Who: Brooks Reeves, cast member of “Shockheaded Peter,’’ a coproduction of Company One Theatre and Suffolk University.
What: In one startling scene, Reeves topples backward onto the stage, not appearing to break his fall.
When: “Shockheaded Peter’’ runs through April 4 at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University.
Sure, plenty of actors are willing to suffer for their art.
But how many of them would be willing to fall straight backward onto the stage? Brooks Reeves does. He pulls off that stunt in each performance of the entertainingly ghoulish “Shockheaded Peter.’’
“The fall itself is actually pretty safe, though I know it doesn’t look it,’’ Reeves says by e-mail. “There’s always this satisfying gasp that arises from the audience each night I do it, and it’s moments like that which any actor lives for.’’
Steven Bogart, director of “Shockheaded Peter,’’ says in a telephone interview that he also gasped the first time he saw Reeves improvise the fall during rehearsal. “We loved it, so we kept it,’’ says Bogart, adding: “If he was hurting himself, we wouldn’t be doing it. . . . The first concern is safety.’’
Reeves plays the father of the title character, a ghastly looking puppet who is deposited by his parents in a spot underneath a floorboard. Mysterious scratching sounds continue to emanate from beneath a trapdoor long after the parents leave him there.
Guilt-stricken, the father gets good and drunk one night. Reeves totters down an aisle and climbs onstage. The trapdoor is rattling. Reeves suddenly topples backward. The actor’s body is erect, and he does not appear to break his fall in the least, at least at the performance I saw. The trapdoor stops rattling for a couple of moments, then resumes.
“Our stage manager Vivian Yee told me that the first time she saw me do it, she thought to herself, ‘That is the act of someone very brave, or someone very stupid,’ ’’ Reeves writes. “But honestly, as long as I’m doing it right my gluteus maximus and lower back muscles work in tandem to take all of the force.’’
He describes the fall as “a fun and exciting moment. To do something unexpected and to give the audience a sense of thrill. I’m not much of a physical actor or movement person, but I am an inveterate ham: I will do anything for a laugh or a response.”
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org