I have been writing about Jeremy Menekseoglu for 6 years. Before I had a blog I used to post about him to the NIF mailing list. But always before I have seen him acting in his own plays - and usually my reflections have focused on his playwriting and his directing, with lighter commentary on his many strengths as an actor. But I've set out to write a little something about each of the actors in my play, so here goes, with the customary warning that all these people know more about acting than I do!
Jeremy plays villains in a lot of his own productions, and in my play too he had the role of a person whose behavior is less than stellar. He's always very good at playing bad. I've heard him say, which I already knew from watching him, that he tries to find the lovable side of the bad guy. He doesn't try to eliminate the bad, but he tries to present the person's good side too. That's certainly how I was taught to play unlikable characters - you have to find something likable about them. This isn't really an issue of moral equivalence, which it might sound like. It's not about excusing - it's about portraying, and drawing the audience into the character, and making the character complex and believable. After all, people who do bad things are just as complex as people who do good things. In a way, people who do bad things are often extra complicated, because they twist themselves up into knots with their attempts at self-justification. The net-effect of the performance is not necessarily that you think "what a lovable villain." Sometimes you are drawn in merely to be repelled.
While he's doing all this, if you watch him night after night, you see him working very hard on stage to give the other actors their moments - when they have something important to say or do. What do I mean by this? Well, for one example, actors often position themselves out of the spotlights. Many of them find it hard, while on stage, to maintain the ongoing awareness of when they are in the light. I have repeatedly seen Jeremy subtly lead other actors into the light, sometimes by stepping out of it himself. For another example, when one of the other actors has a big moment, Jeremy typically gives his onstage attention to that person, which helps direct the audience's attention to the right person. It's a very caring choice on Jeremy's part, since he would certainly have the ability to draw attention to himself, instead, if he wanted to.