Paul Hope Goes From Brit to Heartland Americana in Man From Nebraska at Stages

Paul Hope was brought up Baptist and says his father is a lot like Ken Carpenter, the character Hope plays in Man From Nebraska, now being shown at Stages Repertory Theatre.

The veteran Houston actor -- he used to be with Theatre Under the Stars and has been a company member with the Alley Theatre for several years now -- is using some time off from the Alley for this project at Stages. (He says the Alley has gone to smaller casts to try to counter the costs of the recession. Stages is certainly benefiting by this; in February Alley actor James Belcher did A Picasso.)

Man From Nebraska, by Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Letts, calls on Hope to play "someone from the heartland of America" which is venturing pretty far afield from his usual roles employing comedy and his upper-crust British accent skills.

"People are either loving it or not getting it at all," Hope told Hair Balls. He sees the play as being about the energizing effects of change, of not being stuck in a rut. But some in the audience have seen it as anti-religious or view the new experiences his character undergoes as "hitting bottom," he said. "He doesn't drink and decides he's going to try it and decides he really likes it."

Ken and Nancy Carpenter have been married so long they're comfortable sitting in silence together, Hope said. One day, Ken suddenly realizes he's lost his faith in God. His pastor says he needs some time away.

"I think the pastor thought he was going to Kansas," Hope said. Instead, Ken goes back to London where he served in the Air Force. From audience reaction sessions, Hope said, he knows audiences are polarized over whether Ken is selfish or not in taking off.

Tensions rise back home when Ken, who was supposed to be away two weeks, stretches it out for several more and his wife and daughter become increasingly uncomfortable.

Hope also heads up his own company, the Bayou City Concert Musicals, which this September will put on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and he does a cabaret series as well.

He's very open about his opportunity at Stages, whose management he calls "very nurturing." "I don't get near material like this at the Alley."

He auditioned at Stages and then was called back along with two others. The final test was to do a scene that involves Ken bursting into tears. On opening night, the tears failed him, but for every show before and after that, he said, he's "bawled" on cue.

Man From Nebraska is playing at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, through May 16. Tickets are available online at www.stagestheatre.com.

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