One of my favorite Bay Area actors, Danny Wolohan, is moving on.
Wolohan was voted by American Theatre magazine as one of the country’s seven actors “worth traveling to see,” and I wholeheartedly agree.
I first met Wolohan when I interviewed him during his stint in the Aurora Theatre Company’s Tough! That was in 2000, and since then, Wolohan has continued to create indelible performances, many for Campo Santo, the San Francisco troupe headed by Sean San Jose that is responsible for some of the most interesting new work in the country.
Wolohan is currently making his Berkeley Repertory Theatre debut in Will Eno’s extraordinary TRAGEDY: a tragedy, which begins previews this weekend and opens next Wednesday on the Thrust Stage.
When Wolohan finishes his run with Berkeley Rep, the San Francisco actor (and die-hard Giants fan, die-hard) is moving to Los Angeles.
“I am going to spend a year there,” Wolohan says. “People have been saying for years I should come down and make some money. I turned 35, and I’m busier than ever, but financially it’s a miracle that actors can make their lives happen doing what we love to do. I’m going to spend a year there and plan to be back in May of ’09 for another Aurora show.”
Wolohan had to turn down theater jobs so he could make the move, and though he admits that, especially in baseball terms, he’s heading into “enemy territory,” he can’t say no to the prospect of gainful, possibly financially lucrative work.
“One of the most difficult things I’ve ever done is walk away from all the good things that are happening here and aim for financial security,” he says. “But I’m coming back no matter what. If it goes really well down there, I’ll use whatever success to help Campo Santo and help it grow. The work is so special there. To my mind, not enough people know about it, and I’d like to affect that.”
For his last hurrah — for now — Wolohan is playing the key role of the Witness in TRAGEDY, a bizarre, funny, chilling one-act play about a TV newscast covering a mysterious, possibly cataclysmic event.
It’s a challenging role if for no other reason than Wolohan only has a few sentences early in the play then a meaty monologue late in the play. But he, like his fellow cast members, remains onstage the entire time, not moving much.
“I’ve done construction off and on for 16 years, so it’s silly for me to complain, but it’s hard to be still that much,” Wolohan says. “But I’m soldiering on through my hardships.”
Describing the play is difficult, even for Wolohan, who has been immersed in it for weeks.
“I think the play succeeds best when its indefinable,” Wolohan says. “One moment it’s the funniest thing ever, the next, it’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Will pulls you in and opens you up with this relentless humor. Once you’re open, he sneaks in these things that are real bombs — all this stuff about the hard-to-handle aspects of being alive, about dying and losing everything but also about how we have to keep going and how hard that is. That’s where the compassion is in the play — in acknowledging how hard it is for us to do that.”
Working with director Les Waters, who is something of wonder with new plays, has been a pleasure, Wolohan says.
“He creates a great atmosphere. Everyone feels safe,” he says. “He lets us make mistakes and continue to be creative. It’s always impressive when someone has talent and good manners and respect for everybody. At a certain level of success, you can get away with not having those qualities. But he’s a real gentleman, and for me, that makes going to work great.”
Remember when you see Wolohan on screens large or small that he’s coming back to the stage. Let’s hold him to that, shall we?
TRAGEDY: a tragedy continues through April 13 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33 to $69. Call 510- or visit www.berkeleyrep.org for information.