Your name is Dennis Hull.
Who are you playing?
I’m playing Charlie Aiken, who is married to Mattie Fae Aiken, who is the sister of the main character Violet.
What town are you from?
Is this your first time at HITW?
Nooo. I’ve been a member since 1984. I’ve done many, many shows here. Almost forty years, which is frightening to think about.
How did you get into theater, and what is your background in theater?
Well, high school. My sophomore year in high school, back in the pleistocene era, we had a musical director come and institute a school-wide musical. It happened to be Oklahoma. I was a very musical kid and had always sung my entire life. I said, well, this might be fun to do. That started me right there. I was fifteen, fifteen and a half years old. That started me on the path I’m on right now. I took a break to go to college for a couple years, three years of military service. I picked up an Associate’s degree, and decided to go to Central to complete my Associate’s degree and make it a Bachelor’s degree. So, I moved here in 1980. I wanted to continue to do artistic things. I had gone to a couple of HITW shows but I hadn’t joined yet. I was working with the Plainville Choral Society, which was primarily a musical organization that did some stage musicals as well as concerts. In 1984 I decided “I am ready to tackle something that is not a musical, I wanna see how good I am.” So I walked into a General Meeting at HITW in June of 1984, and I was cast in the next show which was amazing. My first show at HITW in August of 1984 was a show called The Male Animal, which, Lord help me, was a wretched piece of garbáge – but it started me. It was like “okay, I know I have some skill in this.” Over time, I was able to direct six or seven shows. I’ve done stage managing, producing, but mostly acting. I’ve been here ever since. This is my home away from home, and it’s also kind of my spiritual place. Though I am a baptized Christian, I’m not really a church-goer anymore. Especially since I realized I was queer at an early age, and it was like “uh, church doesn’t really work for me.” This is my church, it’s a sacred space to me.
Describe your character.
Charlie is an upholsterer, he’s a businessman, he has been married to Mattie Fae for thirty-eight years. I think the marriage is pretty steady because Mattie Fae is a mercurial person and I’m kind of like the voice of reason, the staid kind of even-keel kind of guy to deal with her ups and downs and her emotional explosions. We have a son together, Little Charles Aiken, who is brow-beaten by his mother to no end, and I still haven’t been able to figure out why. I’m his protector and his defender in all of their interactions with each other.
If you could give your character advice, what would it be?
Stop smoking so much grass. My character smokes a lot of grass, and perhaps that has numbed me to the reality of my situation.
Why do you think this show got a Pulitzer Prize for Drama?
It’s one of the most dysfunctional families. I don’t know many functional families. We all came out of families that had to have drama one way or the other. The chaos of this family, and the extreme behavior of a lot of the characters had created this space where the dark humor sucks you in.
Do you have a favorite book?
Not so much.
Do you have a favorite poem?
Walt Whitman, anything from Leaves of Grass.
Do you have a favorite drink, alcoholic or otherwise?
What’s a fun-fact about yourself?
What’s particularly cool to me about this production, is that opening night is my birthday. That is the first and probably only time that I’ll open a show that I’m in and celebrate my birthday on the same night. Once in a lifetime, never happening again. I’m going to be entertaining people and telling the author’s story, as well as eating cake afterward.
Note to self: buy Dennis some birthday Guinness.
I gratefully accept any birthday donations of alcohol, cake, and ice cream.
Anything else you’d like to say? Other ventures, shoutouts?
I heard a rumor that I might have some family members come to see me. Perhaps my eighty-nine year old mother, and I wonder if she’ll be ready for this chaos. Hopefully some of the language will not offend her.
Appended: Dealer’s choice on “anything from Leave of Grass,” an excerpt from “There Was a Child Went Forth” by Walt Whitman
The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table,
The mother with mild words, clean her cap and gown, a wholesome
odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by,
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger’d, unjust,
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture, the
yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsay’d, the sense of what is real, the
thought if after all it should prove unreal,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious
whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?