The plays of Annie Baker are as natural as they are odd. Aside from being improbably lengthy, they linger on the everyday conversational complications of human speech. From their long pauses and endless stammers to their jumbled rushed phrases, Baker is like David Mamet without the forced machismo. Into this breach comes Philadelphia veteran thespian Carla Belver who plays the Gettysburg-area native Genevieve in Baker’s play, “John,” which is opening at the Arden Theatre on January 12. We chatted with Belver before heading into the first day of rehearsals.
You were honored with the Barrymore’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. Didn’t you just want to shout out, ‘Hey I’m still working here!’ to make sure people knew you weren’t out of the game?
Yes, but, every show I do, I think that it might be the last one. Luckily, people know that I work – pretty steadily too, like two shows a year since my start. You never know what’s going to come along next for an actor – especially my age – unless somebody starts writing a whole lot of plays for old people. I’ll work as long as I can remember my lines and follow the director.
That’s an interesting point, because along with wanting to work, you want meaty, chewy roles. The Arden seems to have given you some of your more interesting opportunities with shows by Arthur Miller and Tracey Letts – cerebral stuff.
I’ve been fortunate that Artistic Director Terry Nolen has so much faith in me and presents me with so many adventurous opportunities. People’s Light has treated me well, too. Then there’s the Philadelphia Theater Company (PTC) where I haven’t worked for years even though I started it.
What was the theater scene in Philly like when you started that company and how much does it differ from the present?
Night and day — there’s no resemblance. Back then, there was maybe two other companies. PTC was just a bunch of theater people from Villanova University who put on shows and never got paid. Now everyone gets paid. That’s an important difference.
Annie Baker is part of the modern arc of female playwrights. Are you heartened by the fact that there are more women playwrights and directors out there, presently?
Oh sure, and Baker has a distinctive voice and is such a fascinating woman. I’m reading her other plays now. We have to have more women. They explore the female psyche in ways that men simply aren’t interested in or equipped to do.
Baker has a way with language and flow that’s very naturalistic and conversational. Does that work for you?
Yes, but, I’m more interested in seeing how an audience reacts to the awkward pauses and quiet spots. Then again, my character is very different than the others in the play. All of other characters use silence and pauses profusely I do not.
What’s the key to playing blind?
This is my first time. I didn’t want to wear the sunglasses, so I just do a lot of staring into the abyss. The face can be more expressive that way.
You’ve been acting in Philly for a minute. This is your one chance to dis or to applaud a fellow actor in town. Who do you want to pick apart?
Oh I have been lucky. It is a small city and everybody has been pretty great – I’m not just saying that. There was one unpleasant person years ago at PTC, but he was just an a—hole, and everybody knew it. It had nothing to do with the theater. He was just personally an a—hole.
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