Photos courtesy of Joel Daavid.
Kerry Carney is currently onstage as Tanya, an inadvertent freedom fighter in Jason Wells' "The North Plan," directed by David Fofi and given its Los Angeles premiere at the Elephant Theatre Company. The production's backstory describes some unnamed national emergency that has occasioned the President, as per plans stipulated years ago by former National Security Council member Oliver North (hence the title), to declare martial law. The Plan has also given minions of Homeland Security Constitution-busting powers of search and seizure.
The action takes place in a police station in a small town in southern Missouri. Think Franz Kafka meets Andy of Mayberry. It's not so much the particulars of the emergency as the way people respond to the imposition of martial law that drives this riveting, must-see production story. What follows, among other things, are Ms. Carney's thoughts on her role of Tanya.
JS: Tell us about Tanya. At first she seems like a tempest in a teapot, a good old girl in a small, nondescript town. Later, when you consider her belated response to the national emergency, it becomes apparent that her course of action just might be the only legitimate and rational one, considering the circumstances. What was your biggest challenge in preparing for the role?
KC: My biggest challenge was trying to ground her in reality and make sure not to portray her as just a trashy redneck, which she isn't. The show is so funny, it would be easy to rely on the lines and just let her be a buffoon. Tanya is smart, just not educated. She is a survivor, because she has had to be, which tends to make her selfish, because she has had to be. There are a lot of interesting levels to find and I wanted to do Jason's character justice.
JS: Were you consciously aware that the scenario depicted in "The North Plan" could actually come to fruition? Did David want this to be a story about a particular woman, Tanya, or do you think he wanted it to point to a possible future direction in American society? Or was it a little of both?
KC: I think Dave wanted to tell this specific story, about these specific characters. However, there is no way anybody could read or see this this play and not be aware of the parallels between this "hypothetical" situation and the state of the world today. That's why the play is so interesting. This absurd situation, that gets you laughing, really isn't so absurd at all. There are moments in the play that are really scary, because they make logical sense and the outcomes don't see that implausible.
JS: What made you want to audition for this part?
KC: I was asked to participate in the reading of the play about a year ago when we were trying to select the season. I just loved it. I saw some really great opportunities for physical comedy, which I love.
JS: Do you identify with Tanya in any way?
KC: Sure, I'm sure in some way, everybody can. She is a little beaten down by the system, a little overwhelmed by the injustices in her life, a little bitter about her ex and a little misunderstood. These are things that are easy to relate to and find comparisons to, for most of us I think. She might have a harder edge than most of us would like to see in ourselves, but she is relatable, absolutely.
JS: What's it like working with David?
KC: I've been working with Fofi for a long time now. He is an incredible director. He really sees simple solutions so clearly, his notes always make sense and improve not only the moment that isn't working, but the next five that are a reaction the his adjustments. The great thing about knowing a director like Dave for so long is, he memorizes your strengths and weaknesses. So, he knows to tell me "do that specific thing YOU do", or better yet "Don't do that weird thing you do." He is so passionate about really giving the audience a great time. It feels good to be focused on that goal so intently, instead of all the other unimportant stuff that can come in to play.
JS: How is this different from other roles you've previously played?
KC: She's naïve, but sincere. As foul as her language is, there is something sweet about Tanya. But I have to say this is not my first show wearing cowboy boots with big hair. So that glove feels familiar.
JS: You've been with the Elephant for some time now. What's it like being part of a theatre company?
KC: The Elephant has been such a huge part of my Los Angeles life. I was a baby when I started. It really is a family like environment. Most of my best friends in town are members here. It is a really talented group of people who all support each other, onstage and off. We have an unbelievable group of women in this company, just such strong comedic talent, it is always great to feel like the roles are anybody's game. There isn't much vicious competition here; I think we are just all happy to see any one of us working. We all really enjoy each other. That is a gift.
JS: When did you realize you wanted to act? Who were your influences? What brought you to Los Angeles?
KC: Jeez, I played Maria in The Sound of Music in the fifth grade at St. Margaret's school in Lowell, Massachusetts. My uncle Ron was an actor out here in LA when I was growing up. He was on TV a lot, so I think it made it somehow tangible. Like, it was something that could actually be accomplished. He was always very supportive of my interest. I would run home and call him when I auditioned for something, he helped me choose monologues, he would send me plays in the mail. I lived with him and my Aunt Nancy when I moved out here, they helped me get acclimated. Both of them were a huge part of me choosing to stay and make a life here.
JS: You've also appeared in TV shows like "Scandal" and "Grey's Anatomy." How is acting for TV different than acting for theatre?
KC: So different. You don't get to connect with an audience in person, feel their energy. To me, that is what makes theatre so fun. TV is great though, it pays better and somebody does your hair for you.
JS: Has your writing had an impact on your acting?
KC: I would say it is more like my acting has had an influence on my writing. Trying to use action as well as words to convey things. I have a tendency to overwrite (similar to the way I speak). There is usually a lot of editing to be done.
JS: Do you have a dream role that you'd one day like to do on stage?
KC: As I get older those roles make less and less sense. What once was Annie is now Miss Hanigan...Seriously though, Miss Hanigan is one.
JS: What would you want people to take home from "The North Plan?"
KC: Don't underestimate a lady with a lot of jewelry on.
Performances are 8pm, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The show runs until June 1. Tickets are $25. The Theatre is located at 6322 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood. For more information visit call (855) 663-6743.www.ElephantTheatre.org.