War — what is it good for? - Kentucky native brings the message home

Aug 13, 2008 at 11:34 am
Donnie Mather, a New York-based actor, brings his one-man tour de force to Louisville this weekend. The show, conceived and performed by Mather, is essentially a meditation on war. But don’t worry: This isn’t another knee-jerk liberal rant about life after 9/11. 

At opening, Mather is in his underwear. He removes the tape over his mouth and begins the dialogue, peppered with quotes from Shakespeare, Mark Twain, General Patton, Sun Tzu and Barney Frank, among others. His nameless character is an Everyman who, as Mather explains, is “full of contradictions and trying to find his way through a maze. Like America, he is always on the road to becoming. The journey of his crisis is sometimes fantastical, humorous and dramatic.” A highly trained movement professional, Mather doesn’t just stand around pontificating. The staging and direction complement his fluid motions dramatically. 

The Hodgenville, Ky., native says his life changed after meeting Anne Bogart at Actors Theatre. (Bogart is a founder of the SITI Company, known for its unique physical training methods.) He was an associate artist with SITI from 2001-2007, and now he’s a movement instructor at the Atlantic Acting School. (“Spring Awakening” sprung from the Atlantic Theatre Company.) 

Photo by Dixie Sheridan: Kentuckian Donnie Mather’s one-man play “A Show of Force” is a meditation on war, he says.
Photo by Dixie Sheridan: Kentuckian Donnie Mather’s one-man play “A Show of Force” is a meditation on war, he says.

Under Bogart’s direction, Mather appeared in Kurt Weill’s “Seven Deadly Sins,” the world premiere of “Lilith” and the premiere of “Nicholas and Alexandra” with Placido Domingo. And you might have seen him on TV — he’s appeared in episodes of “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”

I asked Mather what drove him to create this piece. “Obviously, this play was born as a result of the attacks in 2001,” he says. “I had just finished a run that summer of a Shakespearean comedy. It was a candy-colored farce — ‘The Comedy of Errors.’ Heading into that September, I was an unemployed actor once more. After the attacks, I was thanking God I was unemployed and didn’t have to go onstage that night to perform a classical, farcical comedy. I wouldn’t know what to do or what that would mean.”

He says he was struck by a lack of dialogue during the run-up to the Iraq war. “It’s actually quite difficult to remember that now, but no one was questioning the course we seemed to be on. That is the moment I found a way to begin work on this play. The difficulty was that it was not a play about 9/11, so from the start there was a rule that the words ‘9/11,’ ‘Iraq’ and ‘Bush’ could never be used. This play was about how do we decide ever to go to war, not is this the war we want. The current events would still be present, like the pink elephant in the room that no one talks about.” 

Why bring it to Louisville? “Audiences in Louisville are some of the best audiences I have ever seen,” he says. “Louisville audiences have seen a lot and so are willing to go on a decidedly different and unique journey.” Mather says that working on this show has made him more aware of what it means to be a citizen. That’s a powerful lesson. 

Donnie Mather presents “A Show of Force” at Actors Theatre, Aug. 16, with performances at 4 and 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call 584-1205.