Actors draw from real-life challenges to tackle sensitive roles onstage
by Donalevan Maines
Brad Goertz’s sister had passed away and his father was in ICU last fall when he landed the role of Dan, the husband of a woman who is bipolar and suicidal, in Next to Normal, opening this month at Stages.
A few weeks later, Goertz’s father died, and then his mother committed suicide. “She had prescriptions,” he says. “I found her.”
Goertz can’t help but find common ground with the character of Dan, although he says, “He does not face his problems head-on. He bites his tongue. I’m not that [kind of person]. My challenge is to deliver his reality.”
Offstage, though, Goertz shows amazing personal strength. “My mother’s suicide, I’m not going to hide it. That wasn’t my story. That was her path,” he says. “I’m angry with my mother for leaving me with this mess. I’m angry with all three of them because they each gave up. I miss them and think about good things, but I have bouts of crying. Still, you have got to stand in your own truth, as Suze Orman says.”
“Brad is very brave to tackle this role at this time,” comments Eva Laporte, who recently directed Goertz as a gay man who’s surprised to find himself falling for a guy he meets on Craigslist, in POST by Eric James.
“Brad is a sweetheart,” adds Mark Ivy, one of five fellow cast members portraying dysfunctional relationships in Next to Normal. “He’s more than willing to open himself up and help us if we need it. More importantly—us help him.”
Show-people have been part of Goertz’s life since childhood—“much to my parents’ chagrin,” he says, although relieved that something about seeing him play Fagin in Oliver! in the 12th grade convinced his parents their son was an actor.
Coming out to close friends at Klein High School in the ’90s wasn’t so bad, he says, “since I was part of the theater group. We tended to gravitate toward one another.
“I don’t come across as blatantly homosexual,” he explains. “That came up when I played Roger in Rent. Roger was in love with Mimi, so it was a big deal to me that nothing came through as effeminate. I practiced in the mirror, my use of hand gestures, and I watched inflections in my voice.”
Likewise, says Ivy, playing Henry, a teenager who isn’t gay, “I make sure not to pop my head and not talk a lot with my hands. I want him to come from a place of honesty, so I think of how my brother or my cousin would look.”
Ivy was stoked about playing the transsexual rock singer in Hedwig and the Angry Inch this spring, but the theater company set to produce the show folded last fall before ever taking off. Just as well, says Ivy, because he’s wanted to play Henry since he saw Next to Normal in New York in previews before opening on Broadway. “I knew I wanted to play Henry. I knew I wanted to play that track,” he says. “I am so beyond excited that things turned out the way they did.”
Did I mention that Next to Normal is a musical, and a rock musical at that? It’s a far cry from musical comedy, although its rollercoaster aspect gives audiences opportunities to breathe, especially in charming moments of young love with Henry and Dan’s daughter, Natalie. “The loud moments happen just at the right times,” says Goertz.
Ivy has moved home to Sugar Land after graduating last year from Sam Houston State University. That milestone also accompanied the breakup of his two-year relationship with his boyfriend, who moved home to Fort Worth. “I love the guy. It was amicable as we map out our futures as full-time adults,” he says. “But you see each other every day for two years, then not as frequently—it can do a number on you mentally.
“Henry and Natalie go through kind of a breakup, and I swear to God, I’ve said half of these things that Henry says. Some days it comes from such a place of honesty that I feel it a little too much. Like ‘Let me know you again.’ Whew! A couple of lines pop out and it hits real close to home right now.”
“It’s definitely cathartic,” says Goertz, who credits his partner of three years, Michael Walsh, a classical singer, for helping him deal with his family tragedies in a healthy way.
“He’s been amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better partner,” says Goertz. “My extended family has been helping a lot as well.”
What: Next to Normal
When: May 16–June 24, 2012
Where: Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway
Tickets: Start at $23
Info: www.stagestheatre.com, 713/527-0123
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.