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All words: The Theatre Gay

If you’ve been hanging out in Chinatown recently, maybe drinking at the Iron Horse, seeing a show at the Verizon Center or working out at Vida, you’ve probably seen the posters for “Measure for Measure.”  Oh?  Really?  You missed the 9-foot nun in a white habit in a compromising position?  The District’s own Shakespeare Theatre Company is producing this rare Shakespearean tragicomedy that explores themes of repression, zealotry, and justice.  I got the chance to sit down with Cameron Folmar who is playing Lucio in the upcoming production.

Theatre Gay: If you could start off by introducing us to the world of “Measure for Measure”?

Cameron Folmar: Ours is set in Vienna, Shakespeare sets it in Vienna as well; we’re moving it to the mid-’30s, the end of a very liberal or  free society and the oncoming of what we know in history would be the Nazis.  It’s a new regime taking over in the play, that is strict and puritanical, and shuts down all the fun.  We’re starting the play with a 20-minute prologue that actually happens as the audience is coming in.  So when the house opens, and people are filing in the show has already started.  It’s a cabaret show, a bunch of sexy sultry songs and dances.  People getting drunk, doing drugs in the corners, sexual situations, it’s sort of a sleazy run down cabaret.  And that’s the world we walk into, which is quickly flattened and destroyed.  That puts many of the characters including mine in a life or death situation.  They could be easily fingered at any time.  My character’s best friend [Claudio] is picked up immediately and condemned to death for getting his girlfriend pregnant. That’s the world where the play begins.

Could you talk a little bit about your character, Lucio, and how he interacts within the world of the play?  

To start off with, Lucio is the MC and headliner of the cabaret.  He gets the show going, and he keeps it swelling.  He’s the central figure in that arena.  Once Claudio is arrested, and the Cabarets are shuddered, he’s on a mission save his friend, and he does that by going to Claudio’s sister Isabella who is a novice, just about to take her vows.  The idea is to get her to go and soften up the new judge, Angelo. His idea, for a woman, is to get down on her knees, or at least be sexy.  But it is a bonafide attempt to save his friend’s life.  Then the plot spins out from there.  You know, Lucio has a riddled sense of humor.  He has a sort of irrepressible saucy wit, but everything he does comes out of an imminent sense of his own danger, and those he cares about.  He has a problem with authority, and he tends to have a compulsion to make dirty jokes whenever he’s around clergy or nuns.  He just can’t help himself in that area.

Measure for Measure
(Scott Suchman // Shakespeare Theatre Company)

In a town like DC, which is already so conservative, and repressed not so much from a regime but the conservative nature of the town, how do you think this production will play in a culture like that?  

Well, I actually think this is a really resonant play for DC.  Number one, it always seems the loudest and the most pious ones get pulled down.  They are found out that they are harboring their own deep secrets.  And that is true with one of the central figures of this play.  He puts the shutters on everybody, and it turns out it’s his repressed desires that his forcing on everyone else.  In the end he, well, explodes.

You’ve worked at the Shakespeare Theatre Before.  You were in “An Ideal Husband” in 2011, and several other plays before that.  What about the STC keeps bringing you back?

I’ve been working at the Shakespeare Theatre since I got out of school, which was 1999.  I worked on “King Lear” with Michael Kahn.  After that, I would come back once every year and then I was gone for a while.  I was in New York doing “The 39 Steps.”  Once that show closed, the first offer I received was for “An Ideal Husband” at the Shakespeare Theatre.  The shows are great, always have great actors, and great people to work with.

Talk to me about “The 39 Steps.”  How long were you doing that?  I noticed you have your pencil mustache, is that left over from that gig?

[laughs] Well, no, the pencil mustache is Lucio’s, it just stays on me until we close. In “39 Steps” I played one of the clowns who transforms into 58 different characters in the course of two hours.  So that was… madcap and exhausting and you know, wonderful.  That was a show where, even if you were doing it for a long time, and you were standing in the wings thinking “I can’t do this again,”  the moment that you stepped onto the stage and people laugh, it’s fantastic, it’s lovely.  I was with it for three years.  And I mean, the side effects of that show were great too.  You were in the best shape of your life, you could eat what you wanted. The only drawback was on your days off you were flat on your back.

Cameron vertical(Scott Suchman // Shakespeare Theatre Company)

I’ve noticed you’ve been playing a lot of comedic roles recently.  Is that something you feel drawn to?  

I don’t know. Sure, I mean, a great role is a great role.  I think the trajectory of a career is very interesting.  I don’t put a lot of constraints on myself.  I don’t think of myself in comedic roles.  Oftentimes, however, when people see you in things, or cast you in something, they will look for roles like that for you.  Since “39 Steps,” however, I have been called to be the guy who changes into different characters, and has 14 different accents.

And has 17 prat falls, or 24 costume changes.

But I love that.  I love when an actor changes at the drop of a hat.  It’s magical.

Why do you think people should come see “Measure for Measure”?

It’s a really fresh, exciting, muscular production of this play.  It’s extremely presentminded, and no holds barred.  I think it’s scary.  It’s funny.  It has all the complexity that is in a Shakespeare.  It’s an extraordinary play in that a situation could be horrible, and then suddenly something funny happens.  And then it’s horrible again.  It turns on a dime like that.  It’s difficult to do.  It’s difficult to accept.  It’s lifelike, you know?  You never expect when you’re walking down the street for a brick to fall on your head, but sometimes it does.  I know this production embraces that fully.  And the acting is fantastic.  Jonathan [Mumby] has directed it beautifully.

STC’s “Measure for Measure” runs now through October 27 in the Lansburgh Theatre.