Michael McGuirk, a Chatham native who grew up next to the entrance of Shepard Kollock Park, is currently appearing in the musical "Play It Cool" at the Acorn Theatre in New York City.
McGuirk describes the play as "a film noir jazz musical” which "deals with homosexuality in 1950's Hollywood, [what] people had to deal with in order to have the life that they wanted and the measures they had to take to cover up there true nature."
McGuirk plays the role of the "Gum Shoe," a Sam Spade-esque detective who also acts as the show's narrator. He said his favorite part of the role is immersing himelf in the time period and finding the little mannerisms that make it believable, such as the small act of holding a cigarette.
“Finding the truth in the character so it doesn't become a ‘characterization’ has been a fulfilling challenge,” McGuirk said, “It’s easy to do a stereotypical character, so I appreciate finding the heart of a character and making it more real and in-depth as opposed to cartoony and surfaced.”
McGuirk was involved with "Play it Cool" in readings and festivals over the past 3 years. “It is amazing to finally see it come to a full blown production. I remember when we first walked onto the stage during rehearsals and the bar and stairs were in place. It was quite surreal to see it come to life,” he said.
McGuirk said he owes a lot of his success to his mother. He said as a child he was constantly singing, so his mother took him to auditions for a production of "Peter Pan" by the Chatham Community Players. He was cast as John Darling. “Being that the character got to fly, I was hooked,” said McGuirk.
McGuirk was part of the first freshman class to enter the regionalized Chatham High School in the fall of 1988. At the time the school did not have a theater department, but still managed to put on yearly musicals. McGuirk regularly participated in those productions and stayed involved with the Chatham Community Players. He was part of the company's original cast of "A Christmas Carol" and acted in that play for four years, starting as Young Scrooge and ending as Jacob Marley. Those experiences, he said, taught him most of what he knows about performing.
In the summer of 1990 McGuirk had what he considers his defining moment in theatre. He appeared in a two-person production of "The Dumb Waiter" by the now-defunct Horizon Theater at the Chatham United Methodist Church. Carl Forsman, who is also active with the Chatham Community Players, directed the show in which McGuirk played an English hit man.
“I was still in high school and [Forsman] had finished one year of college. It was really the first time that someone directed me in a way that was more than memorizing lines and saying them. For the first time I was thinking on stage as the character,” McGuirk said.
Forsman is currently directing "Lemon Sky," which is playing in the same theater as "Play it Cool."
McGuirk majored in theater at Penn States. He later switched to musical theater and moved to New York, where he finished his degree at York College during downtime from his acting work.
McGuirk said he is usually attracted to the role of the villain. “I get cast as the ‘bad guy’ quite a bit and I have to say I love these roles. I think of them as the ‘good guy’ in the show because I feel as if it makes them more real and not so stereotypical.”
So what’s next for the actor? “As an actor, we sometimes aren't quite sure what is next for us,” said McGuirk, “It is an up and down business, but the ups can be so rewarding that it makes it all worthwhile.”