Gregory Johnstone had me laughing hard last Saturday night. Me and about a crowd of 200 others. At turns he was delivering one liners with jazz DJ smoothness, and at others he was falling flat on his back. A simple quirk of his brow or a twist of his lips and that was it…I couldn’t contain my laughter. It’s not what he says, people…it’s the way he says it. Greg is pretty awesome, and I’m so glad I got to interview this wonderful actor.
Okay, so give it to us Twitter-style – describe your character in 140 characters or less:
Jeff is a hopeless romantic who wants to love his wife, child, and pinot noir, forever.
You’ve played some pretty outrageous characters in the past (Quantam Theatre’s Golden Dragon show comes to mind). How has it been crafting your character Jeff in You Say Tomato?
Every character you play is obviously going to require a different way of finding who they are. With Jeff, he’s real. He and Annabelle wrote both the book and the play. But i stayed away from watching you tube clips and trying to sound or move like him because i don’t think that’s the point. I feel it’s more about “who” he is rather than the “how” he is. And who he is is right there for me. I just have to find the ways to say his words so the audience doesn’t simply see two people fighting. That’s dull.
Trust me Greg, you definitely found a way to make your performance as un-dull as you can imagine. Can you describe your process a bit?
My process is, hmmm….Well, after reading the script a few times I’ll definitely get a sense of who I feel this person is or the direction in which I think it’s going. Then I show up at rehearsal and we talk as a company. I view the director’s role as the captain of the ship. He/she tells us where we’re headed and unless I feel it’s WAY off, let’s get this ship going!
This show is being billed as a new comedy about love and marriage. Why are shows about the two subjects either painfully sad, or incredibly funny?
Regarding love and marriage: shows go in those two directions of either really sad or really funny because I think the middle ground would be boring on stage, but pretty great in life.
Any favorite moments of the show?
There are many favorite moments of the show. Without giving things away: I like the binkie scene, the cafe scene and the phone calls. So far, Robin, and Van, and I have been having a really good time.
The binkie scene…yes! Okay, what are you hoping people take from this production? What do you want them to be feeling or thinking when they leave the theater?
I would love for people to be able to have a great time during the show. They are going to recognize parts of themselves in both of the characters and hopefully they can feel more connected to other couples, as in “I’m not alone in feeling this way”. Inexpensive therapy. or maybe they will come back several times AS therapy. Mostly I want them to laugh with us. It’s fun!
This is your second time performing with the CLO. They always put on the most amazing productions! So first, as Barbra Streisand once sang, is it really lovelier the second time around?
I’m absolutely thrilled to be back at the CLO. They feel like family, and I like my family.
Alright, sorta topic change: what do you look for when you decide whether to sign on to a production or not? Is it the character, the director, the storyline?
I would love the luxury of being able to choose which parts to take, but I don’t. I am proud to have been in some really great ones though. If I did have that luxury, I would have to say the director is a huge part of it and then the character. I’ve done some things where I’m only in a scene or two, but loved those scenes.
Alright, another topic change. You currently reside in Northside. It’s undergone a bit of a transformation in the last several years. How do you think these neighborhoods affect Pittsburgh arts and theater?
I’ve been in the Northside since 1996, with a few years in NYC, then here since 2000. I have seen some good changes, but not nearly on the scale of the people who’ve been here since the 60’s or 70’s. Pittsburgh is a great city. The neighborhoods each have their own character and a lot of them have theatres there. We have the New Hazlett, downtown has the cultural district, Oakland has the universities and PICT and quantum goes everywhere. Having them spread out gives people an opportunity and reason to get to know another area a little better.
Various news outlets are calling the city the Hollywood of the East. What do you think?
I would love it if we could continue to be the Hollywood of the east.
Finally, Greg, I’ll need some advice now. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and who was the person to tell you that?
Best piece of advice was told to me by my parents: do what makes you happy. I appreciate that, and them.
Jeff can be seen in Pittsburgh CLO”s Cabaret production of You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up! running now through May. Tickets and info can be found here.