Review Fix chats with actor Matt de Rogatis who discusses playing Charlie Gordon in The Alpha NYC Theatre Company and The Engine’s upcoming production of “Flowers for Algernon” at The Bridge Theater at 244 W 54th Street in New York City this July. Breaking down his research process in preparation for the performance, de Rogatis gives us an inside look at the production and how it continues to build and define the tale of “The Elephant Man.”
For more information on the production, click here.
Review Fix: Many people read the book in school. Did you have any attachment to the piece before this?
Matt de Rogatis: Oh, absolutely. I know I mentioned in our last interview that pairing this play with The Exhibition, to create this Evening of One Acts event, was something that had been in the works for about 5 years now. So the attachment to this piece has been there since at least then. It’s definitely one of my favorite stories. I’ve read the book three times so far and am about to start it up again for a fourth time. Charlie Gordon is an iconic character that, as an actor, I know I am privileged to be playing.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration to bring this play back to the stage?
de Rogatis: It’s such a great story and it’s not produced that often in the city. I follow theatre pretty closely and I have no idea the last time it was done in New York. Pairing it with The Exhibition makes it all the more unique. At first glimpse one wouldn’t think that Charlie Gordon and The Elephant Man have much in common but they really do. Both plays explore similar themes of morality and what it’s like to be a human being under tragic circumstances. They are great companion pieces.
Review Fix: Charlie is essentially two characters. How did you prepare differently for Charlie’s different personas?
de Rogatis: Two characters? Is that all? Hahaha. I think it’s more like five or six actually. And in a one act play the changes are happening very fast. It’s a great challenge for me as the actor and one of the reasons I was drawn to the role in the first place. The challenge.
In my preparation, I am basically breaking Charlie down into three unique phases of his development. First, of course, there is the intellectually disabled Charlie. Then there’s the Charlie who gradually becomes more intelligent and as a result gets sort of a window into his past. A past that was very traumatic. As someone going for his Masters in psychology I try to approach my characters from a psychological standpoint and Charlie definitely suffers from something called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. So I’m exploring that. Then, finally, there’s genius Charlie who ultimately becomes more intelligent than the doctors who conceived and performed the operation on him. So I’ve broken him down into three different people but each of those three people have many different sides. He’s an extremely complex man.
In order to harness in on these different Charlie’s I have done massive amounts of homework and research. It’s to the point where I’m just walking around with a constant headache from brain overload.
Review Fix: What do you think makes this production special?
de Rogatis: To the best of my knowledge no actor has ever played The Elephant Man and Charlie Gordon before in the same night. That’s something very unique right there. Joe Rosario is directing both shows. Another unique feature. But it’s the way we are telling the story that is going to make it special and different from any other time this show has been produced. Joe has come up with some very unique ways of staging the show. We’re using some very cool lighting tricks too that our lighting designer Steven Wolf will be doing. This is not going to be just another night of theatre. I can’t stress enough how unique of an event this is going to be.
Review Fix: What is it like to work with Darlene Violette?
de Rogatis: Darlene plays Alice Kinnian in the production. Charlie’s teacher. She was the second to last woman we auditioned. There was a lot of interest in the role of Alice. We received over 350 submissions and auditioned a lot of them. The auditions were laborious at times. A lot of these girls just didn’t have an understanding of the character. Then Darlene came in and knocked it out of the park. You instantly see the difference between an actress that studies the craft versus one simply chasing fame.
Review Fix: What is the chemistry like between you two?
de Rogatis: The chemistry was there from day one at the audition. She knew who Alice was. Whenever you have a talented actor or actress staring you in the face on stage or film, wherever it may be, it only makes you better. She brings a lot to the character. I think our scenes will be very powerful.
Review Fix: Bottom Line, why should someone come check it out?
de Rogatis: It will be two great shows exploring societal themes with some very high quality acting. The space is intimate. The audience is going to be right there with us. Feeling what we feel. From the curtain speech to the curtain call, everything is being very carefully choreographed and planned. This is an event. Only a couple hundred people are going to get to see it but they’re going to see something they won’t soon forget. That I know. It won’t be anything less than stellar.