Theater: Gut feelings

Spotlight on actor Will Marchetti

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Will Marchetti played Tiger in ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo’ at the San Francisco Playhouse. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Playhouse.

By Charles Brousse

San Rafael actor Will Marchetti is not a celebrity. In fact, you may have never heard of him unless you’re a dedicated playgoer who has been around the Bay Area scene for some time. But, if you have had the good fortune to observe him on stage at A.C.T., Aurora Theatre Company, San Francisco Playhouse, Mill Valley Center for the Performing Arts (MVCPA), Theater Artists of Marin, Magic Theatre or many other venues, large and small, you probably won’t forget the sonorous voice and the uncanny way in which he burrows into the essence of the character he is portraying.

Actually, Marchetti is not just a stage actor. He’s had a number of movie roles, but live theater is his preferred territory, the place where he feels most at home and where his exceptional talents have been most appreciated. When not performing, he’s been a stage director and the founder or co-founder of several respected production groups—including the North Bay’s flagship Marin Theatre Company. Recently, he’s added playwriting to the list. Two of his comedies have been produced and the latest, Extreme Measures, a 40s-style “noir farce,” just opened at the Shelton Theater in San Francisco.

Charles Brousse: Tell me how this long journey of yours began.

Will Marchetti: I was born in San Francisco on November 11, 1933. My parents were from a small town in central Italy. They put on comedy shows there and when they came here they started doing the same thing at places like Club Fugazi in North Beach. They also had a weekly radio program, Antonio and Maria, on KRE, Berkeley, that was a big hit with the Italian community.

CB: Did you get involved?

WM: Nah. At that time, playing piano was my thing. When they wouldn’t go along, after high school I joined the Coast Guard, but by the time I got out five years later I changed my mind and decided to become an actor. So I hooked up with Lee Abbott, who had a beautiful theater and school. That’s where I studied performance technique and stage craft. After that, I headed off to New York to continue studying and performing at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Summer stock at Saranac Lake. Everything was looking great when I suffered a collapsed lung and the doctor said I needed a better climate.

CB: So you headed back to San Francisco?

WM: Right. As it happens, the move turned out OK. I got in at the Actor’s Workshop, which was the city’s best theater company, and when A.C.T. came in they started casting me. When there were breaks, I worked in smaller theaters all over the Bay Area and went out of town to some of the larger regional theaters.  

CB: That schedule must have been hard on your personal life.

WM: (Long sigh) What can I say? Three wives? Seven kids … ? The first two marriages fizzled because they couldn’t deal with the separations, financial insecurity and my passion for the theater. Can’t blame them. Susan [Susan Brashear, actress and co-director of the drama department at Tamalpais High School] is different. She knew what it was like going in. We’ve been married 38 years! My relationships with the kids have improved and several will be at the opening night for Extreme Measures.

CB: Looking back, what have been your favorite theater experiences?

WM: Well, I really enjoyed being artistic director of MVCPA during the 1970s, working with producer Sali Lieberman and a fantastic group of Marin-based actors to bring classic plays to the Mill Valley golf clubhouse. You don’t find that kind of collegiality and investment of personal emotion these days. It’s all hurry up, put in your hours and out the door. As for roles, my favorites are all by Arthur Miller: Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge, Joe Keller in  All My Sons and Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. You gotta realize I’m not one of those flexible actors who can play Shakespeare—anything—if given enough rehearsal time. I need to be able to know the character, get inside his skin, feel in my gut that I can play him as well, or better, than anybody else in the world. That’s a limitation, I know, but it’s just the way I am.

NOW PLAYING: Extreme Measures runs through May 14 in the basement at the Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco; 800/838-3006; SheltonTheater.org.

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