Thomas Burns Scully
It is one of the quirks of the New York theatre scene, that it is simultaneously huge, and and surprisingly small. As a reviewer I’ve had the pleasure of turning up to an unfamiliar show to be greeted by the faces of old colleagues and friends. Other times, I found myself going to two or three completely unrelated productions in a row, and seeing the same actor in each show. I am currently working on a play with an actor who I reviewed twice in the space of a week before the summer. Thank goodness my reviews were positive. This kind of accidental theatrical stalking is what I have been doing this week. I have been shadowing Redline Productions’ in development show ‘To Be Seen Together’ (which will land on the stages at the start of next year), and, as a result, have, for the umpteenth time, had the pleasure of watching the work of one Gerome Samonte.
If Gerome Samonte sounds familiar to you, that won’t be all that surprising. You will have seen his name in my reviews of ‘Fairycakes’ and ‘Drunk Tank’, amongst others. If you are a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, then you will no doubt have had the pleasure of seeing him perform in the Scranton Shakespeare Festival these last two years under the banner of Broadway’s own modern theatre-mensch, Douglas Carter Beane. He originated the role of Oberon in Beane’s ‘Fairycakes’, as well as playing the Captain in ‘Twelfth Night’ last year, and this year returned triumphant as Friar Tuck in Beane’s musical adaptation of ‘Robin Hood’. This list of his credits goes on and on, including film appearances, international musical tours in the Far East, and much more.
He stars as Lucifer in ’To Be Seen Together’, performing a highly physical monologue. The show is comprised of five vignettes, and Samonte’s cut of the drama is easily the darkest. I spoke to him briefly, and when asked about playing the devil himself, he quipped “It’s the part I was born for.” He also added, “It’s very physically demanding, but, y’know, that just plays well for me. I like to thrown myself in whole-hog. It’s the only way to do it.” I’ve certainly noticed this in Samonte’s work over the years. He shaved off a full head of hair, Bryan Cranston-style, for a role in ‘Broadway’ by George Abbott. In ‘Fairycakes’ he was responsible for Beane’s decision to include a rapped segment in Oberon’s final monologue. A move that prefigured the Public’s debut of ‘Hamilton’ by almost a year. He has a bombastic, yet cooperative, approach to everything he does, and an excellent command of what he is capable of. “That’s just what I do, I guess. Stay respectful, but if you think you can add something, speak up. You have to bring yourself to what you do, whatever that means.” It’s no wonder that Douglas Carter Beane once said of him: “Your look and talent is something that is rare. Use it.”
All of the shorts in ‘To Be Seen Together’ have a Biblical bent to them. Samonte stars as Lucifer, other scenes move through the parables of Cain and Abel, and Adam and Eve. The dark, surreal futurism of Redline’s production is immediately striking and brings to light the sinisterness of Old Testament logic. All of this reflects on a Latin American influence, a ‘Day of the Dead’ macabre, and the magical realism of Marquez. This seems natural given writer A. A. Garcia’s heritage. Samonte seems like he comes neatly out of that same heritage, but as his bio tells us, he is from the Philippines. “Yeah, it’s one of those funny things. At drama school I got mistaken for Latin American a bunch of times, even by a Casting Director who came in to talk to us,” he responded, “You just gotta embrace things like that. If it helps me get cast, I’ll take it. It’s not personal, and anyway, it’s good for my career. It’s like that box you an tick on Backstage: ‘Ethnically Ambiguous’. That’s me, ambiguous.” He laughs. “It helped me get one of my first jobs, actually. In ‘West Side Story’ I played Bernardo. That was a lot of fun. What can I say? Good looks get you places.” He laughs again.
Talking to Samonte, with his easy personality and joking braggadocio, you can’t help but get the feeling that you’re about to be run over by a juggernaut. He has worked several times with one of modern Broadway’s premiere playwrights (Beane), he’s a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (noted alum include Danny DeVito, Paul Rudd and Robert Redford) and, like all good actors, he never stops working. “It’s what you’ve got to do. Jump on this project here, this show there, audition for everything, build your skill set. It’s not a science, but it is math, y’know, law of averages. The more you put in, the more likely you are to get something out of it.” In parting words, I asked him if he had anything else to say about ‘To Be Seen Together’. “Yeah, come see it! It’s going to be awesome. I mean, I know actors say that about everything they do, but we’ve got something really cool going on down here.” And there you have it, Gerome Samonte, and his first loyalty; a loyalty to whatever it is he is doing right now. An actor to the core.
For more details about ‘To Be Seen Together’ including show dates and ticketing links, visit: theredlines.org. Gerome Samonte can be found on Twitter as @Gercutio.
This article was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded in Time Out NY and the New York Times, and his writing has been performed on three continents. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
Follow him on Facebook (as Thomas Burns Scully), and on Twitter (@ThomasDBS)