Onstage / TEN QUESTIONS FOR Jimmy Janowski
(THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD OF LEONARD PELKEY at Buffalo United Artists)
Janowski portrays various characters of a small Jersey Shore town.
Photo by Cheryl Gorski
Tell us about the show.
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey is a one-man play written by James Lecesne based on his young adult novel simply titled Absolute Brightness. It is the story of a gay teenager who goes missing in a small New Jersey town, and how he has affected the ten different characters I play.
It would seem natural to see similarities in this play and The Laramie Project, the landmark play about the murder of Matthew Shepard and the fallout of that tragedy. Laramie Project was a play of its time, created to incite outrage and change; hopefully, Absolute Brightness is a play of our time, inspiring hope and love.
What’s the best acting advice you were ever given?
Terry McDonald, my acting teacher at Buffalo State, told us that if we are bored in the theater, something’s wrong onstage! So, if your mind is wandering when you are sitting in the audience and you’re thinking about what groceries you need for dinner tomorrow, instead of being engrossed in what’s going on onstage, it’s not your fault. It’s the author’s or the director’s or the actor’s. Someone didn’t do their job.
What’s your best “the show went on” moment?
People are always talking about the challenges of acting Shakesepeare; try doing a musical! It’s like tap dancing in a suit of armor. If I screw up in a “straight” play (really, Jimmy, when you have ever been in a straight play?). OK, if I screw up in a non-musical, I know my character pretty well to improvise my way out of it. If you screw up in a musical, you had better hope your musical director has your back.
Anyhoo, I recently played Hannibal Lecter in the musical version of Silence of the Lambs (pause for applause), and I started my big ballad (the title of which should not be printed in any publication), and boy, I was feeling so good about myself—I remember thinking, “My God! I sound like Colm Wilkenson!” (how easily deluded we actors are)—when I realized that I had just sung the last verse at the beginning of the song. Essentially, the song was over before it started! I recall the terror on my co-star’s face, which was only matched by my own, as I proceeded to make up a completely new song. Thankfully, I had a musical director who is brilliant and didn’t miss a beat!
What’s the role that got away?
I was born to play Vera Charles in Mame, but, apparently, so was my nemesis Pamela Rose Mangus, who seems to be the go-to gal when they want a biological female to play a Janowski role.
What line from a former play have you never forgotten and why?
“She terrifies me,” [of course, it only works with the Janowski inflection] from The Bad Seed. I played the tortured mother of the titular evil child, one of my favorite roles and, I suspect, the perfect example of what we consider camp theater.
Speaking of camp theater, how do you—as Buffalo’s de facto King/Queen of Camp—define it?
To really understand camp, you must look at it as a point of view. It is finding the absurdity even in the most dramatic situations. The gays have mastered this, because, as a culture, they had to be subversive, yet ultimately optimistic, to survive.
What “against type” role are you dying to play?
All this talk about actors playing against type—baloney! I’m sure there are times you may want to stretch your acting muscles in new directions, and it’s not nearly as comforting as a cozy suit that fits you perfectly. That is rewarding! It warms your heart just the way a perfect lyric fits a perfect note of music.
What’s your classic actor nightmare dream?
See question #3; the show must go on. I have them onstage! I don’t care what anyone says, any actor worth his salt gets anxiety the moment before he walks on stage. You want to do your best every time. I compare acting in live theater to those Olympic figure skaters; they practice and practice and then they have to skate in front of the judges; now they have done this routine hundreds of times…yet sometimes they fall, and sometimes they get a ten. The wonder of the theater is that tomorrow you get to try it again; as an actor, you are always striving for that 10.
What audition do you wish you could do over?
Audition? What’s that? (Aren’t I grand?)
Plugs for the rest of the season or something else.
I’m a sentimental sap; I loved Second Generations’ Big Fish. They seem to do consistently professional theater. You might not guess this, but I’m also very silly, so I’m looking forward to Spamalot, which I’ve never seen, at the Kavinoky, and, of course, my buddy Chris Kelly’s Sense and Sensibility at Irish Classical Theatre. Have you seen the cast list for that one? It’s like one of those all-star Agatha Christie movies from the eighties; all my favorites are in it!
The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey opens March 8 at Buffalo United Artists (buffalobua.org, 886-9239)
For more theater info, CLICK HERE.