As Jud, the rueful outcast in Daniel Fish’s contemporary take on the classic musical Oklahoma!, Patrick Vaill wins new praise for an old role. On his wrist? The Bell & Ross BR05, ticking its own
performance ina circle in a square.
It’s essential that Patrick Vaill show up to the theater on time — and not because of the Circle in the Square Theater’s strict Late Seating
No, he needs time to get into a Sears plaid shirt and a pair of Levis, cajole his locks into lankness and amble onstage by curtain. Vaill, in his lean, soulfull, dirty-blondness, plays Jud in Daniel Fish’s revival of the nationalist square dance that is Oklahoma! — a production which swaps much of the show’s corn syrup for several bracing slugs of corn whiskey.
Vaill’s casting is one central change — audiences expecting a monomaniacal thug with a silverback’s silhouette instead meet a rueful Vaill, less brute than a country-western Kurt Cobain. Vaill’s Jud still stalks, sulks, and perishes, but never has the character taken with him so many of the audience’s sympathies.
This new production does away with period ginghams and bright pastels, leaving the cast in an assortment of blue jeans and work shirts that, in tandem with Vaill’s performance, are as 1990s Seattle as they are 1890s frontier. The dancing, to a pared-down 7-piece string orchestra, is lively, and the chili, bubbling in blood-red crockpots on stage, is served at intermission. With, of course, cornbread.
The 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein dame bears this interpretation gracefully, encouraged by its director to loll over and admit to more discord, bullying, and bloody knees than the manic propaganda of the title song allows.
For all its innovations, one aspect of the show remains as rigid as any in the five previous Broadway productions: the schedule. That would be eight shows a week, a sick twist on The Beatles’ calendar-defying boast of boundless love. For the Broadway actor, that means a mandatory cycle of preparation, performance, and recovery, with days regimented down to the minute.
For a precious hour somewhere in that matrix, we caught up with Vaill, and, considering his obligations, fitted him with a watch.
Besides call time, show time, and the necessary synchronicity of cowboy-booted kicks and do-si-dos, good timing for players like Vaill means 40 minutes to eat, ideally three hours before any dancing is required, plus space throughout the week for something rejuvenating, be it yoga, acupuncture, or “Golden Girls.” Plus orchestrating moments for friends, family, relationships, and post-bow tipples at Bar Centrale. And, of course, publicity.
While it would be a tidier segue, the Bell & Ross BR05 takes its circle-in-a-square design not from Oklahoma!’s theater layout but from the reinforced dials in a plane’s cockpit. This is no cheap allusion: B & R has a large aviator following and a reputation for durability that won it a contract with the French Air Force. The BR05 is meant for lower-flying folk — urban mavericks who appreciate the style and precision, jeweled hands illustrating just how delayed the F train is.
It looks particularly dashing beneath the rolled sleeve of a garment that would make a French lieutenant shudder — good old American denim. Around the integrated case and steel bracelet, satin-finish surfaces lie in checkerboard with their polished counterparts. Not unlike the patchwork of cultivated fields, no? Wheat’s low-gloss amber in contrast with the brash, shiny optimism of corn.
Watch Journal: Many actors have dream roles. Was Jud on your list?
Patrick Vaill: I was a senior at Bard College when Daniel Fish came to direct Oklahoma! I had wanted to play Curly and then got cast, much to my surprise, as Jud. It slowly was revealed to me as the greatest role I could ever hope to play. It has been a dream to continue, to keep investigating.
WJ: Jud is usually played by a brunette. Do you identify as a blonde?
PV: Sure. I think that blonde, brunette, doesn’t really matter — the outsider is someone we all have within ourselves. And in terms of the look of Jud: I’ve always found inspiration in Kurt Cobain. He was a blonde. As a child of the ’90s, he was always my ideal of cool.
WJ: How do you think the show will fare once it’s out in the world, touring?
PV: People’s relationship to Oklahoma! almost becomes the 12th character in the play. Because they saw it as a child or they did it in high school, when they see it getting done in a way that isn’t necessarily what they thought, that creates a whole other atmosphere.
WJ: The costumes are sort of current day. Did they help you get into character?
PV: I’ve worn the same shirt the whole time — 12 years — this brown plaid shirt from Sears that is so beautiful and so sad and so evocative of who this guy is. In the first act, all of the men wear Levi’s, and in the second act at the party they all wear Wranglers — except for Jud, who only has one pair.
Also, you put on a pair of cowboy boots, and you’re sort of open for business. They throw your hips in a way that’s fun.
WJ: Do you have western clothes in your own personal wardrobe?
PV: I do. I love a belt buckle. I love turquoise.
WJ: Are there any other classic Broadway musical villains we should reconsider?
PV: Going through Rodgers and Hammerstein…I don’t think the baroness from The Sound Of Music needs to be reconsidered, because she’s a Nazi. Sweeney Todd? No.
WJ: If Jud were to sing a soulful lament in the style of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls, what would it be?
PV: I think it would have to be “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston from The Bodyguard. Right?
- Photos by Christopher Garcia Valle
- Styling by Mauricio Quezada
- Grooming by Elayna Bachman