Actor says feminist Shaw never understood women


RICHARD POE, an accomplished actor who has had featured roles in three Broadway shows, is wrapping up his debut at Center Stage in George Bernard Shaw's shrewd satire, "Candida."

The actor plays the somewhat stuffy "moralist and windbag" minister husband of an honest but unconventional woman who teaches the men in her life a valuable lesson in life and love.

In an interview in the Center Stage mezzanine, Poe said he admires Shaw's feminist leanings and his bold stand for women's rights in Victorian times.

"But he had no clearer vision of the secret of women than we have today," he added. "Shaw never understood why women weren't more like men."

At the conclusion of "Candida" on Sunday, Poe will return to Broadway. This time he will play leading dual roles in the poignant comedy-drama, "Our Country's Good," set for a mid-April opening.

"I was in the Hartford Stage Company production, and most of the cast will go to New York," he explained. "It was written by Timberlake Wertenbaker -- how's that for a name -- and won the Olivier Award in England in 1988. It tells of the first English settlement of convicts in Australia who are accompanied by men of the military.

"They are left to create their own civilization. The convicts decide to stage a play. What happens when they do is what the work is all about . . . how the prisoners develop into people as they become interested in the value of words. I play two parts . . . the head of the colony in wig and blue officer's uniform, and a dirty, mud-covered convict.

"It is a self-congratulatory play about the theater," he noted.

The actor appeared for a year and a half as Marc in the original New York production of the Tony Award-winning "M. Butterfly." He understudied John Lithgow and went on for the star several times playing the confused French diplomat in love with a member of the Paris Opera Company.

"What a wonderful part," he exclaimed. "Such revelations and self-truths exposed."

Poe considers his other two Broadway shows "failures."

A former San Franciscan, Poe and his wife, Caitlin, live on a seven-acre farm in Franklin, N.Y. "It is great to get away from it all," he said. "My wife runs a boarding and grooming kennel for dogs, and I am learning how to work with my hands building additions to the house. It is very satisfying."

Poe has trained with Lee Strasberg and at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. "I won a scholarship to that school when I left the Army 20 years ago," he said. "Within three months I had my Equity card."

His first professional job was an auspicious one -- touring with Dame Judith Anderson in "Hamlet" and performing with the acclaimed actress at Carnegie Hall.

"I played Rosencrantz," he said. "Miss Anderson was 73 when she portrayed Hamlet. It was a nice learning experience. She was a little woman who came to rehearsals in a tam and pink coat. On stage she had all this energy as the young prince of Denmark."

A veteran of regional theaters, Poe has recently acquired some decent credentials in films and television.

TV appearances include NBC's movie-of-the-week, "A Promise to Keep," "Law and Order," the pilot of "Babes" and several soaps ("General Hospital" and "As the World Turns," among others).

On the big screen, he had a role in "Born on the Fourth of July."

"I played Frank, an intern who gave Tom Cruise an enema. You could say I started my film career at the bottom," he joked.

As if in answer to an unspoken question, the actor smiled and shook his head. "No, I am not related to Edgar Allan Poe. We checked it out but, regretably, there is no connection."

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