Michael E. Knight (All My Children) and Robin Riker (The Bold and the Beautiful), along with Kal Bennett and James Louis Wagner, star in The Blank Theatre's production of "The Cost of the Erection" by Jon Marans, directed by Blank Founding Artistic Director, Daniel Henning.
In "The Cost of the Erection," wealthy Susu Ziegler (Riker) has purchased an exclusive Manhattan raw space apartment overlooking the Hudson. She hopes to have her architect husband (Knight) design this tricky space, but with their marriage on the rocks, she forces him to compete against a younger, hotshot architect.
This sexy, funny tale is told in a heightened theatrical style, compressing and playing with time and space, and ultimately examines what makes a marriage work. Or not work.
"The Cost of the Erection" had its world premiere under the title "A Raw Space" at the Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bristol, Pennsylvania on February 3. The West Coast production is in previews from February 4, and opening night is set for Saturday, February 11 at 8:00. The engagement will run through Sunday, March 18.
Soapdom caught up with Michael E. Knight (ex Tad, All My Children) to get his take on the play, marriage, what attracted him to this role and a few of his thoughts on the demise of All My Children.
Soapdom: First up, great to speak with you, and congratulations on landing the starring role in "The Cost of the Erection." Quite the auspicious title for a play. Do you know why producers are calling the play "A Raw Space" for its world premiere in Pennsylvania?
Michael E. Knight: Sensibilities of people producing it there wanted to tune it down. "The Cost of the Erection" is what the writer wrote it under. He's a pretty intelligent and insightful guy. I think this was how the play was meant to be put forth. It sounds like something sort of down and dirty. It's not. It's the story of two couples who are architects. It's the ideal of the construction of relationships and how much work goes into it. And there are some comic sexual bits, but people who come to the play should not expect to see girls running around in bikinis. It's actually taken from a Shakespeare quote. It's the cost of intimate relationships, marriages, and what it takes to sustain them and how fragile it can be.
Soapdom: You mentioned that you felt the writer was not only intelligent, but insightful.
Knight: Jon Marans is a very insightful guy, a brilliant guy. He is also very funny. He was nominated for a Pulitzer. He's very facile, very talented when it comes to portraying couples in crisis or people in crisis and how relationships can change or turn on a dime. (The play explores) what makes them work, what makes them infallible.
"The Cost of the Erection" is very heartfelt, very funny and poignant at the same time. One couple has endured a loss. It's haphazard circumstance that draws two couples together and changes them both for life.
Soapdom: How did you hear about the role?
Knight: I play Mark, Susu's husband. Bob Lambert, who was our associate casting director on All My Children, is now working with Scott David casting. (They do Criminal Minds out here.) It just so happens that he came across the breakdown for "The Cost of the Erection" and thought I was right for the role – physically. He discussed it with Scott and he pitched me to Daniel. (Blank Founding Artistic Director Daniel Henning).
Soapdom: How has your experience been working with Henning as director?
Knight: Henning is probably one of the greatest stage directors I've ever worked with. He has a great sense of casting. He had me read the script then he invited me over to Toluca Lake where he lives and we discussed the role. (At first) I was intimated by the role.
After our talk, he said okay, are you interested? He offered me the part having met me. He asked me questions and wanted me to ask him questions. He was very interested in the questions I asked. I would have been thrilled to read for the part, but he offered it to me without reading.
We were both trained at the same place in NY (Circle in the Square). He was not a director who held my soap career against me at all. He has put a great deal of faith in the four of us. He is an amazingly creative guy. He also has a brilliant eye for theatre design.
It came down to me sitting with Daniel discussing the complexities of the play and where my character ends up and why his choices are what they are. At this point, I am just trying to live up to the faith Jon and Daniel have put in me.
Soapdom: What was the first thing you did once you landed the role?
Knight: When I got the play I immediately Googled Jon and saw how amazing his career is so far. He flew out to be with us during the first table read.
Soapdom: Is there a difference working on this particular stage play than working on All My Children?
Knight: I worked in a linear fashion on soaps. This is just such a complex piece and I was asking Jon question after question and I found him to be a surprisingly approachable, warm, funny, creative, generous guy. I didn't know what to expect, after reading his bio – he is theatrical royalty. He stays in contact via text message to see how we are all doing. We are all working hard to live up to what he's giving us. It's inspiring, tiring but it's also thrilling.
