Day 7: Uncommonly authentic stage actors are natural wonders
Augustus Truhn knows how to pick his spots. And Emily Paton Davies has hit a sweet spot in her unplanned acting career. What they have in common is an uncommon ability to make their performances look as natural as breathing. There’s so much ease in their acting, in fact, they’re often at risk of being taken for granted.
Call them understated to the point of underrated. And in 2019, they both got to prove it in intentionally aloof plays by the notoriously enigmatic Will Eno.
Truhn has performed onstage only rarely and intentionally this decade while raising twins with his actor wife Karen LaMoreaux, who was seen this year in The Catamounts’ Flight 232. Most notably back in 2015, when Truhn rode to the rescue and starred in Mark Rylance’s epic Jerusalem for The Edge Theatre – a role he took on exactly one day before rehearsals began. He later dropped into Miners Alley Playhouse to play a loathsome husband (opposite Davies) in God of Carnage. And he was lured back in January for a riveting turn as a gentle, dying man named Guy in Benchmark Theatre’s Wakey, Wakey. So riveting at times, Westword’s Juliet Wittman wrote, “that time seems to stop.”
Eno’s beguiling little play is a deliberately discombobulating conversation between a man who knows he is soon to die – and you in the audience. The New York Times called Eno’s playfully existential rumination “a work of humor, humanity and grace that makes you want to hug your lover, your neighbor and maybe an usher on the way out.”
What made Truhn’s gentle performance miraculous, Wittman asserted, was how low-key it was. “This is a fading, profoundly tired man whose voice is so quiet, you find yourself holding your breath and leaning forward to hear him,” she wrote. “At the play’s end, something so deeply sad has happened that you hardly know how to deal with it. This is not catharsis, but a dark, empty silence that leaves you devastated.”
Director Rachel Rogers had only one concern in casting Truhn as a diminishing man at death’s door: “Augie is a tall, well-built man with such a vigor about him,” she said. “But we needn’t have worried, because his brilliance is in how he physically disappears into his characters.”
A woman on the verge
Davies has been one of the most highly sought local actors for nearly two decades, but she would be the first to say acting was never the plan when she moved here from Long Island to study journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her life changed forever when she decided to take an acting class at John Hand’s Colorado Free University, then another with Denver Center Education. She started getting cast in legit plays. And cast. And cast. Now she has five Henry Award acting nominations – and one win.
“I have no formal training,” Davies said in a previous interview. “I feel like I’ve gotten my training by doing.” She also has no ego, Rogers added.
What she has in abundance, Director Warren Sherrill said, is authenticity, and an evidently innate gift for acting. That and one other key ingredient.
“All good actors have empathy, and Emily has plenty of that,” Sherrill said. “As a person, she is able to connect so quickly with people – and she usually can see right through any falseness or pretension. She knows how the human psyche works so well that it’s kind of scary.
“She also is able to laugh at herself, which gives her a raw humanity and vulnerability that she is able to transfer to her characters. I would describe Emily the actor as vulnerable yet stern and honest – and she is the same way in real life.”
Davies’ remarkable 2019 included successive turns in melancholy contemporary couples dramas: Jane Anderson’s The Quality of Life for Benchmark Theatre and Eno’s The Realistic Joneses for Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company.
In both plays, Davies played a wife struggling with many of the same questions as Truhn’s character in Wakey, Wakey: In Quality of Life, Davies’ husband is dying of cancer. Their home has recently burned down and they are living in a mountain yurt. Said Wittman: “Here she’s created a complex woman who constructs a beautiful world to mask her knowledge that she’s about to endure a loss beyond endurance — only to watch that world shatter like colored glass.”
In The Realistic Joneses, she played the wife in an ambivalent couple caught in the unremarkable transition between middle and old age. Wrote Alex Miller for Onstage Colorado: “Davies is spot-on as the good wife just doing what she needs to do to support her husband while keeping their marriage from crashing on the rocks.”
Rogers believes it is Davies and Truhn’s lack of ego, willingness to take risks and spirit of collaboration that makes them both such raw and believable performers.
And as for Davies’ unusual career path, Rogers said her lack of formal training is just proof “that talent will always win out. That, or maybe she’s just that bloody good.”
Emily Paton Davies: 2019
- The Diary of Anne Frank, Arvada Center
- The Quality of Life, Jeannette, Benchmark Theatre
- The Realistic Joneses, Jennifer Jones, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company
Augustus Truhn: 2019
- Wakey, Wakey, Guy, Benchmark Theatre
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 19th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2019 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre magazine in 2011. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org