Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: C.J. Wilson navigates armor and swordplay in Signature Theatre Company’s World Premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s Medieval Play

C.J. Wilson (Photo by Lia Chang)

C.J. Wilson (Photo by Lia Chang)

For C.J. Wilson, the Signature Theatre Company’s new Frank Gehry-designed complex- The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York- has been his home away from home since January 17th.
The Lady from Dubuque castmembers Laila Robins, C.J. Wilson, Tricia Paoluccio and Peter Francis James. Photo by Lia Chang

The Lady from Dubuque castmembers Laila Robins, C.J. Wilson, Tricia Paoluccio and Peter Francis James. Photo by Lia Chang

That’s when he began rehearsing for his role as Fred in Signature’s revival of Edward Albee’s The Lady From Dubuque, starring Jane Alexander in the title role, and featuring Catherine Curtin, Michael Hayden, Peter Francis James, Tricia Paoluccio, Laila Robins and Thomas Jay Ryan. The Lady From Dubuque began preview perfomances on February 14, was twice extended, and closed on April 15th.
C.J. Wilson as Fred and Tricia Paoluccio as Carol in Signature Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque. Photo by Joan Marcus

C.J. Wilson as Fred and Tricia Paoluccio as Carol in Signature Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque. Photo by Joan Marcus

“It was the first time I’d done an Albee play,” said Wilson. “Edward was around for the meet and greet, and then there was an ‘ask Edward any question you want day’. Later on, he would come to run thrus. I was inspired by him. He can be a very intimidating presence. I felt it was very inspiring because of his intensity. I was playing a very intense character. Fred, he’s a drinker, he’s been married 3 times, he’s brought his girlfriend to a party to meet his friends. He’s a bit of a racist, a lush, a drunk. I think there has to be something charming about him to have been married 3 times.”

In reviews of The Lady From Dubuque, Erik Haagensen of BACKSTAGE writes, “C.J. Wilson’s Fred is the epitome of testosterone-fueled misogyny, gleefully common and palpably sexual,” and Suzanna Bowling of Times Square Chronicles writes, “C.J. Wilson is perfect as the self obsessed soulless midlife man obsessed with youth.”

“Being a part of the cast of The Lady from Dubuque was my first time working with Signature,” said Wilson. It’s an honor to have performed in the inaugural production for the space. I’m very lucky.”

Medieval Play castmembers C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Tate Donovan, Kevin Geer and Halley Feiffer. Photo by Lia Chang

Medieval Play castmembers C.J. Wilson, Josh Hamilton, Tate Donovan, Kevin Geer and Halley Feiffer. Photo by Lia Chang

Little did Wilson know at the time that he would be cast in the world premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s new comedy Medieval Play, which Lonergan is also directing. Against the classic comic background of late 14th century ecclesiastical politics, Lonergan’s Medieval Play follows the story of two French mercenary knights who set out on a quest for relative moral redemption.

It is a story of friendship, love, noble feats of arms, indiscriminate brutality, the progressive refinement of medieval table manners and the general decline of the chivalric ideal at the onset of the Great Papal Schism of 1378. When I met up with Wilson in the Café of the Center during his dinner break, he was in the throes of tech – navigating swords, shields, suits of armor and endless costume changes.

C.J. Wilson (Photo by Lia Chang)

C.J. Wilson (Photo by Lia Chang)


“I’m having a blast working with Kenny Lonergan, who as the director and playwright, will instantly incorporate hilarious one-liners into the play,” said Wilson. “I’m playing three knights. I have three sets of armor changes. I fight in two of them. I feel like Robocop. You move differently. There’s no peripheral vision with the helmets. In addition to the knights, I play a medieval doctor with all of the trappings, a lusty cardinal, a pigeon, pilgrims and a monk. I’ve done a good handful of Shakespeare plays where I’ve worked with swords, using swordplay, but I’ve never had to wear armor before. There are lots of quick changes, and working with armor takes some getting used to.”

In addition to Wilson, the cast includes Anthony Arkin (I’m Not Rappaport, The Waverly Gallery), Heather Burns (Middletown, Lobby Hero), Tate Donovan (Good People, Lobby Hero), Kevin Geer (Unconditional, Twelve Angry Men), Halley Feiffer (The House of Blue Leaves, Tigers Be Still), Josh Hamilton (The Coast of Utopia, The Cherry Orchard) and John Pankow.

Wilson caught the acting bug when he attended Troy State University in Alabama.

C.J. Wilson (Photo by Lia Chang)

C.J. Wilson (Photo by Lia Chang)


“My first acting experience was in college,” said Wilson. “I’m from Fairhope, Alabama, where there were no dramatic arts programs. I always wanted to act. I had a choice between watching Monday night football or auditioning for 1776. It was a Scottish part, and I could do the accent. After I auditioned for 1776, I also got cast in A.R. Guerney’s The Dining Room. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

A graduate of Juilliard, Wilson has worked steadily in theater, film and TV, making his Broadway debut in the 2000 revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man. His other Broadway credits include A Steady Rain, Festen, Henry IV and Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Off-Broadway, he appeared in All-American at LCT 3; The Bear at HERE; Offices and Voysey Inheritance at Atlantic Theater; Race at Jewish Rep; Stop Kiss, The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Merry Wives of Windsor at The Public.

