“Q&A with Tim Cummings” by Dan Berkowitz

Don’t worry: I’m still going to be writing reviews, using my dashing wit to bring you the real truth about the best and the worst theatre productions in the LA area.

Hmmm. Actually, some of you may want to worry about that.

Whatever.

Today, though, something completely different: a Question and Answer with an actor currently playing in a hit show in town.

His name is Tim Cummings, he graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and he’s acted on Broadway (Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune with Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci), off-Broadway (The Guys, in which he played opposite Sigourney Weaver, Susan Sarandon, Amy Irving, and Carol Kane), and a bunch of theatres in SoCal, including Laguna Playhouse (The Pursuit of Happiness), South Coast Rep (Reunion and Eurydice), Theatre @ Boston Court (Camino Real and Tartuffe), and the Fountain (The Normal Heart).
 

Tim Cummings. Photo by Tim Leyes

Tim Cummings. Photo by Tim Leyes

 
His mantelpiece is kinda crowded, what with two LA Drama Critics Circle Awards, two LA Weekly Theatre Awards, two Broadway World Awards, two Obie Awards, and eight StageSceneLA Awards. And it may get more crowded still, because right now, he’s appearing in the World Premiere of Need To Know, a three-character play which was named a LA Times Critic’s Choice, and has just been extended to January 24. The show is playing at Rogue Machine Theatre, where Tim is also Literary Manager.

Dan Berkowitz: In thirty seconds, can you tell us what Need To Know is about?

Tim Cummings: We judge too harshly before we get to know a person, and lately that judgment is exacerbated by social media to such an extent that it can have drastic consequences.

It’s a cautionary tale, in a way.

But for me, it’s a little more spiritual as well; these three people are in one another’s lives for a very short time, but for a specific reason, and it changes them irrevocably.

DB: How did you get involved with the production?

TC: I met the playwright, Jonathan Caren, when I was doing Eurydice at South Coast Repertory with his girlfriend Carmela – who just became his fiancée! He saw me in several other plays in the interim, and then approached me with Need To Know in early 2014. We did readings of it in LA and NY, and at the end of 2014 I brought it to Rogue Machine, where we did a staged reading. They liked it and added it to their 2015 season.

As a side-note, I should add that I was not Literary Manager yet when this all went down. Lest people think that I am bringing the theatre plays with roles for me to act in. Not the case. And, since I’ve taken up the post, quite the contrary.
 

Tim Cummings in "Need To Know." Photo by John P. Flynn

Tim Cummings in “Need To Know.” Photo by John P. Flynn

 
DB: Who do you play, and were there particular challenges to the role?

TC: I play Mark Manners, a writer of young adult fiction who is on the verge of having his very first novel published. He’s a gregarious type, bit of an odd duck, but primarily because he’s lonely and has had some hardships in the past.

Yes, there were challenges. It was about finding a balance between someone who comes across normal and harmless while simultaneously creepy and dangerous. It was about high-wiring the line between the two for the entirety of the play.

DB: Some actors love directors, others say “stay out of my way!” Where do you fall, and what was it like working with Bart DeLorenzo?

TC: I love directors if they’re wise and have a vision and understand actors and their processes, which admittedly can be nutty, but I’m fortunate in that I’ve not run into that too often – especially on this. This is a dream team, between actors, director, playwright, and designers. In fact, me and my co-stars, Corryn Cummins and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, actually have a full-out dance party in the dressing room before every show. We’ve been challenging one another to come up with the perfect pre-show playlist. That’s how dreamy it is. Who doesn’t love a dance party?

Bart is a connoisseur. This is a tricky play; it exists best walking down the edge of a razor, and he expertly guided us onto the blade.

I’d wanted to work with him for some time, and I suggested Rogue Machine contact him and see if he was available, which I didn’t expect him to be, but he responded to the play. We met at El Coyote and scarfed down some burritos as we discussed the material. His spin on it was pretty genius: he wanted to give it a Hitchcockian edge. And I knew that that was the right angle for this show. It works well because of its duality; it’s light and funny as well as dark and creepy.
 

L-R: Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Corryn Cummins, Tim Cummings. Photo by John P. Flynn

L-R: Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Corryn Cummins, Tim Cummings. Photo by John P. Flynn

 
DB: You’ve done Broadway and Off-Broadway: what’s the biggest difference between New York and LA theatre from an actor’s point of view? Good things and bad things about each city?

TC: LA theatre is prismatic. The region is colossal, and so its palette of arts and culture is ubiquitous.

NYC theatre was more communal, in my experience. There’s something more tribal. It’s an island; there’s island mentality there, which means people help one another.

The actor energy in LA can be very “every man for himself/ every woman for herself”… understandable but disheartening.

I actually had a very old-school NY experience with Need To Know in that Jon called me and said he wanted to work with me on this play. Boom. So then we began a journey with it, which we are in the middle of presently, and it’s a success. I have a feeling, and a hope, that this will not be the end of the road for this project. I want us to bring this production to other cities. The fact that it is such a mega-hit (rave reviews, LA Times Critic’s Choice, 8 weeks of sold out houses, now a 4-week extension due to ticket-demand) tells you that it should be seen by more people. It’s a perfect little piece for NY, for Chicago, for London. Let’s go!

DB: I hear you’re a playwright as well as an actor: how does that affect how you approach a play? Do you find yourself “analyzing” the work, judging the writing – or can you turn the playwright side of your mind off when you’re acting?

TC: I write fiction and poetry more than plays. I published a book of short stories in 2011 and am working on a volume of poetry and prose. I’m now in the labyrinth with a new novel that I am attempting to publish. I’ve had a few little plays, one acts and such, produced in LA and NY. I’m almost too close to the theatre to write good plays. I’m great at reading them, though. I love to read plays. I read a lot of plays.

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

TC: I cannot think of something fun about me that no one else knows, as all the fun parts of me are very front and center with the people in my life, and with my work.

Now if we’re talking about the not-fun stuff? Err, not so front and center. Well, except maybe for the extra chins?

DB: Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone about the extra chins…

Need To Know
Written by Jonathan Caren
Directed by Bart DeLorenzo

Through January 24

Rogue Machine (in Theatre/Theater)
5041 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Tickets: 855-585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com


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