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Actor Explains How to Die Eight Deaths in 140 Minutes

It's a killer performance.


A certain degree of planning is necessary in order to stage a death—but to stage eight? That is an exercise in nimbleness. And it’s precisely actor John Rapson’s task in the raunchy and hilarious Tony Award–winning play A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, at the Golden Gate Theatre this month (Dec. 1–27). The tale follows a young man who learns that he will inherit a fortune—if, that is, all eight family members ahead of him are knocked off. Rapson, who plays the octet of unlucky victims, tells us how he manages to die eight times in 140 minutes.

Step 1: Work at the speed of light.
“One of the costume changes is 16 seconds, but the vast majority are around 20 seconds and then you’re back on the stage. You can’t take any of who you just were with you—you can’t take any of the chaos of the change. You just become that person, which is part of the humor of the show: the fact that the same guy who just left the stage as a dead guy comes back as a woman.”

Step 2: Savor each death.
“They’re all such hilariously extreme scenarios, so you have to find different ways of being surprised—find a way to make being chased by killer bees funny in a different way than falling off a 60-foot cathedral is funny. Most of my characters are completely smug and despicable, so you kind of want to see them die.”

Step 3: Roll with the mishaps.
“Wardrobe malfunctions do happen, and they’re terrifying—but you try and deal with them as best you can. Part of the thrill of it being live is that something can happen. If you’re taking this journey, you’re going to realize that it’s the same guy doing this—and it’s almost kind of fun.”

Step 4: Go ahead, choose a favorite.
“All the characters are like my children, but there’s one named Henry that I just love. Most of them are pretty despicable to play, but Henry’s very sweet, so it’s a nice little contrast. But even he is smug, so it’s fun to see him die.”


Originally published in the December issue of San Francisco

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