HOUSTON -- "In the production of Seven Guitars at Seattle Rep, Vera was a girl. Here in Houston at the Alley she's a woman."
How often do you hear that from an actress about her own performance? Leslie DoQui wasn't so much commenting on her effectiveness at the former as she was charting her evolution at the latter.
"In Seattle Vera was very different. She was stronger. Here's she's much more vulnerable."
A co-production with Seattle Repertory, where it played this past January, Seven Guitars concludes its run at the Alley Mar. 14.
Seven Guitars continues August Wilson's exploration of the African-American experience decade by decade in the 20th century. This addition to the cycle takes place in Pittsburgh, 1948. An ensemble of voices, it centers on Floyd "Schoolboy" Baron, a rogue of a blues guitarist from Pittsburgh pursuing a recording contract in Chicago. Friends and lovers, neighbors and band mates converge and diverge as Schoolboy, a ne'er-do-well with a good heart, tries to get his professional and personal lives in order. DoQui plays the object of his affections, Vera, whom he had once cheated on and abandoned. Why has Vera changed for DoQui? "It's through the growth of the play," DoQui said. "It has dictated to me her depths."
At the same time, however, DoQui has helped form her character; after all, when she asked Wilson, who sat in on rehearsals in Seattle, who Vera was, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright said he didn't know. All Wilson could offer for sure was that when he began writing the drama, a female character appeared in his head, demanding her space: Vera. So while at first DoQui was daunted by Wilson's admission, she was ultimately stimulated. "I felt liberated. I could define her."
DoQui continued, pinpointing Vera's vulnerability. "You have to take the time period into account most of all. The love and commitment women had toward men is much different now. I believe Vera truly loves Floyd, even after he has left her. In his absence she's learned to pick herself up. She's crusty around the edges. But she allows great love to bloom in her."
Calling Vera "effortless" for her now, DoQui concluded, "I actually believe feel the shoe fits better here, much better."
A versatile performer who's studied the classics as well as musical theater and opera, DoQui has credits including Twelfth Night (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), The Glass Menagerie (Sacramento Theatre Company), Miss Evers' Boys (Portland Repertory Theatre), and The Music Man (5th Avenue Theatre).
Seven Guitars continues through March 14 at the Alley Theatre in Houston. For tickets, $31-$46, call (713) 228-8421
-- By Peter Szatmary