Old Friends and Frequent Collaborators Get HOOKED! An interview with Tom Reing and Charlie DelMarcelle

Director Tom Reing and actor Charlie DelMarcelle have known each other since grade school, growing up in Lebanon, PA and attending St. Mary’s elementary, followed by high school at Lebanon Catholic. They have also worked together on eight theatrical productions, including six with Inis Nua Theatre Company (founded by artistic director Reing in 2004). The latest of those is the American premiere of Irish playwright Gillian Grattan’s HOOKED!—a 75-minute site-specific dark comedy for the Halloween season, with Corinna Burns and Rachel Brodeur, staged upstairs at Fergie’s Pub. Phindie had the opportunity to speak with the artists about their long-time friendship and their upcoming show, following a sneak-peek at a private rehearsal. [Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom St., 2nd fl.] October 7-25, 2015; inisnuatheatre.org.

Charlie DelMarcelle (Photo credit: Katie Reing)
(Photo credit: Katie Reing)

PHINDIE: When you were kids in Lebanon, did you ever imagine at the time that you would both have careers in the theater and work together in Philadelphia?  

TOM REING: No, not at all! Charlie was going to be a teacher and I was going to be a painter. I even participated for two years in POST [Philadelphia Open Studio Tours] a number of years ago. But now I just paint for pleasure; it’s very difficult to find the time with running the company.

CHARLIE DELMARCELLE: “No” is both the long and short answer! Tom has really been the one responsible for my career in the theater. He was a year behind me in Catholic school, where we worked on student plays together. There was an affinity, and I took some theater classes in college, but I got my Bachelor’s in Education and expected to be a teacher.

PHINDIE: What’s your first creative memory?

TR: My mother was working for a family daycare service and asked me to draw a picture of what a happy home looks like. It ended up being used for the company’s logo, but I didn’t receive any royalties–I’m still mad at her about that! I was about four or five at the time, and I didn’t connect it then, that the arts were where I would go with my career.

CDM: As a theater artist, my first memory is of my debut as Joseph in a living crèche at St. Mary’s school; my role was to stand there during mass. I got light-headed and passed out; I was told I fell forward, catapulting the baby Jesus into the audience. But I still remember loving it!

PHINDIE: At what point did you decide to become a professional theater artist?

Tom Reing (Photo credit: C. Chapter)
Tom Reing (Photo credit: C. Chapter)

TR: As an undergrad in college I was a Fine Art major in painting, but I hung around at the theater a lot—at the cost of my painting, according to the faculty! So I applied to the Villanova Theater Department for grad school, though I wasn’t sure at the time exactly what I wanted to pursue—not acting, though I had done some, but directing, teaching, or being an education director, which I did. I also did some teaching, and enjoyed working with the students—some with disabilities and some from the juvenile justice system. I started to direct, and then I got to travel to the UK and Ireland, and saw plays that weren’t the usual type offered on the West End or Broadway. I wanted to see them here, but they never got picked up, so I ended up producing them on my own. So I kind of fell into this role of founding artistic director for Inis Nua and being able to work with my friends. It’s been an embarrassment of riches!

CDM: After we graduated college, Tom talked to me about going to Villanova for a Master’s in Theater; he’s the one who put the bug in my ear, and I went too. Those two years were incredibly informative for me. Money was very tight for both of us, so it was good to go through it together. It gave us an idea of what we might encounter as professionals in the arts, but we were there for each other for support, sharing our little bit of peanut butter and ramen noodles, and we knew we could do it. It’s a real gift to decide on a new career path and to be able to walk down it with such a close friend.

PHINDIE: So you stayed in touch with each other after you graduated and also reconnected in Philly through the theater community?

TR: Yes, we were always friends and always stayed in touch. We would visit each other as undergrads—I was at Shippensburg and Charlie was doing shows at Millersville—and we would see each other at home over the holidays and semester breaks. Then we were together in grad school at Villanova, and worked together in Philly in a production of The Dumbwaiter for Second Stage, along with another close friend and collaborator Leonard Kelly. So Charlie and I really have been lifelong friends; we were even in the Boy Scouts together!

