THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA’s Chris Thorn talks about finding his center and portraying the humanity of Benedict Arnold on stage.
So, Chris, how does it feel to play the most hated man in American history?
Chris: Oh, it’s great! You know, it’s funny: I’m from Maine and in New England the meanest thing you could say to a kid who’s done you wrong is, “ya such a Benedict Ahnald.” It was, like, the biggest insult of my youth, which didn’t occur to me until just recently. But I try not to think of it as portraying the most hated person in the world. My main job is to make him human.
And how do you get into that mindset?
Chris: For me it’s not really about a mindset. Richard Nelson wrote a really great play, and I have a series of actions that I have to do in the play, one after another. Rather than getting too tied up in is somebody good or is somebody bad, I just pursue what they want… remorselessly. You play each action without regret to survive. So in a way, I guess I’m honoring Benedict Arnold? Or trying to keep him alive. I’m basically arguing his side of the story.
Davis [McCallum, HVSF’s Artistic Director] talked about how HVSF’s Theater Tent is a place where trial plays work really well, so in a lot of ways you can think of this as Benedict Arnold’s trial. I think there’s some evidence in my favor and objectively there’s probably some stuff that makes me look not so great. But, ultimately, I’m (he’s) just a person. I can make my case.
Behind the scenes of Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s promotional shoot for THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA, running in repertory August 4 – September 3, 2017.
That’s the thing about these Revolutionary War or period stories: we forget that they were just people who wanted to fall in love, make money, and be successful. All the things that we want all the time. So, they’re not that foreign… and that makes them very interesting to play.
When I first decided to do THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA, Davis said to me, “get ready. You’re gonna get boo’ed in the supermarket.” And I was like, “really?! People are still mad about it?” But I kind of get it now. There’s a certain antipathy from what we learned in history classes. I enjoy advocating for people who aren’t heard, so to speak; the underdogs. I like arguing for the other side.
Has this opened new doors in your own mind? Do you feel differently about the man or his situation than you did before?
Chris: One of the things I do before I start rehearsing any play is that I pick elements or characteristics of the character that are like me. I’m a boy from New England, and he was from Connecticut, and I don’t know if that has changed much in the last 200 years or so.
I think it’s opened my mind to how important this country actually is to me. I’ve always specifically identified as a dude from Maine and I think I do really love American stories. Nelson’s play has opened up a new perspective of American pride for me: pride over the land and the earth.
Our Director, Penny [Metropulos], spoke to us about how this country is huge and made up of all these beautiful places. I’ve been lucky enough to travel while acting and have experienced everything from the deserts of Arizona to the blue hills of Kentucky to the coastline of Maine (the most beautiful place in the world, if you’re asking). The United States is an incredible place with a very complicated political history that continues to this day, and all that tension between loving this land and tolerating its politics makes people human. That’s what Penny articulated to me: you can love the land but not love the government. That struggle can be difficult.
THE GENERAL FROM AMERICA
By Richard Nelson
Directed by Penny Metropulos
Running August 4 – September 3, 2017