When director Simon Levy was casting our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll back in April, finding the right actor to play Archie Lee Meighan was a challenge. Levy sifted through hundreds of submissions and auditioned dozens of actors yet he struggled to spot what he was looking for. He needed an actor who could authentically evoke the crude, raw good ol’ boy Southern brutality of the cotton gin owner yet also reveal the character’s fear and vulnerability. Finding that actor seemed impossible.
Then, one afternoon, actor Daniel Bess, already cast in the play, made a suggestion. Did Simon know John Prosky? Daniel’s friend and fellow-member at Antaeus Theatre Company? A meeting was scheduled. And from the first moment that Prosky began his audition it was clear to Levy and everyone present that the hunt for Archie Lee Meighan was over.
“I’m strangely drawn to Archie’s desperation,” Prosky now says. “It’s not always easy or fun to play but I get that part of Archie Lee on a visceral level. I’m certainly no racist, or a cuckold nor am I married to a 20 year old — although my wife does look so much younger than me that it is sometimes assumed. But Archie’s place on “the edge” is something I commune with at this point in my life. Not completely sure why but I sometimes feel like I’m going to loose everything. Maybe it’s just because I have so much to lose.”
Prosky indeed has many blessings. He is married and a father. His son just started 8th grade. In addition to a busy acting career, he teaches. Like Archie Lee in Baby Doll, he sometimes worries that what he values most might all be taken from him. “I sometimes have this fear that I will fuck it all up or it will all somehow slide into oblivion,” he admits. “The good actor’s first job is to bring himself to the work and that part of Archie Lee I get.”
Not every aspect of Archie Lee came easy.
“His physical abuse of Baby Doll I find a stretch for me” he concedes. “And the shotgun. I hate guns. I am always using a gun in something I’m acting in but this is my first shotgun. And a shotgun in the hands of a white male in Mississippi in the 1950s should look as comfortable as an iphone in the hands of a hipster today. So that took some work.”
The Fountain Theatre production — and Prosky’s performance — has earned widespread critical acclaim. But it’s the audience response that pleases him most.
“It’s the reason theater is my first love,” he says. “That immediate communication of actor as storyteller is the whole point of theater and so much more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done on film or TV. “
And his first-time experience working at the Fountain Theatre?
“The Fountain and this production have made me feel respected, welcomed, supported, challenged and fulfilled. Very few theaters can do all that.”
Baby Doll has been extended to October 30. More Info/Get Tickets