After his Dora-winning turn in The Lion King, Jonathan Wilson debuts a new play
WELL, by Jonathan Wilson, directed by Chris Abraham, with Paul Braunstein, Melody Johnson, Holly Lewis, Richard McMillan and Aaron Willis. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Opens Tuesday (April 30) and runs to June 2, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $24-$30, previews $16, Sunday pwyc-$15. 416-531-1827.
Ask Jonathan Wilson how or what he’s doing these days, and you’re likely to get a one-word answer: “Well.”
That’s the clever title of his new play that closes out the Tarragon’s season beginning Tuesday (April 30).
Wilson’s got plenty of reasons for feeling… well. His last play, Kilt, is currently running in Manhattan, and the actor/playwright’s waiting to hear whether it’ll be transferred from off- to on-Broadway.
On a more superficial level, his skin looks well, better than it did a year ago.
“That greenish tinge is gone,” laughs Wilson, referring to the makeup he wore for his role as Timon, the scene-stealing, wisecracking green meerkat in Disney’s The Lion King.
“I think the makeup seeped into my skin. Friends kept asking me whether I was OK.”
Before The Lion King, Wilson had penned a draft of Well, (the comma is part of the title) and originally planned to develop the piece between performances. No such luck.
“The show was a marathon, a physical more than an acting challenge,” says Wilson, who earned a well-deserved Dora Award for his performance in the musical, which required him to manipulate a life-sized puppet. “A year was enough. My back, right arm and neck are now healed.”
Coming back to Well, a year later gave him much needed objectivity.
“I saw things emerge and connect,” he says, “whereas before it was about exposition and storytelling.”
The play’s suggestive title refers to the well that protagonist Willie (Aaron Willis) fell down when he was three, winning instant celebrity and the nickname Wee Willie In The Well.
The play opens nearly 20 years later, as Willie, released from a mental hospital — that is, supposedly “well” — goes in search of the site of his former glory with the help of a local TV reporter (Melody Johnson) and a cameraman (Paul Braunstein).
Wilson was originally intrigued by a news item about a boy rescued from a well who became a good-luck charm for his South American town. He transplanted the scenario to Northern Ontario and wrote a script about miracles, healing and self-worth.
“I was fascinated by the idea of someone who had intensive attention paid to him early on,” explains Wilson. “What happens to their mind and their sense of self? It’s like child stars. What do you do after you’re dubbed a miracle child?”
This idea raises yet another meaning in Wilson’s title – that slightly awkward, what-have-we-here? interrogation, as in “Well, what now?”
While he’s purposefully avoided writing roles for himself in his last two plays, Wilson says his next might contain a juicy role for him. He’s itching to get back onstage.
“I was performing eight shows a week. It feels strange to be away from a crowd. Maybe somebody will think of me for a Fringe show.”