Elijah Alexander goes Wilde

Jul 02

 
Elijah Alexander starred as Jack Tanner in California Shakespeare Theater’s Man and Superman last summer. This year he’s starring in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. Photo by Kevin Berne

He’s right on time for his interview – early even – and he’s in character.

Oscar Wilde said that punctuality is a thief of time, and I’m trying to grapple with that,” says the ever-on-time Elijah Alexander. “People say you should always be fashionably late, but that’s impossible for me. Don’t know why. I’m always early. But right now I’m turning over a new leaf. Being late could stir things up a bit.”

Alexander is preparing for his third summer in the Orinda hills as a cast member of a California Shakespeare Theater show. Two years ago we were introduced to him in Amy Freed’s Restoration Comedy. Last summer audiences fell in love with him in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. And this week he opens in Wilde’s An Ideal Husband playing a very Wilde-like Lord Goring.

After last summer’s Shaw marathon, which Alexander calls “to date, the greatest challenge of my career,” the actor is settling into his first-ever Wilde play. Like last summer, his director is Jonathan Moscone, Cal Shakes’ artistic director.

“Working with Jon last summer was the beginning of a very, for me, important working relationship,” Alexander says. “The Wilde is interesting because it is so unlike Shaw. I usually play the rogue. This guy is the mediator. He’s utterly honest but in an unassuming way. He’s less bold and less brash than the characters I usually play. He’s taking a backseat while others drive the action, speculating and commenting on a lot of it. He’s the one the other characters come to for support. It requires an ease…I mean, the guy is effete. Essentially, he’s the Oscar Wilde of the play.”

Born and raised in Michigan, Alexander set out to be in broadcast journalism with a side interest in criminal justice. Then, at the University of Michigan, an acting class changed the course of his life.

“I was a junior, and that class was a monumental moment for me,” Alexander says. “I decided to get trained and make acting my life. Got into Yale for grad school. It was all new to me. I came out of grad school having done 50 plays. I was so hungry for work I was constantly doing three plays at a time for three years. Then I moved to New York and got into the real world, where you’re lucky if you do maybe two plays a year.”

Busy most of the time – even in the real world – Alexander is between home bases. He has spent the last five years in Los Angeles doing the movie and TV thing. His biggest claim to fame is a small but juicy role in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the movie that brought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together.

“My first movie involved me working with Angelina Jolie for a month,” Alexander recalls. “I had US Weekly calling me, trying to convince me that gossiping about those people would actually be good for my career.”

After the ups and downs of L.A., Alexander says he’s looking for a new artistic home base. After Ideal Husband closes he’s off to the Utah Shakespeare Festival. After that, he’s thinking about settling in the Bay Area or Ashland, Ore., home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the country’s largest resident company of actors.

“Earlier this year, the writers’ strike decimated L.A. because everyone was so desperate for work,” Alexander says. “There was such a sense of fear, even in the audition room. I realized I’m going to go where the meaningful work is. We attribute meaning to things, so if it means I’m have to go on the road again, I will. The road brought me to here and now.”

An Ideal Husband previews today (July 2) through Friday (July 4) and opens Saturday (July 5). The show continues through July 27 at the Bruns Amphitheater just off the Gateway/Shakespeare Festival exit on Highway 24, one mile east of the Caldecott Tunnel in Orinda. Tickets are $32-$62. Call 510-548-9666 or visit www.calshakes.org for information.

For more of my interview with Elijah Alexander, visit my Examiner.com theater page here.

Watch Cal Shakes’ An Ideal Husband trailer here.

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