Interview: Dave Landis on playing Horace Vandergelder at Playhouse on the Square in Memphis, TN


What kind of theatre excites you? The most important aspect of doing theatre for me… whether I'm directing or acting… is the aspect of sharing a story which hopefully will spark the imagination and the soul of an audience. I have a silent prayer I typically offer up to the Theatre Gods where I hope to share the story as truthfully as possible while also hoping the audience each night has the open mind to hear and the receptive heart to listen.

What was your first encounter with this play?

I visited a good friend back in the early 1980's who was performing the role of Barnaby in 'The Matchmaker'. I had seen the movie of 'Hello, Dolly' already, but this was my first introduction to the non-musical story. I happened to be at a crossroads in my life regarding what I wanted to do with my career. To make a long story shorter, the message of this wonderful production spoke to me… giving me the encouragement to take some risks which I had been fearing to pursue. It was at this point where I soon decided to take the plunge and pursue a theatrical career… choosing the adventure of theatre as a full-time career is pretty much all due to Mr. Wilder's 'The Matchmaker.' 

Why Wilder? Why now?

Mr. Wilder's plays often put our focus on the joy of simple, everyday things… things we take for granted ('Our Town' being the iconic example) He is what some others have called… The Poet of Every Man…. taking every day language and weaving a truly exquisite poem… sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always thoughtful… and in my humble opinion, forever universal for past, present, and future generations.

Wilder is often described as a 'cosmic' writer. How do you see The Matchmaker, your production and your role in the play in context of the cosmos?

For me, it all comes down to Dolly's monologue to the audience in the final scene where she talks about how she had spent part of her life retreating from the world… in much the same way Horace has done. She has the ability to nudge all of us to take a chance on living as opposed to withering away in isolation. One of her lines I made sure I listened to every night (given I was about to re-enter the scene shortly after) was "If you accept human beings and are willing to live among them you acknowledge that every man has a right to his own mistakes." Horace had been living his life out of fear of making mistakes… fear of loving ever again… not really realizing what a crippling effect fear has on one's ability to really enjoy life. That's a pretty 'cosmic' battle that I think we all tend to wrestle with at various points in our life's journey. Choosing to accept the faults and foibles of your own life is also a good way to accept the faults and foibles in those around you… and as Dolly implies if we can accept each other and are willing to live among each other, we're all the richer for it.

Dave originally hails from West Des Moines, Iowa where he earned his BFA in Theatre from Drake University. Upon receiving his MFA in Acting from the University of Texas at Austin, Dave started with Playhouse on the Square as a Performance intern in 1991 and joined the Resident Company the following season. During his tenure with Circuit Playhouse Inc., Dave’s performance resume has included award winning roles in Cabaret (Herr Schultz), Old Wicked Songs (Mashkan), Amadeus (Salieri), and A Man of No Importance (Alfie Byrne). Other audience favorites include Fiddler on the Roof (Tevye), Tuesdays with Morrie (Morrie), Peter Pan(Captain Hook), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (George), The History Boys (Hector). Also recognized as an accomplished and award winning director, his credits include Into the WoodsCaroline or Change, Narnia, The Wild Party, Peter Pan, The Full Monty, Shakespeare ‘s R&J, Man of LaMancha, Corpus Christi, Frozen, Take Me Out, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Ragtime, and Hairspray.