Mark H. Dold on the ‘Eerie Parallels’ from the Premiere of Talbott’s ‘The Messenger’ at Pioneer Theatre Company


By Lee Kedem, Arts Writer


Jeff Talbott’s “The Messenger” had its world premiere at Pioneer Theatre Company on Jan. 14, and the play showcased the eerie yet comprehensible parallels between an epidemic that began in Norway in 1882 and the COVID-19 pandemic. The production features a company of talented individuals capable of invoking empathetic responses from the audience. Among those performers is Mark H. Dold, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing this past week. 

Parallels and Old Ties

Dold’s captivating performance of the town’s mayor, Peter Stockman, echoed that of many government officials we see today. Every choice he made in the performance was meticulously thought out and consistently sat in the mold of the character he created. Dold spoke about creating this character with the playwright, who also “happens to be one of my best friends in the world.” Talbott and Dold met in graduate school at the Yale School of Drama and have kept in contact ever since. Talbott’s “The Messenger” finally provided the perfect opportunity for collaboration between the two.

Dold identified one of the play’s central themes — “how do you take care of a community as a whole?” — and how it provides a great portal between the world Talbott created and the one we live in today. “I mean it’s eerie, the parallel,” he said. “I find some of these lines coming out of our mouths and — forget the fact that we’re in period clothing from 1882, we could be walking down the street having these conversations. It couldn’t be more relevant, quite frankly.” 

Compassion Is a Compass

The play shares the point of view of Stockman, who Dold relates to today through the sense that his “concern is on a larger scale.”

“The town needs to stay open and running, the restaurants need customers,” he said. “We need people at the university, we need students going to school — we just can’t shut down.” But, it also tells the story from the angle of his sister, the town doctor, who discovers the virus that will plague the Norwegian town and wants to stop it before the spread becomes uncontrollable. “It’s a really very personal story of a brother and sister who love each other a great deal and who are coming at this argument from what seems to be opposing sides — who are trying to take very good care of each other,” Dold said.

The play strongly echoes the sentiment of how compassion and care are important to get through times of communal hardship. This parallels Dold’s take on how special working on the play was with Talbott. In his passion for “really hearing actors say the words out loud,” he explains how crucial it is to find a way to take care of a community by really listening to one another. “It’s about trying to bring everyone to the table in a strange way. We’re in a country and a world that is very divided politically,” Dold said. “I think this play is important to see because it reminds you that caring for one another as human beings is what’s essential.”

Listen and Be Heard

Audience members can be reminded through watching this show, “to be more compassionate and to be more understanding of the other person’s point of view,” Dold said. As humans, we all want respect — a theme Talbott’s writing encircles with the two Stockman siblings. Both siblings want to be heard and respected. They beautifully find moments of falling in and out of compassion, learning that they both need to listen in order to be heard. Dold adds, “No one side can win — there has to be some compromise somewhere so everyone can feel like they are listened to and taken care of.”

I highly recommend “The Messenger” to anyone. Everything from the actors, to Wes Grantom’s direction, to the sets, lights, music and writing was incredible, and I left truly feeling the eeriness of Talbott’s world and my own merging together.

“The Messenger” runs at Pioneer Theatre Company until Jan. 29.


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