Editor’s Note: “Stage Write/Stage Wrong” is a continuing series by Madison Magazine theater reviewer Aaron R. Conklin about those occasions when live performances don’t go entirely according to the stage directions. Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive dropped lines, stumbles and misbehaving props, but it's the confident ones who are willing to relive and share those experiences with us.
David Furumoto knows there’s really no way to escape the comparisons to real life. He’s about to star as the titular character in Madison Theatre Guild’s production of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” a play about a Roman general who initiates chaos—and an escalating series of truly gory murders, attacks and maimings—by ceding the Emperor’s chair to an unstable populist demagogue. Let’s just say the blood runs frequently.
“The play underlines the notion, if we start getting violent with each other, where does that cycle end?” asks Furumoto, who’s also a UW-Madison professor of theater.
Insanity’s certainly one likely stop. Director Betty Diamond has frequently asked Furumoto during rehearsals to try to chart the point at which his character finally loses it.
“I ask myself, “Has he gone mad? When does he truly go mad?” Furumoto asks. MTG’s “Titus” isn’t even the most fraught of Furumoto’s theatrical adventures. He also took time to share a few others from his long and illustrious career.
He’s playing a different (but no less ruthless) ruler in “Titus Andronicus,” but it’s Shakespeare’s “Richard III” that holds a recurring and special place in Furumoto’s heart. He’s directed it three times, including a few years ago at University Theater, each time marrying the Bard’s timeless poetry with elements of Japanese Kabuki theater.
The first time he staged it was during his degree work at the University of Hawaii. The show was so well received that the Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu asked him re-mount a second production at the Kahilu Theater—and star in it, too.
Did we happen to mention that the Kahilu is supposed to be haunted? Could be that there were spirits hanging out in the audience when Furumoto offered his tenuous kingdom for a horse.
“It was one of those performances where you lose yourself in the role,” recalls Furumoto. “It was like an out-of-body experience, where I was taken over by some other thing. I left the stage with a chill, asking myself, ‘what just happened there?’’’
In a very real sense, Furumoto’s lucky to be here to don the soon-to-be-bloodstained robes of Titus Andronicus. Earlier in his career, he was nearly squashed by a stage prop.
Back in 1994, Furumoto was part of the cast of a production of “The Woman Warrior” by the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California. The production included elements from Chinese opera, and part of his role as a bandit warrior involved wearing an elaborate feathered headdress and a tall set of shoes.
The set for the production, meanwhile, was both very white and very door-centric. Three massive guillotine-style wooden doors at the back of the stage provided exits and entrances for the actors. During an audience preview, Furumoto disappeared through the central door near the end of the first act, realizing as he did so that a piece of his character’s feathery crown had fallen to the stage floor.
“I was thinking, ‘Maybe I should get back out there and grab it’” says Furumoto “Then I felt this huge whoosh of wind and a massive SHUNK! I thought, ‘Did this door just fall on me?’”
As the stage manager jumped on the mic to quickly dismiss the audience, the rest of the cast converged backstage, expecting to find Furumoto injured or dead on the floor. It turned out that a metal pin mechanism holding the door up had suddenly snapped. The door had missed hitting him by mere inches.
“It was very close,” he says. “If I had actually turned to come back out on stage, it would have caught me.”
The production’s run was delayed while the technical staff swapped out all the heavy wooden doors for significantly less deadly plastic and Styrofoam replacements. The cast survived intact.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.