New Friend of Production Company Presents True Test of Self

Most actors thrive on playing a diverse array of characters. Roles that force them to stretch. Roles that challenge them. Roles that require them to question the inner recesses of someone entirely different from who they are.

So what happens when an actor is cast in the juicy role of…herself?

That is exactly what has happened to Megan McQuillan, the actress who plays the title role in Meg’s New Friend, written by Blair Singer and mounted by The Production Company. Well, not exactly. McQuillan doesn’t portray herself, per se; she plays Meg, a local New York television features reporter who realizes that, in this current environment of hope and change, none of her friends are African-American. The tide turns when she encounters the African-American boyfriend of her best friend. So how much of Meg the actress overlaps with Meg the character?

“I think the character of ‘Meg’ and I talk and think alike in many ways; we share the same sense of humor and I think we could probably play twins, we look so similar!” joked McQuillan. However, the actress got serious, explaining that she sees her character as someone distinct from herself. “I think the mistake would be for me to approach this as ‘playing myself.’ She's not me, and I'm doing the same kind of work I would do on any role – finding out what's driving her, why she does what she does. At the same time, though, the language feels great in my mouth. It feels familiar in a way. That's really fun to work on.”

McQuillan credits Singer for crafting a role that feels so real and so rich. “The story itself is drawn wholly from Blair's creative mind,” McQuillan explained. And while Meg the character may be lifelike, the life reflected does not belong to the actress. There is a thick line between the two Megs. “In real life, I myself have a really diverse group of awesome friends, and a very happy romantic relationship, so [what happens in the play] is purely fiction.”

“Audience members aren't really playing off any knowledge of the ‘real Meg,’” director Mark Armstrong said. “Which is not to say that the role doesn't tap into things she does especially well as an actress, because it certainly does.”

McQuillan and Singer first worked together in another Production Company work, last year’s The Most Damaging Wound (also directed by Armstrong). “Blair talked to me last winter, right after we finished working on Wound, about a script he was working on,” she said. “The lead character was named Meg, but he assured me that it wasn't really ‘me’ me.”

Friend is not the first time that Singer has written a play in which an actor was called upon to play himself. In his last work, Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas, which recently ended a run at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse, Emmy-nominated actor Modine also played a fictitious version of himself.

This endeavor, however, required less in the way of research. Singer said that he was very impressed by McQuillan. “Meg is a real talent, very confident, beautiful, and also vulnerable,” the playwright explained. “I committed to create a character for her since I knew where I could stretch her. I wanted to create a role worthy of her talent and really push her.” After a pause, Singer added: “This play definitely pushes her.”

Singer stresses that the character of Meg really is just that, not a reflection of the actress. He knows very little of her personal life, the details of which never surface in Friend. “After my initial picturing of her in the show, the character just took off,” he said. “She gets the rhythms of the character, the humor, the self-deprecation. I knew [the character] wasn’t going to cry, she wasn’t going to be a victim.” Singer is also quick to point out that McQuillan took ownership of the role. “There was some resistance in the room,” Singer confessed to watching McQuillan make the namesake role her own. Regarding some of the choices she made, “sometimes I saw them differently.”

In fact, if the character of Meg is true to any real life individual, it is actually that of the playwright, not the star. “Though I’m very happy with my life,” Singer, who is married and has a young daughter, admitted, “certain things could always be better,” citing his own career trajectory as an example. “Some things have gone my way, and some have not. I thought Meg [the character] was an interesting vessel to channel my thoughts about…wanting to be better at life, professionally, personally. Meg [the actress] was open to that exploration.”

It should be said that Friend is no one-woman show. The cast also includes Mary Cross, Damon Gupton, and Michael Solomon, who also shared the stage with McQuillan in Wound. “It's spectacular fun to be sharing the stage with this company of actors as well,” McQuillan said. “Talk about talent!”

The company has worked hard to ensure that their show is accessible to people of any name. Singer developed the play over the last year, refining Friend over the course of several readings. It was even part of MCC’s Playlabs series last spring. “The MCC reading was pretty special. There was a warm audience, and the feedback from that night was super positive,” McQuillan said.

Who knows? Maybe there’s a little Meg in all of us.

Meg’s New Friend plays at Manhattan Theatre Source from Nov. 29 through Dec. 20. For more information, please visit http://www.productioncompany.org/index.html.

Print Friendly and PDF