An Interview with Helen Cespedes and Creed Garnick

Laugh actors Helen Cespedes and Creed Garnick sat down with Assistant Director Nathan Norcross to discuss the physical demands of the slapstick world premiere comedy and reflect on what they’ve learned in their first few weeks of pratfalls, mud fights, and disguises.

NATHAN NORCROSS: You both are tackling unique characters who also assume a substantial disguise throughout the course of the play. What was it like discovering who Mabel and Roscoe are through rehearsals and then building Masha and Chauncey onto them?

HELEN CESPEDES:  I, the actor, did not grow up in a rustic goldmine setting nor was I orphaned and taken in by relatives with ulterior motives (although, I did have a pet mouse who met a tragic end), yet Mabel’s story is one I can easily relate to. That decisive moment when you find yourself transported by art (in Mabel’s case the movies), moved to tears and laughter, and saying “I must be a part of that” is a moment I think all actors are familiar with.

For me, the crux of the transformation from Mabel to Masha comes when Mabel finally understands what Roscoe means in answer to her question on the train:

Mabel: Why don’t you want them [people] to see you?

Roscoe: So that you won’t get hurt.

After Mabel has experienced hurt and betrayal, she uses disguise to protect and empower herself. Masha contains this gloriously tragic and bruised quality yet with a fire of resilience underneath. I was influenced by Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, and countless other divas of the era.

CREED GARNICK:  Well Roscoe, as we know, is plagued with an extreme cowardice, but through Chauncey he finds his bravery and he's willing to go get the things that he wants and loves even at the risk of his life. Finding Roscoe is like finding the end of a rainbow. I don't know if I'll ever truly find him.

NN: Preview performances are always critical to learning how a play is landing with an audience, especially with a new comedy. What did you learn during previews?

HC:  We could have used MANY more! We certainly are learning more about this story every time we perform it.

CG:  Absolutely! I'm always discovering and rediscovering thoughts, inspirations, emotions, and tactics each night.

HC:  The heart of the story, I think, is in the bond between Roscoe and Mabel that is broken and then reformed. Finding the balance of that with the broader moments of comedy has been an interesting challenge.

NN: What has the most challenging aspect of the process been for you thus far? What has been the most rewarding? What has been the most FUN?

HC:  I think the most difficult aspect of this process has been the physical demands of the play. We are attempting to recreate similar acrobatic feats to the ones Keaton and Chaplin achieved out on those Hollywood lots—but we’re in a small theater. We don’t get a second or a third take in live theater. But, I guess that’s the magic of it.

I got into this crazy business because of the joy of transforming and watching other people transform. In a selfish way, it allows me to learn more about myself and explore uncharted territory in my imagination, and on the other hand, it allows me to connect with something larger than myself.