Ambassadors Without Diplomatic Passports
Meet Lane Davies, a true Hollywood star, known world-wide for his role as Mason Capwell on the NBC TV series, “Santa Barbara”, an international hit that has played in more than 53 countries. In Russia, it was the first American program to air after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lane to this day has loyal fan clubs all over Russia and Eastern Europe. In the Czech Republic, he is known for starring in the famous TV series, “Dallas”. On stage in his lengthy career, Lane has performed classical roles such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III., King Lear, Prospero, Petruchio and others. He has also directed a dozen productions of Shakespearean plays.
Lane came to Prague this time to star in the English language premiere of the multi-Tony award winning musical “Man of La Mancha”. This Prague production of the classical Broadway musical is being co-produced by Bob Boudreaux and the respected Prague Shakespeare Company at Divadlo Na Prádle. It will be Lane’s sixth time performing Cervantes ́ Quixote, always having his best friend, Jerry Winsett as Sancho Panza by his side. The cast includes actors and singers from the Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Sweden, New Zealand, Russia, and the USA.
I was lucky to experience a part of one rehearsal and I was surprised how much effort rehearsing, singing, and repeating a few lines over and over takes. After, Lane and I went for a coffee at Kampa, near Divadlo Na Prádle. It was a unique opportunity for me to interview a true but “normal” star and to speak about politics, commercial acting, the purpose of theatre and his perception and reminder to me about the cultural part of Prague and the beauty of the Czech landscape.
Lane, the first question of this series is a traditional one. How do you perceive today’s world?
I am an optimist. Despite all the troubles around the world, the human species is evolving. In general, we are less violent and less predatory than we have been in the past. This gives me a reason to be optimistic about the future.
Your optimism is quite surprising given the fact that you come from the US and given the reaction of most of the Hollywood to the new Trump administration…
I love my country, I love the United States. I do not always agree with what the leaders are doing and I do not always like the people who are leading my country but I stay away from politics, so I can remain optimistic about the future of the United States and its place in the world. It is not that I do not have opinions, but rather the fact that I am an actor of a limited celebrity makes my opinion any more valuable than anyone else’s, so I stay quiet about it. In the United States, the society got so polarized, that if you support one party or one candidate over another, you can alienate fan base. I do not stay quiet out of cowardice but I want people to look at my characters, not my personal politics or personal life.
But is it possible to be only yourself? You played several strong characters, the most famous being Mason Capwell in Santa Barbara series and very often, people start to equal the actor to his/ her role.
Once I leave the country, I am probably much better known by Mason than I am by my real name. When you are playing the same character for month after month and year after year as you do in television series, some of your character will creep into you and some of you will creep into the character. There were similarities between me and my character. I think Mason and I shared the same sense of humour. Mason drank a great deal more than I drink in my real life. I still have fans who send me a liquor on my birthday because they equate Mason’s drinking habits with mine.
I was fascinated to find out about Santa Barbara’s success in Russia and about your fan club in Russia…How did you find Russia? There, you were a true ambassador without a diplomatic passport, representing the US culture…
I have been in Russia many times, I have visited many places from St. Petersburg to Blagoveshchensk (a town 8000 km east of Moscow, bordering China) and many places in between. Many of the appearances were as myself. I did many concerts, had various speaking and discussions events. I got to meet many wonderful people, fans from various segments of society, ranging from ring generals in Blagoveshchensk to babushkas in Siberia. For someone who grew up during the hottest part of the Cold War, when we were threatened with global thermal nuclear annihilation through my childhood, it was especially gratifying to spend time travelling around the country and realizing that Russian people were not the problem, the Russian politicians and American politicians were the problem. Fortunately, the diplomacy won and we did not blow the world but that was the threat we lived under.
My first trip to Russia was in 1992, right after the borders were open. It was interesting to see how much alike we are. One more thing I would like to mention was my experience with propaganda. We knew about the Russian propaganda, about the Russian propaganda being brain washed. Once I got to Russia, I realized the US government was doing the same thing. Russian women can serve as a good example. In the US, we only saw pictures of little grandmas, babushkas, that looked like potatoes with legs or looked like Khrushchev in a dress. Depressed, deprived people over the age of 60. When I got to Russia, I saw all the Russian women who were stunningly beautiful but these we did not have a chance to see.
