Matthew McGee speaks eloquently about his stammering character Tristam

From the moment he appears onstage, actor Matthew McGee’s flustered, stammering Tristram is the funniest element in Constellation Theatre Company’s season opener, the Alan Ayckbourn farce “Taking Steps.” – The Washington Post


Matthew McGee talks with Emily Morrison about his role in Taking Steps

1. Matthew, you’ve been getting great notices for your portrayal of the nervous,  language mangling solicitor, Tristam. Congratulations! How did you create this character? Have you had other similar roles?

 photo by Andrew Propp
Thank you very much, Emily!  The response has been incredibly overwhelming!  You never know how audiences will react, so I am grateful that Tristram has been so well received!  Creating the character was an interesting process.  Ayckbourn describes Tristram as “young, eager, and pleasant” and at first I took it to mean “excited” and “fast talking” in order to justify why he’s always fumbling with his words (because he’s just so excited to have this job he can’t keep up with his mouth!).  But I later came to discover how his “eagerness” and “pleasantness” really stems from his desire to be professional; to be confident; to be good at his job.  The reality, though, is that he is insecure, out of his element, and inexperienced… and he knows it!  He’s been thrown into a world that he knows he’s not ready for, and is trying so hard to stay positive and tell himself he can get the job done and get out of there without screwing it all up.  It’s like being undercover, terrified that your true identity will be discovered, but having to be committed to your cover no matter what happens, even if the others are starting to suspect something.  Tristram’s a paper pusher pretending to be a people person, and his mask is quickly slipping.  As horrified as he is and as much as he struggles to hold it up he’s still trying to “eagerly” convince everyone else that he’s really pulling it off, even though they know something else is “off.”  But there’s something in that that I think we can relate to, which is why it’s so funny, because how often do we bend over backwards to come across as competent to a specific circle of people, even though we know that they know that we don’t know what we say we know…you know?  Though I have played my share of quirky, awkward characters before, none have been as tongue-tied, terrified, or human as Tristram Watson.
2. The scene between you and Kitty is beautiful – the two of you seem to calm down the inner ticks and nervousness that we’ve seen in them. Can you talk about that a little bit?
I love that scene.  It is the one scene in the entire play where actual communication happens.  It’s ironic because it’s the two people who speak the least and can’t seem to speak well at all, who end up understanding one another the best.  I think that’s the reason they are able to calm down; because once you know you are understood you realize you don’t have to be somebody else or hold up the mask, you can just BE.  And it’s in that moment that these two characters can voice their true feelings about life, and discover they are not alone in their views.  There’s something about finding another person who truly understands you that is incredibly calming, and I think we can all relate to that, which is why the scene is such an honest and tender surprise in the middle of this rather outlandish story.
3. Do you think Tristam has ever taken any chances with love?
“Oh….er…well…there will always be….Valerie….in the 6th grade….she broke my heart….and, well, er….since then I just haven’t had much time to devote to such things…or opportunity, rather….yes.”
 Photo Andrew Propp
4. Do you believe in ghosts? If so tell us a ghost story!
In high school my friends and I were doing a video project for our English class and were filming in a house that belonged to some family friends.  This couple had told my family stories for years about how they had ghosts in their house, and described what they looked like and everything.  So, since my classmates and I were doing a video about literary characters in a haunted house, naturally we went to film there!  In one of the scenes the camera follows behind a character as they walk down a hall towards a mysterious voice that keeps beckoning to them.  After we filmed it we reviewed the footage and discovered the figure of a person up ahead step out of the hall as the camera got closer to the end.  It made the entire group go wild, because nobody claimed it was them.  Now, was it a ghost?  Maybe.  Was it a fellow actor/classmate at the end of the hall who didn’t realize we were still filming and jumped out of the shot as we got closer to them?  The world will never know…..
5. Where can we see you next?
Not sure where you will see me next, but you will be able to see my work at Imagination Stage next spring as I will be designing and building puppets for their Roald Dahl productions of “James and The Giant Peach” and “The Magic Finger!”
Constellation Theatre company presents Taking Steps.  Now through October 6 at Source Theatre

2 thoughts on “Matthew McGee speaks eloquently about his stammering character Tristam

  1. Dorothy Boerner

    Thoroughly enjoyed Matthew’s performance as Tristram in Taking Steps. He was born to play Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, which the Folger is doing in the spring. Matthew is the next Floyd King.


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