Sometimes, quietly but indelibly, an actor you’ve never seen before will steal the show.
I observed just that some months ago in Book-It Repertory Theatre’s dramatization of the Michael Chabon novel “The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.”
Frank Boyd gave such an in-depth yet nuanced account of Josef Kavalier, a troubled Jewish artist, magician and refugee from Nazi Europe, that he didn’t seem to be acting at all — just being.
That was the Houdini-esque illusion Boyd pulled off. Now he’s tackling another conjuring trick of his own devising.
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Actor-writer-director Boyd describes his new solo piece “The Holler Sessions,” which premieres this week at On the Boards, as “a live radio show that could never be on the radio.”
The sole character of Ray is an irreverent, explosive Kansas City music disc jockey who (like Boyd) is a passionate and messianic jazz fan. “I wanted to do a show about a DJ who talks about jazz the way guys talk about sports on sports radio, or politics on talk radio,” explained the unassuming and intent actor recently.
“You really feel like they’re improvising and it gets argumentative, and heated, and personal. I wanted to bring a George Carlin-like fire to a jazz broadcast.”
Winding through his monologue will be excerpts of music Boyd appreciates. “I’m just two years into jazz,” Boyd noted, naming Freddie Hubbard, Charles Mingus and Cannonball Adderley as some of his favorite jazzmen.
Boyd emphasized he had no interest in doing a one-man show “where you play 40 characters and 60 accents,” and a character who psychoanalyzes himself. “You get to know Ray through the music. I just want you to feel something happened to him, and that jazz is what kept him going.”
A Michigan native and New York University theater grad, Boyd ditched New York for Seattle on a whim in 2007 along with girlfriend Nila Leigh, a singer and half of the musical duo Goodbye Heart.
But if you haven’t seen much of Boyd on stage here yet, it’s because until recently he was usually acting in New York and elsewhere — often in the acclaimed show “Gatz,” a marathon, verbatim staging of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, “The Great Gatsby,” by the experimental Elevator Repair Service ensemble.
In town more now, Boyd is “starting to feel like I’m becoming part of” the Seattle theater scene.
“Kavalier & Clay” introduced him with a splash.
A fan of Chabon’s picturesque novel about two young men who in the 1930s and ’40s create a line of successful superhero comic books, Boyd urged his friend Josh Aaseng, Book-It Rep’s literary manager, to read it too. Aaseng agreed it might make a strong theater piece, and brought the idea to Book-It artistic directors Myra Platt and Jane Jones.
“It had been on our list,” noted Platt. Once Aaseng helped secure the rights, Platt and adapter Jeff Schwager began to forge a five-hour adaptation of the sprawling tale.
Early on there was no doubt who’d play Kavalier. “Frank was in a workshop reading of the show, and we just fell in love with him,” recalled Platt. “It’s like when you decide to do ‘Hamlet’ or ‘King Lear,’ and you know you have the actor to ground the project. Frank is just one of the most present, authentic actors I’ve ever worked with. He’s the best listener onstage.”
There are no characters for Boyd to listen to but himself in “The Holler Sessions,” which OTB is coproducing with The Team, a Brooklyn-based performance ensemble. But there is, says the actor, “The huge opportunity I see here to create original work. I’d love to infiltrate both Seattle’s fringe scene and big theater scene.” He’s on his way.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org