Married to the Theater -- and Each Other
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Baggage accumulates when actors are married to each other and doing their 14th play together. "Her first stage kiss was with me," says Ian Merrill Peakes, recalling a romantic moment. Another time, "he burped garlic in my face," Karen Peakes remembers.
In "Measure for Measure" at the Folger Theatre, through Feb. 26, Ian plays the falsely pious tyrant, Angelo, who tries to force the convent-bound Isabella (Karen) to sleep with him in order to save her brother from execution. Isabella does not find the choice an easy one.
"That second scene, we referred to it in rehearsal as the 'rape kiss' because it's such a violation," Ian Peakes says.
So how does it feel to treat one's wife so horribly onstage? "It's kinda fun, 'cause I can't do it in real life. She'd kick my [behind]," he says.
The play, which can be viewed as a 400-year-old jab by Shakespeare at the religious right, "raises a lot of great moral questions and doesn't answer them," says Ian Peakes of the somewhat ambiguous ending. He sees Angelo as a Ralph Reedesque character: "Anybody who holds [himself] up on a pedestal is destined to fall." Karen Peakes says Isabella eventually learns "the world isn't as black and white as she thought it was." By the end, she adds, "everyone learns how to show mercy" -- even toward Angelo.
"If the big old jerk . . . can be forgiven, then the play works," Ian Peakes says.
At the Folger in recent years, he has played a lovelorn nobleman in "Twelfth Night" and a disturbed husband in "Melissa Arctic" (Craig Wright's update of "A Winter's Tale"). Both Peakeses acted together in last season's "The Two Gentlemen of Verona."
Ian Peakes, 37, grew up in Lansing, Mich., where his father founded the Boarshead Theatre. Trying to escape the stage, he went to college on a golf scholarship, but acting "was like a drug; it lured me back." Karen Peakes, 30, is from Baltimore and was a theater major. They recently bought a house in New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia, where they and "Measure for Measure" director Aaron Posner have their theatrical home base.
"I can pretty much do anything with this woman. She's my best friend," says Peakes of their partnership.
"Awwwww," says Karen.
Theater J Literary Director Hannah Hessel had written her college thesis on "The Dybbuk," so stripping S. Ansky's ghostly drama down to its plot essentials was an ideal assignment for her. She and Synetic Theater's Paata Tsikurishvili then set about re-imagining the fable of spiritual possession, based on Jewish folktales gathered before and during World War I. The Theater J-Synetic co-production runs Saturday through March 19 at Theater J.
Hessel and director Tsikurishvili relocated the story from Eastern Europe to his native Georgia, where a tiny, unique Jewish community traces its history back 26 centuries, Tsikurishvili says.