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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 23 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 34
A familiar face - Meet Rebecca Davis, the greatest actress you never knew
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A familiar face - Meet Rebecca Davis, the greatest actress you never knew

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

LES MISÉRABLES
BALAGAN THEATRE (at Erickson Theatre)
September 6 - 28

Rebecca M. Davis is one of those actresses whom when you see her, you say to yourself: 'Oh yeah. I've seen her in lots of stuff. She's really good. What's her name again?' and you'll search the program. And for good reason: She's done numerous stage presentations of all sorts, and has appeared on the big screen as well. Davis, a native Oregonian, has appeared on the Seattle stage for over three decades, and her dedication and talent are paying off. SGN recently caught up with the talented and versatile actress, currently cast as the scene-stealing Madame Thénardier in Balagan Theatre's new production of Les Misérables.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Rebecca Davis: Actually, it was my brother and sisters. They were all quite influential as I come from a family that sings everything - at each other. I use to sing 'Billy, Don't Be a Hero,' but we sang everything and made anything into a song. From 'I Won't Go to Fred Meyer Unless There Is a Sale' to 'Where Is the Laundry Soap, Mother?,' we sang everything. My dad was a professor at Oregon State and he did a sabbatical at Michigan State. In 1973 we drove across the country with six kids and a dog in a VW. My older sister had the Great American Songbook and we sang songs out of that, and camp songs the older kids had learned - and performed them. The first time I ever performed was at Shakey's Pizza, on their hearth. I want to say I was three years old. My uncle Gene picked me up and put me on the hearth, and I brought the number home - at least in my memory I did!

Andrews-Katz: Who are your musical influences?

Davis: Sammy Davis Jr., hands down! Fiddler on the Roof was the first show I learned from beginning to end. I sat in front of the speakers of the reel-to-reel, and I wouldn't move until it was over. Between that and Peter Pan (with Mary Martin) and Oklahoma!, those were the full-scale musicals I grew up with because we had them on LP.

Andrews-Katz: What was your first stage performance in Seattle?

Davis: 20 Something at Pilgrim Center for the Arts. It was directed by Manny Cawaling [now executive director of Youth Theatre Northwest]. The stage manager was Kenyetta Carter, who is now head chef at the Kingfish Café.

Andrews-Katz: You've done musicals and 'straight' [non-musical] plays. Which do you prefer and why?

Davis: It's hard to say - I do love them both. Usually there is a smaller cast with a 'straight' show, and it's less exhausting, depending on what your 'straight' show is.

Andrews-Katz: Which is easier for you as a performer, comedy or drama, and why?

Davis: I feel blessed that I can do either ... I love a comedy! Comedy is natural to me, and easier for me to find the funny. Each one takes a different set of tools to do them well. I don't want to be too flippant about doing either. You have to know what's sad about the funny thing, and what's funny about the sad thing that you are doing at the time.

Andrews-Katz: Have you ever had to do or say anything on stage, in character, that you absolutely hated as the actor?

Davis: Oh God, yeah! That's why they call it acting. I'd say in every show there is at least one thing that actors have to talk themselves into doing. Whether they don't think it's in character, or to hold a certain position, or kissing a person they don't know & I did an [updated] production of Lysistrata once, and I hated green olives. There was a number with martinis, and we had to eat the olives. By the end of the rehearsal period I had learned to like them. You find a way to make it work out.

Andrews-Katz: What is the biggest mishap you have experienced on stage?

Davis: [laughs] There's always something. And then you have to figure out a way to get out of it. Sometimes that's more exciting because it brings new stuff about. I almost killed Scout at the Village Theater's To Kill a Mockingbird. The kids were told they had to do the original blocking with me (and other understudies), and not the way they had changed it during the run. Scout ran by me and I had to grab her. From the way it was done I accidentally had her spun around with her feet spinning in air. She got back on the ground and froze to get her bearings. It scared her. It scared me! But we had to go on with it, and we did.

Andrews-Katz: Madame Thénardier is one of the most beloved characters of Les Misérables. Is she a villainess or opportunist?

Davis: She's an opportunist unto herself. Her universe is her! She married this guy because she thought she was going to get somewhere in life. There was a certain cachet in those days to being an innkeeper. But she just ended up with another con man. She still thinks she's going to be a princess one day.

Andrews-Katz: Why do you think people like the Thénardiers survive revolutions while others do not?

Davis: Because they never give up. They are either too mean or too stupid to give up. They have the most twisted sense of hope that they will come out on top, no matter what. It's capitalism to its finest. 'It's about me - and screw you!' It's like the Koch brothers.

Andrews-Katz: What happens to the Thénardiers within 10 years after the revolution?

Davis: What I imagine them to be doing, but isn't factual to the Les Mis story, is that they are still doing something - I don't know what. They have lost everything and have started again. They have changed their names several times. They've traveled to England and are pretending to be deposed French nobles. They are still lying their guts out. Or & she's killed him and run off with someone younger.

Andrews-Katz: Of all the roles you've played to date, which is the most memorable, and why?

Davis: I've been really fortunate to do shows with some really fantastic people. Sometimes it's the small things that make it. At the wedding scene in The Three Penny Opera I would steal food off of my neighbor's plate. It was something that he and I came up with, but every night I would do it in a different manner and with different [fake] food. Most people didn't know it was happening, but it made me really happy. In another show, when I was living in Chicago, I was playing seven different characters, and only one was human. I like shows that I get to play various roles in. But if I were going for my most memorable thus far, I'd have to say it was a tie between Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret and Danny Sullivan in Madame X.

Andrews-Katz: Regardless of any limitations, what is your 'dream' role?

Davis: There are two roles I would love to play. One is Mary Poppins, because the bitch does everything! Or, I would love to play Carol Todd (Toddy) in Victor/Victoria.

Rebecca M. Davis has played one scene or another on practically every stage in Seattle and will appear as Madame Thénardier in the Balagan Theatre's presentation of Les Misérables. Balagan Theatre founder/executive director Jake Groshong will direct the Tony Award-winning musical, while Broadway stage actor and Balagan artistic director Louis Hobson will make his Balagan debut starring as Jean Valjean.

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