WILLIAMSTOWN - Two very different iconic characters have descended upon the Williamstown Thaeatre Festival this year, with a hefty weight being placed on the actors portraying them.
"The iconic nature of Eliza Doolittle is kind of a challenge," Festival veteran Heather Lind said of portraying the role. Portraying Professor Henry Higgins is Robert Sean Leonard, also no stranger to the Festival or play himself, for "Pygmalion," July 17 to 27 on the Main Stage.
"While doing publicity shots in the flower district in New York City, some strangers pointed out, 'Oh look there's Eliza Doolittle!' She is such a heroine. What saved me from the fear of approaching it too close to Audrey Hepburn's portrayal was that Shaw's text was so explicit and detailed. He wrote a prologue and epilogue to the show, and I kept referring directly to the script."
Currently running at Poker Flats Field, "Dracula or, the Un-Dead," brings the ageless count to the rolling hills of Williamstown.
"I think the main influence would be the book," Noah Averbach-Katz, who plays the title role, said, "because in the movies there is something very contained, especially in the earlier movies. Christopher Lee, it's almost like he is literally undead, there is almost nothing going on, and I think in the book he's very alive. I think he has a wider range of emotional experience than any other character, including the women to some extent.
"His ups and downs are so extreme, so I think that was the main influence, to really allow that level of experience and leave the classic interpretation to the side, because quite frankly it won't play outside."
As fans of either character can attest, both parts require an unusual accent.
"I think for the accent I stole a little bit from Gary Oldman, because he's really good with his voice," Averbach-Katz said. "It's so thick, and I had to mix it with a young Romanian woman I found on YouTube. So combining them made it come together in a way that I think will be, hopefully, understood outside."
"Dracula or, the Un-Dead" director Jordan Fein, knew the accent was right from the get go.
"In the beginning we were talking about it," Fein said, "and he just came in and we were like 'Yeah, that's right."
"By the first read, I was working it for a while, and I was like 'oh god, I'm so nervous,'" Averbach-Katz said. "So I tell Jordan this spiel and that I need a couple of days to work on it, and he was like 'No, that's great. We have other stuff to work on.'" For Lind's street-wise Cockney, and Averbach-Katz's Count, it has been a work in progress for quite some time.
"The voice work has been challenging and I wanted to make sure it was authentic," Lind said. "I started working before I came to Williamstown, and got started as quickly as I could to get the right sound. I had to feely it - physically - in my body."
Both are also experienced with playing iconic characters. Lind, who won the Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway or Off-Broadway Debut Performance playing the daughter of Al Pacino's Shylock in the Shakespeare in the Park production of "Merchant of Venice," and Averbach-Katz as a tragic Shakespearean king.
"Before I did this, at school, I played King Lear so I already had experienced that a little bit," Averbach-Katz said. "It's something where people have their own opinions, and own experience with the character. The challenge of that is trying to meet people's expectations or say 'Oh that's what they expect, so let's give that to them,' and also getting lost, especially at the beginning of the process.
"It's difficult in just trying to get lost so you are that part, so you don't do the things you usually do on a different kind of part. In a way playing [an iconic part] is a challenge, but it's very freeing in a way, because when you watch a part like Dracula, or any major role you know something about, you actually want something from the character that you haven't seen before that's exciting and new."
And playing iconic characters can give you freedom of interpretation.
"It gives you almost a greater license to expand people's notion or idea of what's possible, and what the character can do," Averbach-Katz said. "Because, actually, it's from pretty limited experiences. Once you kind of work out the kinks, you actually find that there is a pretty wide range of experience you can bring to the table and that's exciting for me, the actor, and I think it's its exciting for everyone.
"But I had to watch all the movies, read all the books, I read a bunch of criticism, but I did all that so that I actually wouldn't bring it into the room, but leave it at the door, to not be thinking about it, and not be thinking about how, say, Gary Oldman was doing it."
Tickets for "Dracula or, the Undead" are free. Tickets for "Pygmalion" are $60.
And coming in the July 25 print edition of The Advocate, a look at real icons through the storied history of the Boston Red Sox, and an infamous curse brought to life in "Johnny Baseball."
For more information on the Williamstown Theatre Festival: wtfestival.org.