Me: I have to ask. There is a black and white or cinematic grayscale theme throughout the whole story- except that one rose. Simply, why? I have theories about it, but I wondered if Warren discussed it, and what your thoughts on it were.
Rob: I think it’s most importantly a way for him to trace his mother throughout the evening. It was important that his mother really was something that he never got over- his mental illness, his abandonment. And this isn’t something we are pulling out of thin air to make drama. If you read his autobiography, it is ripe with struggle. Imagine, he is nine years old, and his brother Sidney leaves for the navy for four years. And his mother, who is all he has left since his alcoholic father has already left, is the only thing he has to cling to at nine years old. And she loses it. Loses her mind, and gets put in an asylum. And from nine to twelve, Chaplin is homeless and alone, living on the street. That’s going to mess you up. It’s going to mess you up, and there’s going to be resentment toward the mother, and throughout his entire youth, she was constantly being checked in and out of the insane asylums. And even when Sidney returned from the navy, it would only be for several months at a time that they would perhaps get their mom back for a moment, and then she would lose it again and be gone. He was repeatedly abandoned by her. He never stopped loving her, but it hurt. I’m sure it hurt. So, when you watch the film “The Kid”, if you know that about his life, it changes how you perceive that film. And what I think our show does so beautifully is that holds up moments from his life and from his films.
Me: That constant juxtaposition.
Rob: Yes, and thus it gives you a window into where the genius came from. And genius in the true sense of the word. But it was out of his pain, and out of his struggles that he was able to craft those moments. That’s one of the reason that the Tramp, while it goes down in history as one of the funniest characters, it’s all out of a very melancholy place. It’s all about disguise, and pretending to be someone he’s not. And I think that could be said of Charlie’s life. I think it’s interesting even the choices that he made. You know, he was full out Cockney “ello guvna” when he came to America. But rather than choose to be Cockney, or choose to Americanize his accent, the day he stepped off the boat, he started with a very posh accent and an air of being from some place of more importance. Why, why would he do that? He saw an opportunity to reinvent himself. He saw an opportunity to hide from the past of what he was. He didn’t really talk like that. So we have fun moments in our show... I think the first time I whip out the posh accent is when I’m talking to Jesse Robbins from Essanay in the party scene. I’m with Sid, and then next thing I know this guy wants to talk business. Charlie sees an opportunity, and suddenly he puts on the posh- you know, I’m from a lot more money and I deserve more. He saw lots of opportunities for reinvention, and the Tramp being the greatest among them.
Me: It seems to be a strong choice throughout the show to play out to the audience- which makes sense considering a lot of the story is in Chaplin’s head. When it comes to your own journey as Chaplin, and seeing how emotional the very end of the show is for you, would you say that having that connection with the audience helps to get you to that point.
Rob: You know, throughout most of the evening, I’m not directly addressing the audience, but in that final moment the theatre becomes the audience as the Oscars in 1972. So, I’m able to really take in people. Really look right at them. And usually, within my periphery, I pick around a dozen people to give my speech to- and usually to the people who are giving me back real emotion. I can get down to the end of that red carpet and the first “thank you” of that Oscar speech, and in that moment is everything that’s great about going to the theatre. If you want to watch something two dimensional- watch a movie. Stay home and watch a movie. What’s awesome is in that moment, you came to see a show, you’re in the story, but suddenly the person in the story is busting down the fourth wall, looking right at you and talking right to you. That’s why we see theatre. Because I’m really there. And you’re really there. And we are taking each other and it’s an energy and a give and take that is greater than any other art form. And I think that’s what makes theatre great. I’m so thankful that Warren has given me the gift of that moment- to address them directly. And there’s no disputing the validity of that relationship in those moments. No one can tell me that we’re not being moved in those moments, because I’m watching people watch the show! I can see it’s working, you know. It is a very emotional moment for me, and it resonates on so many levels. For Charlie to say, “When the life that you wish for becomes real” means so much to him, for the simplicity of that sentence. It means so much to him because it’s something that his mother used to say to him. And it means so much to me- it’s Rob McClure on Broadway at the friggen’ Barrymore Theatre going that “it’s wonderful when the life that you wish for becomes real!” Every night that finale resonates within me differently, but I’m always a puddle by the end.
Me: Understandably so.
Rob: Yah, and I’m so grateful. So grateful for that moment- and I have every member of the company, minus Jenn Colella since she’s the bad guy.
Me: Oh! I’ve never even noticed that!
Rob: Yah, she’s the only one, but I give her a big hug right when the show is over. But, honestly, how often at the end of a show do you get to make eye contact with almost every member of the company and go “thanks” as they each come out one by one and greet you. It’s... It’s profoundly moving for me.
Stay tuned for Part Five!