Life On Stage – Interview with Troy Harrison

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Grapeshot Presenter Nicholas O’Sullivan spoke with Troy Harrison about love, fidelity, comedy and life. Troy, alongside with John Atkinson, Megan O’Connell, Zoe Trilsbach and Nigel Turner-Carroll, will appear in the upcoming production The Motherf**ker With the Hat. Directed by Adam Cook, the multi-award winning hit Broadway play premiers at TAP Gallery Theatre, Sydney on 17 April 2013.

I’m here with Troy Harrison from the upcoming… can you give us the title of the production?

It’s called The Motherf**ker with the Hat.

Boom! Did you hear that university? Fuck you.

So I read a little synopsis on it – it’s a bit of a look at love, fidelity and haberdashery. Can you explain that in a bit more detail?

Yeah. Well it is about love, fidelity, trust, relationships – all these things that everyone goes through. It’s about what you’re willing to give up in order to move forward and try to progress your life.

The story revolves around Jackie (played by Troy Harrison) who’s just fresh out of prison and rehab. He’s got himself clean. He goes back to his girlfriend who he’s been with since the eighth grade. Even though he hasn’t been loyal to her, he has strayed but he sees himself as loyal. He gets an apartment – she’s still an addict – he’s got a job for the first time and he’s going to propose. And he sees a man’s hat in the apartment and he’s like, “what’s up with the hat”.

The whole thing revolves around him first of all trying to find who the owner of the hat is, who the motherfucker with the hat is, and then it breaks down relationships and talks about the fidelity within loving relationships, fidelity within friendships and trust and how people try to justify their own actions even though they’re trying to get other people to do certain things – things that everyone can relate to.

I’m a straight-shooter, I never cheat… Actually that is a lie.

Fidelity is a big question. Fidelity is something that everyone has an issue with at some point in their life. Whether you cheat or not, I think it’s an illusion to say that you go through your entire life without at least thinking about cheating, or without finding someone attractive enough to think to yourself, “I could actually go there, even though I have my partner.” The question is: why you do or why you don’t and how you justify those choices. But everyone at some point has something to do with fidelity.

Within that scope of exploring relationships, how then do you sell the humour that accompanies that? Is there a different way of stage presence? Is there a different way you handle it?

The humour comes from real people and real life situations. A lot of the humour comes from the dialogue – the story is set in the Bronx in New York and they’re Puerto Rican, so they do have a flavor within their accent alone. Some of the things these people say to each other when the heat is on, you sit there and you think, “how the fuck can people say that on the stage!”

How’s your Bronx accent going?

It’s not doing too bad. We’ve got accent coaching.

Can we get a little line…

Yo let me tell you a little somethin’ about the man you share a bed of love with. When he says imma come home wit’ a job today, the motherfucker delivers like FedEx baby.

Well, the Bronx alone causes problems because there are so many different versions of what accents there are. Whether you’re Italian-American, Jewish-American, Irish-American, Puerto Rican-American, depending on where you live within the Bronx itself it will flavour your accent.

The play was written with Puerto Ricans in mind. Obviously we’re not Puerto Rican, so you sort of push yourself that way [towards Puerto Rican] and then try not to play Puerto Rican. You just play the truth of these people. That’s where the comedy comes from because you just sit there and look at these people and you judge their decisions but at some point throughout the entire play, you’re on everyone’s side. You can see everyone’s point of view at some point. The person that you think is the worst person in the play, at some point you will sit there and understand their point of view.

That’s awesome. And I suppose, going off that… have you done a lot of this kind of comedy work before where you’re toeing the line between reality and comedy – how real does it get for the audience?

Yeah, I think that audiences are good these days with buying into things that are a little bit larger than them, and believing it for real, because people these days… I mean you see people on the streets who are crazy, who sit here and go “that guy is crazy”, you know what I mean?

Who are cray?

Who are cray cray! Like, people can buy that. There was a play that we put on before this one, Savage In Limbo, which was also set in the Bronx. These were Italian American, and they were very big characters. It was like sopranos on heat. But people walked away, like, everyone we spoke to was just like “I get them”, like “I understand that guy, I’ve been that guy”, and so we do find things that are not only fun for us to play, but also that people are going to love and relate to.

I suppose, when you’re on stage, especially with comedy, do you find yourself working with the crowd? Like, do you do certain things? Do you start upping the ante when you find they’re really reacting to stuff?

You don’t react to it in a way of “they just found me funny, I’m gonna be funny”. That’s where you lose comedy. Comedy comes in from the truth of something, like, don’t get me wrong, this is a very, very funny play, but it also is a very heartbreaking play. Like, you’ll get both ends of the spectrum… there’s some really heartbreaking moments where people break down and lose it. And so, if you sort of tried to play funny, to try to make them laugh, it never works. You have to play these people like they’re written, as their reality. This is who they are. They don’t find their reality or any of this shit funny. But what the funny is – is being able to sit on the outside and go, “I’m so fucking glad that’s not me.” That’s where comedy comes from. You work with an audience – it’s good to feel an audience coming along the journey with you. Whether they’re laughing or gasping, or you can sometimes hear people going, “Oh, I don’t like him”, and things like that. And hearing that, you feed off it because you know they’re coming along with you, but you don’t play for it.

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Venue: TAP Gallery Theatre, 278 Palmer St, Darlinghurst

Season: Wednesday 17 April – Sunday 5 May 2013

Performance Times: Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Sunday 5:00pm

Price: Tickets $25 – $30 (Wednesday tickets are two-for-one)

Bookings: www.workhorsetheatreco.com or www.facebook.com/workhorsetheatrecompany

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Troy’s story continues in Grapeshot Magazine Issue 3 ‘Comedy’ released from 29 April 2013.

Transcript by Megan Smith. Photograph of Troy Harrison by Michael Randall.