At what point can you call someone a local legend without accusations of hyperbole or sycophancy? Actor, director and playwright Matthew Posey first caused a Dallas theater ruckus 25 years ago with the formation of The Deep Ellum Theatre Garage. He has worked steadily in film and television with roles in legendary Texas movies such as No Country For Old Men, JFK and Lonesome Dove. These days, Posey revives his experimental theater roots at The Ochre House in Dallas’ Exposition Park. It’s a masculine atmosphere (Posey lives in the back room), and while watching 14 Death Defying Acts: An Autopsy on Hunter S. Thompson, you can sense the possible nearness of manly things – a six-pack of Schlitz, a bottle of Old Spice, maybe some common manly sawdust nesting in an unseen corner. It is a theater for the dudes among us (but I like it too!).
This is Texas, baby; growing legends is what we do. And in 14 Death Defying Acts, it sort of takes one to play one. Posey plays Hunter S. Thompson – and it’s downright scary – through Saturday. Art&Seek sat next to a dog on an old couch at Ochre House and asked some questions:
Art&Seek: Do you get recognized for Lonesome Dove?
Matthew Posey: Yeah. I’m on the second night, I guess that would be part two, and I hold up Barry Corbin.
A&S: Could you tell you were part of something special?
M.P.: Yes, it was all top-notch stuff.
A&S: Whether in film or theater, is there a certain moment when you know the thing will work?
M.P.: No … And I don’t really think that way. As far as film is concerned, it’s really just showing up and doing the job. And making sure that you made a good impression and that you did a good job. With personal projects, what comes into the whole process of doing theater, especially at the Ochre House, is process-oriented. We jammed this 14 Death-Defying Acts – most people usually take about four to six weeks of rehearsal – and we wrote it and did it in two weeks. It’s just a whole new method and way of looking at theater – to really slam it – long rehearsals, hard, arduous, lots of study, do your homework and come prepared. It had been roaming around in my head and I had written an outline, but I actually wrote the script itself in about three days.
A&S: How long has it been roaming around in your head?
A&S: You really look like him.
M.P.: Yeah, I do. It’s kind of uncanny. Actually I’ve been a Hunter S. Thompson fan since I was in high school. This seemed like the perfect time to introduce Hunter S. Thompson again. It’s just on the heels of his death, if you think about it – what, four years ago? With this day and age, we’re not really different from the Vietnam era. We’re in a war that we can’t get out of. We have destitute times – interest rates are high, no one is getting jobs. It was the same scenario happening in the 60s and 70s. We had what I consider the golden years, when Clinton was in office and we were doing better as a country. I don’t know if it was him personally or what, but those eight years were some of the best years I ever had. Some people may differ, but, um, Hunter S. Thompson is kind of the psyche of the 60s and 70s, and these days his words kind of ring true.
A&S: So this is political theater?
M.P.: Actually, it’s political satire. What I was trying to capture with 14 Death Defying Acts is what it was like to be in the last days before his death. I placed Hunter S. Thompson in a fictional L.A. hotel room. He was kind of doomed and his own worst enemy. He was doomed to play his own character that he created, and that was Dr. Duke. When it came down to it, he was just a journalist. He was just trying to live from assignment to assignment and did that for half his life – he wasn’t even published until the age of 38.
A&S: How did you get started in all this? Did acting happen first, or did writing happen first?
M.P.: I took theater in high school and all the way through college. I was a theater major, graduated from Texas Tech. I’ve got my Master’s in directing and screenwriting from the American Film Institute in California. I think I always knew I could be an actor.
A&S: Did you expect to write your own material?
M.P.: That’s something I looked forward to, but then it became a necessity. It was very hard to get cast and make a living in the early years. I ended up opening up my own theater, which was the Deep Ellum Theater Garage. This was back in the 80s. That was the result of having the desire and idea of process-oriented, experimental, new, original stuff. It was intense. It was the best education I could possibly get in life experience. Then I went out to L.A. just to pursue acting, and I was out there for about 11 years.
A&S: Why did you come back to Texas?
M.P.: I got work here. Hollywood wasn’t making any money. I called Mary Collins, who’s my agent, and she said, “There’s work out here. I can put you on a Walker, Texas Ranger.” So that’s what I did when I first got back.
A&S: Do you ever still think about that one big break, that one great role?
M.P.: You know, I used to, but I really had to weigh that. Because the truth of the matter is that that’s really not acting. That may sound strange. When you’re doing film work – and especially if you go the celebrity route – you become a personality. The skills of acting, of process, rehearsal, of trying to find things in a character, to lift the meaning off the page, all that turns into, well, a behavior. In other words, film is behaviorism, and stage acting is a presentational act. It’s actually acting out the story, and you don’t do that in film. The money would be great, sure, but I’ve made it in the sense of doing the character roles I need to do. As far as being a celebrity, I don’t think it’s in the cards, and I don’t think I’d want it.
A&S: Have you decided what Ochre House will be doing next, after 14 Death-Defying Acts is over?
M.P.: After this, we’re going to bring back some life-size puppets. The last show we did was Coppertone, and it was very well received.
A&S: Where are the puppets now?
M.P.: They’re right back there. Headless.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.