Paul Jones is directing “Crimes of the Heart,” the last production in Camelot Theatre’s current building. Within the last two years, Jones has played Nixon in Camelot’s “Frost Nixon,” Marley’s Ghost in Oregon Stage Works’ “The Christmas Carol,” and Lt. Col. Matthew Markinson in Camelot’s “A Few Good Men.” We chatted over coffee at The Coffee House at Bloomsbury Books.
EH: Why do you think “Crimes of the Heart” won a Pulitzer Prize?
PJ: The play doesn’t bring up any earth-shattering world issues, but it hits people in unexpected places. The appeal is very human, people handling their problems, which to them are monsters, nothing to do with earthquakes, or tsunamis, or the threat of the A-bomb.
It’s about three sisters struggling with making the wrong decisions, listening to their fears, being too logical, or just jumping into something without asking the heart, “Is this what I really want to do?” and then not listening. Those are the crimes.
It’s comical, desperate and pathetic. You find yourself being drawn in with the characters, the traumas that they’re dealing with, and living their lives. It is so well-written, it just plays itself; it flows so beautifully. It’s enormously funny, but underneath are all those layers of what is going on with those people. The audience will find themselves crying and laughing at the same time.
EH: You’re working with some terrific actors. What makes a great actor?
PJ: I think ease. You could say things like intellect, intelligence, talent, the innate ability to see within a character and bring it out, the technical aspects of being on the stage and relaxed; you could go on. But I think a great actor is one who can reach in, and tap into that character, put the character’s clothes on, and stand on the stage. And you’re entranced, you’re pulled in. Sometimes what strikes me, is when an actor gets up there and does things so simply. And you’re right there. It’s happened to me a few times, and in all those times, you don’t do anything. The character is doing it for you. You just have to relax and let it out. A lot of actors are so intense that they don’t allow those inner workings that we suppress all of the time, the reality, to come out in the simplest terms. A good actor invites you in gently with sincerity and honesty. And you’re there.
EH: What makes a great director?
PJ: I think a great director has to be tuned in to each individual actor, and try to intuitively understand what that actor needs. Actors need things in different ways. Some actors want to be stimulated intellectually first, they want to understand it, and then it works. Some actors just go for the guts, they want that emotional drive, and then it works into the intellect, so that there is a match.
But I think a good director has to be tuned into how an actor works, what sparks an actor, what gets actors to where they need to go. A good director needs to be a good communicator, needs to be fluid, needs to be open. Good directors allow the actor to participate in making things work. Theater is collaborative with everybody giving feedback. If a director is open, an actor is going to be open. As a director, I ask a lot of questions. It can be as simple as, “What do you want?”
“Crimes of the Heart” runs from April 20 to May 22, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. For tickets and information, call Camelot Theatre’s box office at 541-535-5250 or visit www.camelottheatre.org.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.