moved there, I auditioned two more times for Ringling Brothers. The casting director liked me. The director was a friend of a friend. I had auditioned for them all before. I was meeting the right people. It was going to happen. Only a matter of time. And...well...I didn’t get it. And then the circus shut down. So, I guess it’s about time to hang up my top hat.


What line from a former play have you never forgotten and why?

No. I can’t. Everything goes out the window as soon as a show closes. It’s my brain’s way of making room for all of the new lines that have to come in for the next project. 


Oh, except! The first musical I ever did was Music Man. I played Tommy, but I learned every word of “Trouble” by heart and I can do it at a moment’s notice. Ask me. 


What “against type” role are you dying to play?

I’ve been pretty lucky to have producers and directors offer me roles that I thought were definitely outside my type, so I’ve learned to trust the way other people see me. That said, I’ve always wanted to play Joe Gills in Sunset Boulevard or Che in Evita.


What’s your classic actor nightmare dream?

I’m very lucky to rarely get nightmares about acting... knock on wood.


What audition do you want a do-over on?

There were so many when I was in New York, from tiny hole-in-the-wall theaters to Broadway, auditioning for major names one day and Joe Shmoes the next. But even when I forgot my words or didn’t know what my objective was or hugged the casting director because I was doing so badly or had to start over three times in the same monologue...I wouldn’t really want to do anything over again.


What’s been the best thing you’ve seen this season and why?

Big Fish at Second Generation, hands down. That production knew what it was doing, why it was there, and what story it was telling.


Plugs for the rest of the season or something else?

I’m excited about doing some musicals again. I’ll be onstage in Anything Goes at the Lancaster Opera House and in Fun Home at Shea’s 710. Plus, over at Alleyway Theatre, where I am thrilled to be the new associate artistic director and get to spend my days working on bringing new plays and playwrights to Buffalo, we’re doing a brand new musical called Bridge of Roses, which runs at the same time as Talley’s. You’ve got to see them both!


Talley’s Folly runs February 7–March 3 (jewishrepertorytheatre.com, 281-0092)


For more theater info, CLICK HERE.


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