By Joe Brown
The Washington Post
Actor Beau James plays a man who has “descended into hell” — and plays him with almost frightening intensity – – in John Ford Noonan’s comedy “Talking Things Over With Chekhov” at American Showcase Theatre Company James gives a generous share of the credit for his affectingly extreme performance to director and company founder Jill Kamp, who says she had the actor in mind when she chose the play.
“Jill called me and said I want you to read this play — and I want you to do it,” James says. “It was very strange — she didn’t even audition me.”
“When I spoke with Noonan on the phone about the play,” Kamp says, “he told me he thought the ideal casting would be Meryl streep and Jack Nicholson. Now, I’m auditioning actors all the time, though they don’t always know it. I’d met Beau a couple of years ago, and I thought he was the closest actor to Jack Nicholson we had in this town. The way he responded to the script confirmed my guess was correct.”
“This play is really like 50 different plays, depending an the emotions you choose.” James says. “Noonan’s writing style can really sucker an actor into a superficial yuk-yuk interpretation, and Jill worked against that. Sometimes it was a gentle nudge, sometimes it was a firm nudge, but she had a vision of the play that she led us into. If it hadn’t been for her choices, I wouldn’t have been able to do the play that’s up there.
“Now, the people who did the play in Los Angeles took a very satirical, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of approach,” James says. “But Noonan told me he thought our production was excellent because it didn’t fall into any of the superficial traps in the text.”
The playwright attended last Sunday’s opening night performance, and afterwards spent the night “talking things over” with the actor about his highly autobiographical play. “When I saw him, this bear of a man with his Grizzly Adams beard and iridescent tennis shoes, I just put my arms around him and said, ‘I know you,’ ” James says. “I’m sure he thought I was a total fruitcake, but I really feel I do know him from the script.”
Off stage, James is better known as James C. Brincefield Jr., senior attorney with the firm of Brincefield, Hartnett & Associates. “Creative work of any kind impacts on every part of your life,” observes James, who says he had to choose between the law and a stage career. “For me to go into acting or music full-time would have been selfish and egotistical. As a lawyer, I have the power and leverage to change things for people who can’t change things for themselves. But I won’t — can’t — give up acting, though.”
The lawyer-actor found his stage name in college, when he and his running buddies were watching a late-night movie while “six sheets to the wind.” The movie was “Beau James” starring Bob Hope as beloved ne’er-do-well New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, and the name stuck. “Most of my friends know me as Beau Brincefield, ” James says. “They take the Beau from stage, and the Brincefield from real life. But I answer to anything. Especially a casting call.”
Reprinted from The Washington Post, Friday, April 14, 1989.