Soapdom: What was it about this character that spoke to you?
Knight: Marriage is an institution, but it is also a challenge. As a challenge, it has a way, over time, of really humbling a person. The ways we approach marriage at 34 or at 45 are completely different.
In a greater world, Mark (my character), is surrounded by powerful, very creative people. He's made a decision about a person. The ultimate thing you can have is a pure belief in the person, what is of foremost importance in a world that is constantly changing and challenging you, is the belief and love one person has for another in spite of everything else. As a younger person, you have ideas about what you hope to achieve. Why do we choose mates? What do we look for in them? Do we try on relationships like a new suit? This guy has made a decision that these other three characters haven't come to yet. We've all got different challenges to face. I think his loyalty, his humor, his eccentricities, his almost childish belief or faith in his wife are the things that drew me to him.
Soapdom: We hear there's humor in the play. How fun or funny does it get? How tragic?
Knight: It's a slice of life. It's got both. Like any relationship, the way Jon has written it and the way Daniel has directed it, these two couples are in an apartment, but it's a fishbowl -- a glass house, if you will. Like any relationship, there are things that are challenging; there are things that are funny. Humor is a part of that -- especially when you see the couple that has been together for years. It turns out to be a very, very, Rubik's Cube slice of life.
Soapdom: How does it tamper with reality?
Knight: Because it's in a glass tower, it messes with time and space. Sometimes there are two scenes happening at the same time -- comments about one relationship in relation to or as opposed to another. This is where Daniel, the director, comes in, and I think he is so brilliant, the way he staged it, it does mess with time and space. Visually, it is something they can't do in film or TV, Jon and Dan are taking advantage of the theatrical experience and bending your mind with it.
Soapdom: Along with your illustrious soap opera career, you've done a number of plays: "Wrong Turn at Lungfish" with your ex wife, Catherine Hickland, the one-man play, "Call Backs," "Cakewalk" with Linda Lavin. What's the draw of live theatre for you?
Knight: Fear. "The Cost of the Erection" is a real God shot that it came along when it did. The last five years of All My Children were such a joke, such a circus. The mismanagement that went into AMC as we stumbled across the finish line. I don't think the people in charge knew what they had. They just did stuff to keep it going. They excluded Agnes (Nixon). They lost the heart, they lost the legacy. Having to experience that and having it come to an end after three decades and (then to be faced with ) what are you now going to do with your life, and then comes along this play which is really precision. There are numerous things going on at once, to relate the event of the piece to the audience, it's almost like a dance routine. It's very choreographed. The amount of work the director had to do was immense.
For me, personally, there is a certain amount of fear that goes into live performance and that's the way it should be. Live performance is more rewarding than doing something on camera. You can't have a bad day. You have to show up every day do the best you can. Theatre is the real deal. Film is its own art, but there are things you can do in the theatre that you trade off for when you're working in front of the camera. Long shot, two shot, close up. Theatre is a collage. It is an event.
Soapdom: The play takes place in a Manhattan loft. Could it be headed to Broadway?
Knight: I don't know what Jon's plans are. The guy is brilliant, and we have an equally gifted director, a fellow alum of Circle in the Square. What makes the play interesting is not what they transpire, but how they transpire. It tackles time and space. It's definitely intriguing enough to go to Broadway if they choose to do it. They may have to get Broadway talent, but people will see it here (in LA), and this is very compelling straight, funny intellectual theatre piece. Four characters on stage all the time. I think critically it could do very, very well, yes.
Soapdom: Now that you are living in Los Angeles, and along with doing the play, are you planning on auditioning for pilots?
(As mentioned) the play was a real God shot. I am always out there looking for work. I am very lucky being able to do this for 30 years. I've enjoyed a lot of success in soaps, but shaking that off might be too much of a job, we'll see. I am hopeful I'll be one of those people who are able to bridge those gaps.
We have a good feeling that he will.
The regular performance schedule for "The Cost of the Erection" is Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through March 18. Tickets are $26 on Thursday and Sunday, $30 on Friday and Saturday. Tickets are on sale now, and may be purchased online at www.TheBlank.com or by calling (323) 661-9827.
The Blank's 2nd Stage Theatre is located at 6500 Santa Monica Boulevard (at Wilcox), in Hollywood. Secured valet parking is available.
Stay tuned for Soapdom's review of "The Cost of the Erection" and more with Michael E. Knight coming soon.
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