Beth Wilmurt's whole approach to acting is a little unexpected, not unlike the devastatingly unassuming characters she can manifest most recently, an excellent ensemble turn this year in Marcus Gardley's This World in a Woman's Hands at Shotgun Players. Over beers and enchiladas in the Mission District, she even confesses to a certain ambivalence. "Joy Carlin [who directed her this summer in Aurora Theatre's Jack Goes Boating] just told me the other day, 'You think like a dramaturge and a director, but not like an actor.' And I started to realize maybe I'm not as interested in thinking like an actor. It's not as fun. I like more conceptual things. I like thematic things. Sometimes I don't even attend to character."
Wilmurt worked regularly in musicals at Concord's Willows Theatre while still at San Francisco State University, where she and her companion of 18 years, director-playwright Mark Jackson, met as classmates in the drama department. In 1995 she formed Art Street Theatre with Jackson, Kevin Clarke, and Jake Rodriguez, and moved swiftly into bold experimental work, including a radically reinterpreted version of Romeo and Juliet (called R&J), which she called "Shakespeare thrown into a blender." That same spirit and method of blowing apart a classic and reconstituting it from the outside-in powers her memorable "two-minute Hamlet," a tour de force of physical technique and imagination tucked into Jackson's generally stunning The Death of Meyerhold (2004). It also found an exceptional outlet in 2008's Yes, Yes to Moscow, a wonderfully deft, insouciant, and absolutely telling deconstruction of Chekhov's Three Sisters developed by Wilmurt and Jackson in collaboration with German theater artists during a stint at Berlin's Deutsches Theater.
Can an actor of such versatility and so many successes really be ambivalent about acting? Yes and no. "I'd love to transition into directing, but I see that I am not quite right for directing either," Wilmurt explains. "I'm not a leader; I'm a follower. I'm an ensemble member, yet I have this mind like a director." She readily admits that living with a director may have something to do with this. But it's clear there's a more basic inclination at work, an intellectual curiosity and a capacity to forgo ego in the name of collaboration and its subtler satisfactions. It's this very trait that lends her acting a seamlessness and flexibility and makes her an artist to watch.
>>GOLDIES 2009: The 21st Guardian Outstanding Local Discovery awards, honoring the Bay's best in arts
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