CDM: Yes, we did little stories and songs around the campfire in Boy Scouts! And thanks to Tom, I ended up at Villanova in the theater program. Here’s something I don’t get a chance to say much to the community: I owe my career to Tom. Because he gave me opportunities at Inis Nua, I was seen by others and cast in other shows at other companies. But without Tom, I would not have become a professional actor; I owe so much to him. After I graduated from Villanova in 1996, I might not have stayed in the Philadelphia area; I was living in Lancaster and working at Millersville. But, as Tom said, we reconnected professionally in Philadelphia for The Dumbwaiter, and then I went on to do more shows with him. And we’re also both still teaching, at West Chester University with Leonard Kelly, where I’m full-time and Tom’s an adjunct, right down the hall from me. We have so much in common, and such a shared history.

PHINDIE: What do you enjoy about working with each other?

TR: Because we have such a history, we have a similar aesthetic. Part of that is being from and rebelling against a small town. We liked a lot of the same things in high school, so we have that intuitive response to each other; there’s a lot of commonality.

CDM: As with any successful artistic partnership, we have an automatic shorthand; there are things we don’t have to say, we just know. Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt! We know each other and trust each other; we can laugh together and love each other. What I love about Tom is that he’s open to experimentation, he doesn’t want to get stuck in a rut, and I like that. With him I’ve done a variety of work, from high-style to hyper-realism, and even a musical. He has a core aesthetic, but within that he likes to experiment and provides me with the opportunity to do all of it.

Corinna Burns, Charlie DelMarcelle, and Rachel Brodeur in Inis Nua’s HOOKED! (Photo credit: Katie Reing)
Corinna Burns, Charlie DelMarcelle, and Rachel Brodeur in Inis Nua’s HOOKED! (Photo credit: Katie Reing)

PHINDIE: What has been your favorite mutual show to date, and what was particularly memorable about it?

TR: There were two. The first was Trad [2007], when we were really getting our footing. It‘s an affecting, poignant, beautiful story, with a beautiful and moving performance by Charlie. It was the only time I ever saw him break on stage, it was so heartrending.  And Doublin by Lamplight [2011] was the other. It was such a dream for me to bring it here and to New York—though Charlie didn’t go to NY with us, he had booked another show in Philadelphia.

PHINDIE: Those are also my two favorites; both such stirring stories and such outstanding productions by Inis Nua that they’ve left an indelible impression on me.

CDM: That’s a really tough decision for me to narrow down my favorite; I also have two. Dublin by Lamplight is first, because it was wonderful to go down that stylistic rabbit hole with Tom, and we filled in each other’s gaps. I brought the physical and he did the storytelling. It was beautiful and challenging, and even though I couldn’t go to NY with it, Tom was so generous and understanding, he never made me feel guilty about taking the other offer. The second one is Skin Deep, for obvious reasons: it was my first show with Melissa Lynch, and we all know how terrific she was and how much she is missed. But another favorite is Crazy Gary’s Mobile Disco [2006], which we did upstairs at the Khyber Pass Pub, with Jared Delaney and Mike Dees. It’s three direct-address monologues, and my character’s was the last, which tied the whole story together. Tom rehearsed us separately, then brought us together late in the process, so in the end it was a revelation. It’s a beautifully written piece and the audience in the pub was so close that it had a really visceral effect on everyone.

PHINDIE: When did you first become aware of HOOKED! and what made you decide to do it?

Fergus Carey left and Phindie editor Christopher Munden.
Fergus Carey (left) and Phindie editor Christopher Munden.

TR: Fergie [Fergus Carey] brought it to my attention; he texted me from Dublin after he’d seen it. I have a lot of respect for his opinion and aesthetic, so I pulled up the script and read it, and immediately wanted to include it in our season. Plus I knew that if our new theater space and headquarters at The Drake [where the company will take up residence in 2016] weren’t ready yet, we could do the show in a pub. I like the joke that drives the play, that everything seems perfect on the surface, but everybody has dark secrets; that’s the humanity of it. Also I like the references in it to American culture that seep through and inform our audiences. Everyone in Europe and around the world knows our popular culture and understands the allusions to the US that define the themes in general, in all countries.

CDM: For this project, Tom called me to do a read-through, so I went and we read it. I didn’t know at the time we were going to do it. But the reading went so well, we decided to go with it.

