Pictured: Ashley Pankow in rehearsal for A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN
PerformInk takes you inside Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.
By Sheryl Mos
From national touring companies to regional theater, Kansas City-based Ashley Pankow is a professional Equity actress who can do it all; she can handle musical comedy, drama, and even the occasional Ingrid Michaelson ukulele cover. She has been in productions locally at New Theatre Restaurant, Starlight Theatre, Musical Theatre Heritage, Quality Hill Playhouse, Chestnut Fine Arts Center, and she appeared in Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of “The Realistic Joneses” last summer. She recently closed a very successful run of “Sister Act” at the New Theatre Restaurant, and her next role will be as Irish tenant farmer’s daughter Josie Hogan in KCAT’s upcoming production of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” back at the
City Stage in Union Station.
The story takes place in rural Connecticut, in 1923 as the tenement farm her father and the rest of her siblings have lived on is falling on hard times, and when societal expectations for women were much different. However, Pankow thinks the character of Josie outshines the world she’s written in. “Doing period pieces always poses a challenge in that we need to immerse ourselves in the world of the play, yet the idea of living in the 1920s is not easily accessible. Women were viewed and treated differently as well, as they did not have the opportunities we have now, so one may view her struggles a bit flippantly.Yet, O’Neill has given us a very strong-willed, smart, loving woman to cheer for, no matter how modern the feminist-era audience. There’s appeal in her tough exterior mixed with her empathy, kindness, and humor. What woman doesn’t see herself in Josie at some point? To see oneself as undesirable, constantly comparing to what society says we should be, longing for a better life, and wanting to be forgiven and loved for who one really is.”
The play is a very tight piece with only one set and five cast members, three of whom carry the bulk of the dialogue. Pankow’s character, Josie Hogan, and her father Phil, portrayed by veteran television, film, and stage actor Victor Raider-Wexler, share a complex relationship. “Well, having a complex relationship with one’s father is not a new narrative. Who doesn’t have Daddy issues?”, she asks. “The key for me is specificity, not just playing a wash of emotions but rather understanding each moment and making the most specific active choice. Although I can prepare all I want on my own, none of that will matter until I’m in the moment with Victor, listening and reacting as we discover this complex relationship together.”
The play does have some stirring revelations in store for Josie, as she and land-owner Jamie Tyrone (played by Brian Paulette) spend a moon-soaked night of shifting intentions and aspirations. Despite any revelations or transformations her character may have, Pankow thinks what’s important for staying relatable is keeping perspective. “Maintaining empathy is not a concern at all,” Pankow asserts. “I process the play through Josie’s eyes, not my own, as I’m going through it with a fine tooth comb to truly understand where her empathy lives. I also get the utmost privilege to share the stage with some real Kansas City heavy hitters, so as long as I don’t get in the way, it should be easy to maintain Josie’s empathy.”
Not only is Pankow comfortable in a classic O’Neill play, but she’s an accomplished musical theatre artist, as well, and there are a few notable differences in what either genre requires. “(When singing) I have to technically keep my emotions in check a little more, as I can’t be bawling my eyes out while trying to belt a high D, healthfully, eight shows per week. Bottom line – my approach is the same whether I’m singing or speaking: What does my character want, what is in the way of what I want, and what do I do to get what I want? I’m comfortable in both [musical and non-musical]. Words are words. Intentions are intentions. Acting is acting whether I’m singing or speaking.”
As a renowned vocal coach, Pankow must also make considerations for playing Josie, as she is a volatile young Irish woman with a bit of a temper who does a fair amount of shouting. “Speaking for the stage requires the same breath support and correct resonance; I’ll find the intention and organically see what happens vocally and decide how to make the healthiest sustained choice, while still remaining raw and truthful.”
Ashley Pankow will appear in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” at the City Stage in Union Station from September 12 – 30, as presented by Kansas City Actors Theatre. For more information visit kcactors.org. Learn more about Ashley atashleypankow.com.