Wrestling Demons: A Character That Is As Difficult A.F.

In person, Madeleine Murphy is kinddr9_4300 and pretty. She smiles and laughs easily. It would surprise no one that she played the bubbly and earnest Kate Monster in her college’s production of Avenue Q. Now, however, Madeleine is onstage literally wrestling with an Olympic-caliber demon. When speaking to her about The Loser Letters and the character she plays, A. F. Christian, Madeline uses the word “difficult” a few times. It’s easy to see why. It’s a testament to the hard work that Madeleine has put in to get to the point of performing A. F. every night.

Into the Text

The Loser Letters is practically an eighty minute monologue. Madeleine began working with the text first, about eight weeks before rehearsals began. This being the first production of the show – and with the playwright also directing – there are inevitable changes to the text that happened during the rehearsal process. The night before opening she sighed, “It seems to me like I’ll never be finished working on it until opening night and even then… there are a lot of words to recognize and remember. ” Madeleine has done all of the usual tricks like recording the lines and playing them back, for example. But learning the lines through repetition has been the best for her. “Putting it into my memory. Repeating it out loud over and over again.”

Wrestling With Demons

Madeleine Murphy and Chellsie Memmel work with Irina Tsikurishvili in rehearsal.
Madeleine Murphy and Chellsie Memmel work with Irina Tsikurishvili in rehearsal.

Playing opposite Madeleine Murphy is US Olympic champion Chellsie Memmel. She takes on the role of the Shadow, A. F. ‘s inner demon. “She moves as much as I speak.” To provide contrast, A. F. is more still. Working with renowned choreographer and multiple Helen Hayes recipient Irina Tsikurishvili was a huge help. “It’s so fascinating the way that Irina is able to portray these emotions through movement. So even the moments when I’m quiet it portrays something that speaks to her.” Some of Madeleine’s favorite parts of rehearsals have been watching how Irina thinks and moves.

The Actor Knows, The Character Doesn’t

Another unique aspect to The Loser Letters is the relationship between A. F. and the Shadow. The Shadow is watching A. F.’s every move and is able to respond to her. A. F., on the other hand, isn’t consciously aware that the Shadow is there. “I’ve been playing with this person that I’m not able to actually play with, ” she says. This creates a dichotomy that many actors face. How do you stay aware and attune to your fellow actors onstage while staying in the moment? There are moments when the two characters interact and as Madeleine says they are “larger than life.” From an audience’s perspective, many have said that the moments when they interact have so much more impact, because they are so few and far between.

Final Weekend of Shows

Watch Madeleine wrestle with her demon in the final performances of The Loser Letters onstage at the Hartke Theatre at Catholic University from 10/06 – 10/09. For full tickets and information, head here.