PHINDIE: How important is it to you, and to the theater community as a whole, to have the support of people like Fergie (not to imply that there is anyone like Fergie!)?

TR: It’s invaluable. He makes it seem so effortless, but he’s a very busy businessman, with five pubs to manage. Every night we do this show, he has other things scheduled in the upstairs space, but he worked out his schedule for us. The other important aspect of him letting us use this space is that he’ll bring in a different audience of people who patronize his pub, who wouldn’t necessarily want to go to a “stuffy” theater, but they’ll come to the pub and have drinks and see the show. In a way it’s going back to our roots, of presenting works from Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales, many of which originated in the pubs there. I like the idea of going into a pub and hearing a story.

PHINDIE: Yes, it certainly is in keeping with the tradition of Irish storytelling, as well as with the intimacy of the piece, getting to know the innermost secrets of the characters while being up-close-and-personal with the actors.It’s great that Fergie is providing the perfect space for that.

CDM: There is maybe a handful, or a handful-and-a-half, or angel patrons here in Philadelphia, and if they disappeared, we’d be in a lot of trouble. It really is those supporters who provide the means for what we do, and we truly couldn’t do it without them in this city. Specifically for this show, if it weren’t for Fergie, this wouldn’t be happening. Another thing I love about Fergie’s Pub is that there’s no TV, so people interact with each other and watch live performances; it’s more immediate and human.

PHINDIE: I imagine it’s both challenging and fun to do a site-specific production like this.

TR: Most certainly! Had it been in a theater, the set would have been different, with a feeling of outdoor rural Ireland. The pub gives us certain constraints and it’s a challenge, but in a good way. The characters are at three different locations, and at times invade each other’s space, so it’s very powerful to have them that close to each other, but it also delivers the naturalism and intimacy of telling a story in direct address to the audience.

CDM: I think a proscenium stage wouldn’t work as well, it wouldn’t have the same intimacy. I’ve done a lot of direct-address shows, and it’s my favorite style. The audience has the power to change the show with its response and reactions, and when you’re this close, you notice and can’t help but to be affected.

PHINDIE: What would you like the audience to take away from it?Is there a message, or just pure entertainment?

TR: I think the message of the play is that people have secrets, so how do you get to know the real person, even your own partner? There is a deep love after being together for so many years, so no matter what happens, you still stand by your partner. But it’s also entertaining, especially with the Halloween connection; there’s a screeching black cat, a woman in the village known as the wicked witch, and some eerie, unsettling revelations and developments!

CDM: The most powerful theater always engenders some kind of dialogue, in addition to being entertaining. For me, all three of these characters have a well of loneliness filled up with the waters of regret. When you listen to their private thoughts and the core of what they’re talking about, you understand that it’s their failure to connect with the important people in their lives that causes their despair. But it also gives little glimpses of hope, that you should learn and grow from your mistakes, and that you need to talk to people about the things you should have done but failed to do.

PHINDIE: Do you have any joint projects lined up after this one?

TR: Not yet; Charlie’s been busy teaching at West Chester and his season is already full, but we will work certainly work together again!

CDM: Yes, we have nothing in particular scheduled yet, but there will always be shows together! If HOOKED! goes well, Tom might want to take it to the First Irish Theatre Festival in NY, where he did Dublin by Lamplight, at 59E59.

PHINDIE: Is there a dream project that you would like to do at some point in the future?

TR: After twelve years, we’ve built up a reputation here and in NY, and through travelling we have also developed an international reputation. The next step is to work with a playwright from Ireland or the UK, with US and European actors, on a production that would run there and here with the same cast—maybe in collaboration with my good friend Paul Meade of Gúna Nua Theatre Company in Dublin. I’m going there at the end of the year and will have a pow-wow session about it, probably for a production four or five years down the road.

CDM: A show I would like to do is Terminus—another three-hander that is dark and metaphysical, and written in a slam-poetry style of rhyme. But I love that Tom is always mining for work; I know there are a couple of titles that he’s been kicking around that I would love to work on with him.

Many thanks, Tom and Charlie, for sharing your backgrounds and insights into HOOKED!

[Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom St., 2nd fl.] October 7-25, 2015; www.inisnuatheatre.org.

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