Allan Hawco returns to stage roots with ‘Belleville’

Published on April 4, 2014
"Republic of Doyle" star Allan Hawco speaks during an interview with The Canadian Press in Toronto on Wednesday. — Photo by Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

For a few years there, being the star/executive producer/showrunner/co-creator/head writer of a TV series was taking a toll on Allan Hawco of  “Republic of Doyle.”
Filling out all those roles on the CBC police procedural, which debuted in January 2010 and is set for a sixth season, was “very gruelling” and it was hard “to walk away from the machine” at its home base in St. John’s, he admits.

“I was burning out. I was burning out,” he said in a recent interview.

“I was doing something that wasn’t helping the show, me or any of my partners anymore.”

But in the last year, Hawco got to a place where he felt like he “could back off” because he realized everyone around him understood his vision, he said.

So when co-creator/partner Perry Chafe became a co-showrunner, and fellow partners John Vatcher and Rob Blackie took over some post-production jobs, Hawco decided to return to his stage roots for the first time in five years.

The result is his starring role in the acclaimed play “Belleville,” running April 6 to May 4 at the Canadian Stage Berkeley Street Theatre. It’s being presented by the Company Theatre, which Hawco co-founded in 2004.

“I needed to get to a place where I could start to expand outside of just playing one character that I love,” said Hawco, 36. “I mean, I love the character (Jake Doyle), but I didn’t want to start resenting him.

“So ... part of it is that I needed to go explore other people that I could play and sort of get my chops together as an actor.”

Pulitzer Prize-nominated American playwright Amy Herzog penned “Belleville,” a dark and suspenseful drama about a 20-something married couple who’ve moved from the U.S. to Paris so the doctor-husband can conduct AIDS research.

Hawco plays the husband, Zack, whose seemingly solid relationship with Abby (Christine Horne) begins to crack when she finds him home on a day when he’s supposed to be at work.

Marsha Regis and Dalmar Abuzeid co-star in the show that reflects on relationships as well as cultural and generational perspectives.

“(Zack’s) got so many failures and he’s got such a sad ambition to do the right thing and his frailties are so clear. And he’s so different from any other character I’ve ever played — ever,” said Hawco, who studied at the National Theatre School of Canada and started his career onstage.

“That’s what it’s about, to discover different facets of your own personality that you may have locked away or you don’t like people to see, and then you get to play a really interesting character who has these traits and they all kind of come out all of a sudden and it’s fun.”

Helping bring out those traits is director Jason Byrne, a longtime Company Theatre collaborator Hawco adores.

The two first worked together on the Company Theatre’s 2005 production, “A Whistle in the Dark,” in Toronto.

“He is able to help me find parts of myself as a performer that I otherwise might have a bit of difficulty getting to,” said Hawco, who co-founded the Company Theatre with actor Philip Riccio.

“Working with him has changed my life, so I felt like it was time to go take that risk again.”

Hawco said Byrne has an unconventional approach that involves eliminating traditional readthroughs or table work, and exploring ways to incorporate various facets of both the characters’ and the actors’ personalities.

“Any good actor knows what the action is going to be, but instead of just going straight at it, I guess it’s foreplay for the theatre, take your time,” Hawco said with a laugh.

“Foreplay with a character — instead of going right to the thing, go around the thing for as long as possible, tease it out and see what happens.”

Since his roots are in the theatre, Hawco said he felt like things “just kind of fell into place” when he returned to it after a five-year absence.

And he relishes the lack freedom he feels onstage versus TV, where he’s always worried about what his mother is “going to think of the partial nudity or the sexuality or the violence,” he said.

“It’s just such a commonplace thing in the theatre to be like, ’If the play calls for it, it’s not going to be gratuitous’ ... but in television I am very sensitive about that kind of stuff,” added Hawco.

“In the theatre, I forgot the level of freedom for all that kind of stuff. ... I guess there’s a certain amount of wild abandon in the work. You’ve just got to commit and fall backwards and it’s really kind of refreshing.

“It’s a thing I haven’t experienced in a while and I’ve really missed it.”


—By Victoria Ahearn