It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since Albert Schultz first girded his powerful, manly thighs and waded into the business side of professional theatre. Until then the handsome star of stage and screen was known largely as a talented actor and gifted singer, appearing in television shows like Street Legal and stage productions like Uncle Vanya and The Odd Couple.
But Schultz has proven himself equally adept at running a theatre company, piloting Soulpepper theatre through 15 seasons of critical and popular acclaim. Yes, there is far more to this man than the shimmering curls, the powerful chin, the . . . oh goodness, is it getting warm in here?
Okay, so obviously I’m not the most impartial observer when it comes to Schultz, having indulged a raging crush on the man since his early days on Street Legal. But most fans and observers of theatre would agree that he and his company have come up with a winning combination of audience-pleasers and thought-provokers. So it’s no surprise that their upcoming 2013 season offers a solid selection for Toronto — and particularly queer — audiences.
The biggie, of course, is the hit play Angels in America. Tony Kushner’s sweeping AIDS drama goes far beyond a simple piece about the terrible disease, offering rich characters and amazing dialogue as it explores the lives of a circle of family and friends affected by the virus.
“I’ve wanted to do Angels for such a long time,” Schultz says. “I think it’s one of the great works of the last 50 years, arguably the best American play since maybe Death of a Salesman. I think it’s that titanic.”
Schultz continues, “It also hits me very personally, as I’m sure it does so many of us that went through that period. I lost two of my dearest friends, and I was closely involved in the care team of one of them. So this play brings that very personal baggage with it.
“There’s a very specific thing that I get when I experience this play,” he says. “It’s like there’s a sense that something epic is happening. And Kushner writes the language of the heart so beautifully.
“Plus, it’s just so brave. I mean, an angel comes through the fucking ceiling and makes love to the protagonist. The kind of bold bravery and out-there quality of writing is, to me, absolutely thrilling.”
Kushner wrote Angels in America as a two-part play, and Soulpepper will be premiering both, just 24 hours apart, in one of their trademark marathon weekend presentations. It’s a mammoth undertaking but one Schultz is more than up to. “Go big or go home,” he purrs. “Right?” Oh god, yes.
The other queer-themed piece will be Entertaining Mr Sloane, one of Joe Orton’s most deliciously sinister plays. The story features a boyishly handsome serial killer, a middle-aged nymphomaniac and her closeted gay brother who get up to all sorts of hijinks, some sexual, some homicidal and all surprisingly hilarious. It’s Orton at his best, and director Brendan Healy (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre) promises to bring his own love of the macabre to the piece.
“It’s kind of considered to be Orton’s darkest play, which is maybe why they thought of me to direct,” Healy chuckles. “The work I do tends to have that sexual, violent edge to it, and this piece’s treatment of sexuality and family relationships really is, well, kind of extreme.”
Healy’s humorous touch with serious subject matter, as seen in Buddies’ productions of The Maids and A Thought in Three Parts, is a perfect fit for Orton’s twisted story, and the director looks forward to working with Schultz and Co.
“What I love about Soulpepper is that it’s a real home for actors,” Healy says. “They’re all comfortable with each other, have an existing relationship to each other and are fantastically talented, so you really hit the ground running.”