Thread: [MADtv] Ron Pederson
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Old 05/24/2007, 4:21 PM
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Actor trades L.A. for home
Ron Pederson returns to star in new tailor-made Varsona play
Liz Nicholls, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2007

East Of My Usual Brain

Theatre: Teatro La Quindicina

Written and directed by: Stewart Lemoine

Starring: Ron Pederson, Belinda Cornish, Ryan Parker

Where: Varscona Theatre

Running: tonight through June 9

Tickets and info: 433-3399 (voice box #1) or TIX on the Square (420-1757)

- - -

EDMONTON - What makes Ron Pederson really really happy is a day that goes something like this: "have show to do at 8, spend whole day preparing for show, do show."

The other stuff -- the hanging out afterwards with the other actors in some actors' bar, discussing Stephen Sondheim, speculating briefly on Galt McDermot's music for Two Gentlemen Of Verona, wondering why some theatre company hasn't done the Martin Short musical Little Me, making plans to do Oh Susanna Saturday night -- is pretty great, too. "Aah, the actor's life," sighs Pederson with something approaching contentment.

This "dreamy actor's life" can only be enhanced, of course, when the show at 8 is inspired by and custom-tailored for one's own talents, as in the case of the new Stewart Lemoine, East Of My Usual Brain (opening tonight at the Varscona). In any case, though, it's what Pederson has been living all season long, ever since he kissed Los Angeles, MadTV, and the lucrative but strangely impersonal world of small-screen comedy goodbye. And he approaches it like a starving man at a buffet. With feeling.

Pederson arrives back in his hometown after six months playing time-warp-able ninny Brad in Ted Dykstra's hit revival of The Rocky Horror Show, held over twice at Toronto's CanStage. As he points out, "you can't get much more Edmonton" than his double-sided homecoming. In the mornings it's Shakespeare, rehearsals for the upcoming summer rep season in the park. Pederson has a couple of juicy little character parts. In Two Gents...The Musical he's "the snidely vain and undesirable character the Duke is forcing his daughter to marry." In The Winter's Tale he's a clown, the young shepherd who ends up a gentleman by Act V.

In the afternoons he returns to his roots at Lemoine's Teatro La Quindicina to rehearse East Of My Usual Brain. When Lemoine says he writes plays with certain actors in mind, he isn't being artfully obscure. "Ron wanted to have an accent, or a moustache," shrugs the playwright. "Now, he has both."

Under normal circumstances, Pederson, who has an irredeemably wholesome look about him, would be playing "the thoughtful young man who observes things." He'd be Eric, the bookstore clerk who answers an innocuous "writer seeks assistant" ad, and finds himself entangled in the most exotic adventure. That role goes to Teatro newcomer Ryan Parker. Pederson plays the writer, a volatile Hungarian intellectual enraptured and unhinged by the mystery woman who has transfixed him with her labyrinthine mind.

"The beauty of it, it's a play about thinking, about listening," declares Pederson. "Eric is analyzing the romance; Istvan is living it."

Living the romance is something Pederson found nearly impossible in the City of Angels. Five years ago at 23, Pederson, who'd never had a cellphone, much less an agent, found himself in L.A. and on MadTV, making serious coin, rooming with Nicole Sullivan, driving her old Land Rover around town.

He didn't realize right away -- how could he?-- how much he'd miss live theatre.

Specifically the "theatre family" in which he'd grown up as a teen actor, too busy working to finish high school -- Jeff Haslam's, Davina Stewart's, everyone's ridiculously talented baby brother, ever since his first gig in a Lemoine (a Gypsy sidekick called Jonty in The Spanish Abbess Of Pilson) and his first pro gig, Lemoine's Neck-Breaking Car Hop (ghost of a prairie dude who exited this mortal coil when the carhop put his head in a deep fryer).

"I tried so hard, just to like it," says Pederson of L.A. and the industry that scooped him up when Dick Blasucici caught him in Joe Flaherty's live soap there.

"It's culturally dead, Pepsified, everything chosen by committees of execs who've never entertained anybody and who have too many stock options to take risks. Art lost the war in L.A.... The things that inspired me to want to be an actor aren't there; people in my age bracket there have never even heard of Christopher Durang. Going to the gym is what they do." He sighs.

"Maybe if I could have been in a big musical...."

So what did L.A., in all its tooth-capped dazzle, make of a guy who rushed to LAX to fly to, yes, Edmonton, in the TV off-season to do Lemoine's Shocker's Delight or A Grand Time In The Rapids instead of sticking around for auditions for American Pie V? "What, are you crazy!?" reports Pederson. "You're leaving L.A.!?"

Or a guy who says "I corresponded with Stephen Sondheim" in the awestruck tone of a pilgrim en route to a shrine. "It was the first preview of Assassins at Studio 54 in New York...." No, "writing a fan letter to Sondheim isn't an L.A. thing," grins Pederson, who grew up browsing Theatre World at the library in his pre-Google days, and considers theatre his personal higher education.

"In L.A. they'd look at my resume, they'd see MadTV, they'd say 'ah, you're a comedian! -- and I'd just cringe." The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson (he alternated with Dave Foley and Tim Meadows) was better, mainly because "I wrote my own stuff." He was Woody Allen to Ferguson's Larry King. He was Donald Trump's new baby. He did the Billboards Music Awards as Clay Aiken ("without a stitch of research, very absurd").

Even the offer of another season this fall, though, wasn't enough to keep Pederson in L.A. Not when "I was just cynical about things, and I don't like being that way." And certainly not stacked against a CanStage offer for ultimate shlepper Seymour in Dykstra's Little Shop Of Horrors. Scheduling conflicts meant he had to turn down Robin Phillips' production of Elephant Man to do it.

"I'm done with sketch comedy," he says. "Comedy, improv, sketch, these are what I do on my day off." Which is why Chimprov and Die-Nasty (he plays a mellifluous-voiced FM '70s radio talk show host) are indispensible to his actor's life here.

So, Toronto. Pederson, whose cellphone ring is No Business Like Show Business, has found himself a theatre city where being a stage actor counts. He's thinking of moving there. Not because he won't be here, of course. "I've never really left Edmonton; I never really leave."

© The Edmonton Journal 2007

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