When Philadelphia thespian Frank X tackles the dual roles of Stephano (the gregarious boozy butler of King Alonso) and Gonzalo (that same king’s honest optimistic adviser) in Lantern Theater Company’s newest iteration of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” the out actor focuses on what he has long done best: clarity.
“People always ask me, ‘What is different?’ or ‘What is this version about?’ when it comes to performing Shakespeare, and I always have the same reaction: nothing,” said X. “There is nothing I can do but be as clear as possible. There are countless times when I have watched really amazing performances of Shakespeare with other theaters, and still wasn’t exactly sure what was said when the show was finished. My goal then is to allow the language room and space to breathe and be heard clearly.”
When it comes to doing Shakespeare through the Lantern at St. Stephen’s Theater and director Charles McMahon, the Philly actor has had plenty of chances to shine, as he’s acted in “As You Like It,” “Romeo and Juliet,” an earlier iteration of “The Tempest” (where X portrayed Prospero) and “King Lear.”
“That was my first time out with Charles and the Lantern, and he asked me if I wanted to do Lear,” X said with a laugh. “I did not realize — let alone believe — that it was Lear that he wanted me to portray. It was as if I had been thrown into the fire head-first.”
With all this, you would believe X to be the bard’s best boy and nothing else. Yet anyone who has witnessed this actor’s trajectory gets that he’s been a darling of the underground (“I got my start at Theater Center Philadelphia on Fourth Street — a place so willing to give the young and untrained a chance to flower,” he said) and independent young playwrights such as Joe Sorrentino. The writer penned the one-man show “Louis’ Lottery” for X — the role the actor considers to be his breakout showcase.
“No one had ever written for me before, let alone written to my strengths,” said X about the tale of a homeless man whose luck may or may not have changed with winning big money.
Sorrentino also penned “The Frankenharry Plays,” a series of short plays produced at the Fringe Festival and Philadelphia’s Second Stage based on conversations X had “about taxes of all things.” From there, the playwright brought in Philly stage veteran Harry Philibosian who countered X’s frenetic energy with his own stoic rage and humor.
“I would love to relive those plays again. Harry was such a great man and a greater acting partner.”
Where great acting partners come into play, X mentions he just got off the stage of Quintessence Theater with “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett, where the actor performed with another Philadelphia actor, Johnny Hobbs Jr.
“I had never done a full play with Johnny and doing something so existential and open was the best sort of way into a partnership. Godot is so absurd and powerful and free.”
With that, X — a thin, wiry man with a booming voice — relishes each moment shared with fellow actors and every second on stage, no matter what the production.
“It’s not about picking and choosing at this point in my career. It is about what it has always been about for me: storytelling. Hence, the need for or the drive toward clarity. Long before I wanted to act, I just loved reading theater reviews — especially those of Walter Kerr’s — and play scripts at my high-school library. I would linger on the great lines and consider all those magical plays in Manhattan and heard names such as Joe Papp and the Public Theater. And all I wanted to do was tell those strange stories — clearly.”
“The Tempest” will play through April 29 at Lantern Theater Company, 923 Ludlow St. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://bit.ly/2paxJtW.