In 2010, Wilson received a Lucille Lortel nomination for his role as Michael, in Primary Stages’ production of Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now?.

“I played this British ne’er-do-well,” said Wilson. “He was funny, charming and genuinely loved women. It made it easier for women to like him. It was a lot more joyful to play.

Charles Isherwood, of The New York Times writes, “This jolly lout, played to perfection by C. J. Wilson, exudes the friendly neediness of a tail-wagging golden retriever. He practices a patented form of seduction, lavishing sympathy and flattery on hard-driven professional women looking for a steam valve to release some pressure.”

Mary Bacon as Kitty and CJ Wilson as Michael in the Primary Stages production of Happy Now? by Lucinda Coxon at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Directed by Liz Diamond.  Photo credit:  James Leynse.


Mary Bacon as Kitty and CJ Wilson as Michael in the Primary Stages production of Happy Now? by Lucinda Coxon at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. Directed by Liz Diamond. Photo credit: James Leynse.

A staff writer for the New York Daily News writes, “And Wilson delivers an especially potent performance as the sad-sack serial seducer who sets out to pick up a woman and ends up helping her to wake up to her life.”

Regionally, he has worked with the Berkshire Theatre Group, Wilma, Shakespeare Theatre, Old Globe, Williamstown, ACT in Seattle, Fulton Opera House, McCarter, Syracuse Stage, Acting Company. On TV, he has guest starred on “Blue Bloods,” “Pan Am,” “Onion Sportsdome,” “Brotherhood,” “Without a Trace,” “Third Watch,” “Law & Order,” “Law & Order:SVU,” Law & Order: CI,” “Ed,” “New Amsterdam,” and “All My Children.” Wilson can be seen as a fireman in the summer release of Rob Reiner’s The Magic of Belle Isle, which stars Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen, and he has also appeared in the film Ghoul.

The design team for Medieval Play includes Walt Spangler (Scenic Design), Michael Krass (Costume Design), Jason Lyons (Lighting Design), David Van Tiegham (Sound Design) and J. David Brimmer (Fight Direction). The production stage manager is David H. Lurie.

C.J. Wilson, Medieval Play playwright/director Kenneth Lonergan and Matthew Broderick at The Signature Pershing Square Center in New York on May 12, 2012. Photo by Lia Chang

C.J. Wilson, Medieval Play playwright/director Kenneth Lonergan and Matthew Broderick at The Signature Pershing Square Center in New York on May 12, 2012. Photo by Lia Chang


Kenneth Lonergan’s Medieval Play runs May 15 – June 24, 2012 with a June 7 opening night in The Irene Diamond Stage at the Company’s new Frank Gehry-designed home The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). Single tickets are now on sale for Medieval Play at the Signature Theatre Box Office (212-244-7529) and at signaturetheatre.org. Tickets are also on sale for Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa! and Will Eno’s Title and Deed.

Tickets to the initial runs of all productions of Signature’s Inaugural Season at The Pershing Square Signature Center are $25, part of the groundbreaking Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access, a program that guarantees affordable and accessible tickets to every Signature production for the next 20 years. Serving as a model for theatres and performing arts organizations across the country, the Initiative was founded in 2005 and is made possible by lead partner The Pershing Square Foundation and founding sponsor Time Warner, Inc., with additional seed support provided by the Ford Foundation, Margot Adams, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Other Articles by Lia Chang
Performing Arts Images from the Asian American Pacific Islander Collection on Display at the Library of Congress to Celebrate APA Heritage Month
Thom Sesma is the keynote speaker for the Library of Congress celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM) at the Mary Pickford Theater on May 17
BD Wong Creates Kickstarter Campaign for his Live Concert Recording of HERRINGBONE, to be performed May 21-22 as a Benefit for Dixon Place
Epic Theatre Presents Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, starring Joel de la Fuente, May 20-21, 2012
David Henry Hwang, Oskar Eustis, BD Wong, Brian d’Arcy James, Francis Jue, Jennifer Lim and Leigh Silverman at WNYC’s The Greene Space
Christine Toy Johnson helms Concert Reading of Jason Ma’s Gold Mountain starring Raymond J. Lee & Ali Ewoldt on 5/21
André De Shields in BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND at the Laurie Beechman, 5/4, 5/11 & 5/18
David Henry Hwang Set as Signature Theatre’s Residency One Playwright for the 2012-2013 Season
Photos: Laila Robins, Sean Dugan, C.J. Wilson, Peter Francis James, Bill Irwin and Tricia Paoluccio at Signature Theatre Company’s revival of Edward Albee’s The Lady From Dubuque
Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, starring Colman Domingo & Scott Shepherd in The Alice Griffith Jewel Box at The Pershing Square Signature Center through March 11, 2012
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang. Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography


Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.
All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2012 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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