Darragh Kennan has sunk his teeth into more than a few juicy roles on the Seattle stage, including his Gregory Award winning performance as Hamlet in 2011 and his recent portrayal of Joseph K. in The Trial. He's become one of the city's most respected actors by attacking his roles with a deftly balanced combination of intensity and nuance. The actor and artistic director of the New Century Theatre Company takes on his latest famed role when he begins sleuthing as Sherlock Holmes in Seattle Rep's The Hound of the Baskervilles (Nov 15–Dec 15).
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Kennan about Hound's detailed production design, the relationship of Holmes and Watson, and future plans for New Century.
What aspects of The Hound of the Baskervilles are you excited about?
For this particular production the design is pretty incredible. L. B. Morse is the lighting designer and set designer on this project. His work on the show, and his passion and energy towards this, is just inspiring. He’s using these projections on columns that are moving across the stage. They did all this film work, like with actors walking with these bowler hats and beards for the chase scene. In the play this guy falls off a cliff, and the other day they had this stunt guy in and they built this huge thing for him to fall off and they filmed it, so that’s going to be projected as well. And I know that they filmed the dog, so projections will be used in various ways. He’s really creating this thrilling visual experience, just in terms of how, on the theater stage, you tell this tale set out on The Moor with this spectral hound that’s supposed to frighten people. You can do it in the movies, but how do you do it on stage so it’s not just a bare stage? And how do you do it in a theater when there’s so many location changes; from the train station to Baker Street to out on The Moor to Baskerville Hall?
We just have started to get introduced to the sound designer Paul James Prendergast, who the director Allison Narver has worked with before. He’s composed three different scores and he’s trying to figure out what’s best. Everyone is just so excited about telling this story in a new way, and this way and it’s really cool. When you work at a place like Seattle Rep, which is the height of the theater in terms of budgets and production values, sometimes it can go awry. Best intentions get in the way and it becomes more about the set and the machinations than the storytelling. But then, when it seems like it’s going in the right direction, it’s really cool because you do have the ability to have all these craft artisans working on the show and you have the resources to do something that really feeds imaginative storytelling.
I mean, the other exciting thing is getting to play Sherlock Holmes; it’s just fabulous. If you’re going to have fun in the theater this is right up there.
Do you have a different approach as an actor when you’re taking on a character like Holmes that has so much preexisting iconography?
Yeah, in a way. I’ve played roles that are similar in terms of “Oh my God, everyone’s got to have an opinion on this. How can you match up to such and such?” When I played Hamlet it was like that, and when I played Eugene O’Neil—the character that is Eugene O’Neil, Edmonds—in Long Day’s Journey into Night. To me, it’s freeing in a way, because you’re not gonna get it, quote unquote, “right.” You know someone’s going to come in with a preconceived notion and you’re not gonna fit that. So it’s kinda neat, because I know that people are going to be disappointed in my performance beforehand. I could be the best actor in the world and they wouldn’t like it, because we all have these types of characters where we have a very specific idea of what this person is.
How do you have feel about Hounds being a sort of counter to the traditional holiday shows?
I think it’s really great because I think we get a little burnt out on the same offerings at this time of year. It’s nice to be able to have something new, and at the same time it’s perfect for this time of year because it’s a hell of a good thrilling mystery. It’s very holiday appropriate in a sitting in front of the fire and listening to a story kind of way.
How are things going at New Century Theater Company?
They’re great. We just closed our latest show, The Walworth Farce, and we are gearing up to do our next show Tails of Wasps, which is a world premiere by company member Stephanie Timm. I’m going to be directing that show so it’ll be the first time I’m directing for the company. We’re really pleased with how things are going, and we’re moving into our brand new space 12th Avenue Arts in October of next year.
What are your long-term goals for New Century?
We’re really trying to figure out a way to grow the company and still hold onto the thing that I think we do really well, which is the shows. [Laughs] It sounds silly, but we’re a group of actors, you know? We’ve morphed a little bit. I’m taking on the role of artistic director and it’s been a great learning curve for me. We have a new managing director now, we have a board that I helped sort of set up, and we’ve got a 501c3, so we’re doing all these things and trying to think about how to set up a structure so that we can grow as a company. And it’s hard for us to figure that out, but I’m excited about it.
That’s my goal, I really wanted to try and figure out a way to pay the artists and really make it about the storytelling and the acting. And I think that we have done that, and we’re good at that, but what we need to get better at is figuring out how to make sure everyone can come and see that and support that and knows about that. This year is the first year that we ever did a season, more than one play in a year, and we’ve got that going for next year as well. We just want to be able to grow structurally so that we can expand from more than just project-to-project based theater. And I think we’re on our way.
Do you have any sort of preshow routine?
I always make sure that my fly is zipped up. If I have a fly, that’s the number one thing before I go on stage. [Laughs]
What are the best shows you’ve seen in the past year or so?
You know, I mean it’s not local but Black Watch absolutely blew me away. That was one of the best pieces of theater I’ve seen in my life. There were some things about The Servant of Two Masters at Seattle Rep that I loved. The precision and cleanness of comedy was amazing to watch certain moments of that show.
Anything else you’d like to add?
For me, the role of Holmes centers on trying to find out and get really locked into the relationship with Holmes and Watson; how they need each other and why they love each other. Holmes seems to really need Watson to help him understand humanity and understand people, and Watson needs the sort of the adrenaline rush and the intellectual pursuit that Holmes brings. Holmes is dysfunctional. He has a very hard time looking people in the eye and shaking people’s hands or saying the right thing. He’s socially inept, I think, and Watson helps to understand that. Together me and Andy McGinn, who’s playing Watson, are finding the relationship and I think that that’s the thing that will hook the audience members; seeing that it’s not just this thrilling mystery novel come to life, but it’s also these two people who really need each other.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Nov 15–Dec 15, Seattle Rep, $15–$80