What is the connection between you and The Man of La Mancha coming to the Czech Republic?
First I came as a tourist, later I started to communicate with Guy Roberts, the director of Prague Shakespeare Company. He invited me to play a role in Richard III. in summer at the Prague Castle and later, at the Estates Theater. In fall, I was back again with my son Nathan, because I had the feeling he might like the Czech Republic. I was right, he moved to Prague three weeks later. During the fall, I was approached by Bob Boudreaux, a long time member of the Prague Shakespeare Company who was also performing in Richard III. We were discussing the possibility of producing Man of La Mancha. We both like the show, I have done it five times already. Well, six months later here we are, doing the show. The opening night is scheduled for May 18 and we will play it until June and some more performances are scheduled for the fall.
So how do you find and how do you like the Czech Republic?
That is a big question. I love being here…Prague became my favourite city within a week of being here. I was so pleasantly surprised by the Czech countryside. I have been to eight countries that have been part of the USSR sphere of influence, and so I have experienced the country side with the large fields and only few countries managed to recover from the landscape point of view. I was therefore very pleasantly surprised that the Czech Republic values and cares about its countryside and the way it looks.
This is going to be your sixth production of The Man of La Mancha. As each production is different, what do you find the most special this time?
The fact that the cast is half international and half Czech is the most different thing about this production. We are not making any big changes to the script or the way the play is traditionally done. Because of the nature of the theatre Na Prádle, the production will be more intimate than some people might be used to. It is much more like a play with music than a big Broadway musical. The music is only secondary to the play.
Has the main message of the play evolved over the years?
The play has always had a special meaning for me. I did it for the first time at the age of 23, it has influenced my entire life. I tend to put causes ahead of practicality. The metaphor of tilting at windmills does not mean that I devote my strength and energy to the lost causes but I tend to make the cause more important than the outcome, one of the main themes running throughout the play. The song “Impossible Dream” embodies all the different themes. Through the years, the character has deepened inside of me.
Making a parallel to your Cervantes’ Don Quixote, what is your impossible dream?
As long as I am physically able I want to continue to keep great ideas in art, literature and theatre alive and moving forward. Particularly theatre. If you take Shakespeare’s plays as an example, they are preserved in the performance of them, there are not any museums or art galleries for the plays and they are lost in a library. The only way to preserve a play is to perform it and to this goal I have dedicated my life. It went side by side with my commercial acting so I could earn a living so I could spend my time preserving the great plays through the performance of them.
To continue along the play lines, who is your unbeatable foe?
I will stay away from any personification to avoid getting political but for me the people who minimize the importance of life to the basic human conditions. Civilizations are remembered for their arts, not for their wars and boundaries. It is great writing, art, theatre, music that last and continue to move the human spirit.
Another constant for this play, is the character of Sancho, always performed by your best friend, Jerry Winsett.
We have been friends for 44 years. There are many similarities with Sancho, since Jerry has been following me to every place it was performed being it New York, California or Prague…He keeps me humble, since he knows me too well as he knows where my skeletons are…
What are your final words to the Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?
For me it is just gratifying to be in a city where theatre is such a vibrant part of the culture of the city. If I had a complaint about the US then it is about not being enough emphasis placed in the arts and not enough subsidies for the arts from the government. In Prague, there is a DIVADLO (theatre) on every corner and in the US, outside of Broadway, there is one professional theatre per larger city and perhaps several community theatres in smaller towns. Prague theatre scene and community is quite unique.
By Linda Štucbartová
PRAGUE SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
Prague Shakespeare Company is Central Europe’s only professional English-language Shakespeare company, presenting professional theatre productions, workshops, classes, lectures and other theatrical events, of the highest quality, by a multi-national ensemble of professional theatre artists, with an emphasis on the plays of William Shakespeare, bringing to the Czech Republic, European and World audiences English-language based performances that are fresh, bold, imaginative, thought-provoking, and eminently accessible, connecting the truths of the past with the challenges and possibilities of today. www.pragueshakespeare.com