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How To Play Someone Who's Nothing Like You

Date: Nov 16, 2011


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Now that they're in their twenties, the stars of  Wild Animals You Should Know feel prepared to play teenagers.
"You don't have perspective until you're out of it," said Gideon Glick, 23, who joins Jay Armstrong Johnson, 24, as a pair of high schoolers with a twisted friendship. "When I was younger, I always got upset that they didn't cast people who were the correct age for these parts. But as I've gotten older I've realized [that] I don't think I could have played this part when I was 16."
Glick plays Jacob, a sensitive, passive boy in love with his friend Matthew (Johnson), who's full of bravado and a sexual energy. The play mostly follows the boys on a Boy Scout camping trip, where Matthew harasses his gay Scout master.
But according to director Trip Cullman, Matthew is not a malicious, scheming adult. "When we're adolescents, we sometimes act without being aware of the consequences of our actions," he says.
During rehearsal, Cullman had the cast recall their own memories of lost innocence. To avoid the stereotypical teenage power dynamic---the introspective geek versus the cocky jock---they focused on the complexities in the characters and in Thomas Higgins' script, which is being produced by MCC Theater.
Johnson and Glick soon realized they were wildly different from their characters.  "I judged Matthew a little bit when I first started working on the play, and that's the number one thing you can't really do when you're playing a villain of sorts," Johnson says. "Because then you're commenting on their actions instead of actually doing what you need to be doing."
In one of the opening scenes, Matthew teases Jacob by calling him "gay" and punching him in the arm. Johnson's challenge is to show that underneath the insults, Matthew has a deep investment in this friendship. "I really have to find complete love for Jacob, so that when I say 'gay,' it's banter," Johnson says. "It's two boys playing."
Glick says that scenes like this are difficult because he's not accustomed to ceding control in his own life. "Jacob does get trampled on by Matthew, and I think as Gideon that's hard to feel," he explains.
However, he 's had experience as a beta male, playing the same sort of character in the Broadway musical Spring Awakening. He sees the relationship between Jacob and Matthew as a more psychologically developed exploration of the one in that show.
Johnson equates his own passage into adulthood with being able to let go of some of the viewpoints he heard growing up in Fort Worth, Texas. When he read Higgins' script, he knew the play's message was an important one, even if the role scared him. Talking about his performance, he says, "It's kind of cathartic in a really weird, weird way. This play is kind of changing the way that I thought the world of acting was supposed to work." 
Laura Hedli is a writer based in New York City