ERIC DUTTON Q&A: Proud of Wheeling’s ‘Off-Broadway’

Eric Dutton has been involved in Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre productions for at least 30 years — a theater he equates to Off-Broadway, even if it is eight hours away from New York City.

“I treat every performance with that professional mindset because each show has the opportunity to rise to the level of professional stage shows,” he believes.

He and Vincent Marshall star in Towngate’s upcoming production of “Stones in His Pockets.” Both actors play multiple roles in the show.

Dutton ranks seeing the original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, in “Les Miserables” as one of the most memorial stage performances he’s seen in his life. “With a mind like a sieve, I’ve lost and forgotten so many things: keys, people, experiences, even some of my own performances; and considering it was some 35 years ago, suggests how unforgettable and moving Wilkinson’s performance was for me.”

However, he says his proudest performance “has occurred in real life with my son Tucker and the intelligent, creative, good man he has become.”

Dutton, who lives in the Elm Grove section of Wheeling, also is center stage in the kitchen. The manager of the St. Clairsville, Ohio, Outback Steakhouse for 17 years, he enjoys cooking at home. “I have over the years become a wonderful cook. I do all the cooking in the house and have truly made some beautiful and delicious culinary creations and have shared many with pictures and the meals themselves with friends, my Outback family, and even patrons of the restaurant I’ve come to know over the years,” he said.

In “Stones in His Pockets,” Dutton will portray:
•   Jake Quinn, local
•   Aisling, third assistant director, Dublin
•   Mickey, local extra
•   Sean Harkin, local, at 8 years, 12 years, and 17 years
•   John, dialect coach, Dublin
•   Dave, crew member, Cockney
•   Interviewer, Dublin

Q. What attracted you to “Stones in His Pockets”? Why did you decide to audition for it?

ERIC: When I found out about Towngate’s 2022-2023 season, I was so excited and hopeful. Two productions stood out to me: “Cabaret” and “Stones” … (I have been in three of Towngate’s “Irish” shows in the past and just love working the accent and trying to find the distinctive variances that occur depending on the area of the country.) Both shows offered unique challenges, and I studied and worked hard for auditions with hopes of being given the opportunity to perform in them. And the unique challenge of playing so many characters in this funny and poignant show was the determining factor for me.

Dutton acted alongside Stones’ cast member Vincent Marshall in Towngate’s 2018 production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”

Q: Tell me about playing multiple roles, please. Is it more difficult than just playing one role — and why or why not? Is this your first experience with playing multiple roles in a play?

ERIC: I had appeared in “Murderers,” a show written in three monologues; the first of which was the show’s opening, which had me alone on stage for the first 46 minutes. As my main character told his tale, I took on 10 different characters as his story unfolded. It is that similar challenge for an actor that “Stones in His Pockets” offered even more so with deeper, more nuanced characters from different regions of the country.

In Towngate’s 2021 production of “Murderers,” Dutton took on 10 different roles as his main character’s story unfolded.

Whether it is more difficult to take on multiple roles is hard to determine. I played “Hamlet” years ago and, undoubtedly, Shakespeare created one of the hardest, deepest, nuanced characters in literature, and that one role was a physical and psychological challenge. But any well-written character offers the great challenge to bring them to life and make people believe your portrayal. Multiple roles give an actor the chance to use your body, your voice, and your mind to make each of the roles “real” and believable people; raising those roles above stereotypes and “stock” characters.

Q: Will you be using an Irish accent for your characters? If so, how do you learn the accent? Have you done any other plays using accents? What were they and what accent did you use?

ERIC: Yes, I will be using several Irish accents as the development of my various characters has them from different areas of Ireland, but also [the characters] are of different ages and gender. My approach to accents has always been listening! “A good ear” is invaluable, and it is not about accent coaches for me but listening to the real people and the accents they have. And we live in a time when you can stream the Irish Parliament, hear actual people with authentic accents from Belfast, Galway, Limerick, Kerry, Dublin, etc. Each has distinctions and vocal variances that can determine where your character is from and their upbringing.

Dutton appeared in Towngate’s 2014 production of “The Quiet Man.”

I have used this tool with not only Irish characters but also Jewish characters from Brooklyn to Jewish characters from Poland, a Pakistani doctor, a southerner from Alabama to a drunk minister from Baton Rouge. These are just a few examples, the point being that we live in a time from streaming and internet that we have the availability to hear real people and authentic accents to help develop characters an actor might play. Again, “a good ear” is a must.

Q: Do you have a favorite character in this play?

ERIC: I can’t say I have a favorite character other than wanting to focus on my main character, Jake Quinn, and his relationship with Charlie and … his thinking of how the movie industry has changed his town and its people. Most importantly, I just want to create well-rounded characters that people can relate to and feel real for them.

Q: What is your history with Towngate Theatre? How long have you been involved? What other notable roles have you had? What’s been your favorite role?

ERIC: I think my first show at Towngate was, oh my god … 30 years ago. I had returned from grad school and was constantly trying to be on the stage. I had a role in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and followed right after with “Tintypes.” I appeared in many shows over the next several years, splitting time between Towngate, the Music Hall Players, and a year of shows in Pittsburgh. When I became a father and went through a separation, I took an almost 13-year hiatus from the stage, focused on taking care of my son Tucker. My first show after that long absence was ironically “The Quiet Man,” the Irish show mirrored by the movie “The Quiet Valley” that they are filming in “Stones in His Pockets.”

Dutton has appeared in numerous productions at Towngate throughout the past 30 years.

Q: Why do you think community theater is important? What does Towngate Theatre contribute to the local arts scene?

ERIC: I love the theater and the many, many people I’ve worked with at Towngate through the years. Community theater is more than the term suggests as so many truly talented performers have the opportunity to appear in front of an audience. Many of which have the talent and skills to be “professional” actors and directors. And I treat each performance with hard work and study as if it were a professional performance.

I appeared in “Cabaret” this past October, and spoke to my incredible cast, that what we had achieved in a shortened rehearsal timeframe was better than many off-Broadway productions of shows I’ve seen. Towngate may be situated in Wheeling, West Virginia, but to me, it is “Off-Broadway,” (yes, eight-plus hours away from “Off-Broadway” lol); and I treat every performance with that professional mindset because each show has the opportunity to rise to the level of professional stage shows. That is what Towngate Theatre is and has been to me and what it offers to our audience here in the “Off-Broadway” of the Ohio Valley!

Dutton starred as the emcee in Towngate’s 2022 production of “Cabaret.”

See this show

DETAILS: You can see “Stones in His Pockets” at 8 p.m., March 17-18 and 24-25 and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19. Admission is $15 ($13 for OI members.) Purchase tickets online or call 304-242-7700. Towngate Theatre is located at 2118 Market St., Wheeling. The show is sponsored by Unified Bank.