Rod Gnapp on 'The Monster-Builder,' Architecture and How Art Can Change You

Actor Rod Gnapp has known San Francisco playwright Amy Freed since they both went to the American Conservatory Theater, years ago. He says she reminds him of Mark Twain — a funny writer who takes on serious issues, but at the same time, doesn’t take herself too seriously.

“I just love her writing — she’s irreverently funny and wicked smart, and she tackles big projects and big ideas,” he said. “I’d die to be in anything she’s in.”

In Freed’s latest play at the Aurora Theatre, The Monster Builder, she takes on architecture and how it affects human beings. Gnapp says Freed riffs on how craftsmanship is no longer important and how people designing modern buildings can be more concerned with making a statement about themselves rather than making good places for people to live in. Gnapp says Freed has taken ideas about architecture that could seem dry and brought them down to a human level in a way that makes you laugh and makes the ideas accessible.

[jump] The play riffs off Ibsen’s The Master Builder, which Gnapp says also deals with people using architecture and building as a way to serve their egos.

Gnapp’s character in this play, Andy, is not an architect, but a builder.

“I’m a super-wealthy guy who builds chalets that fit it into condo-style living,” he said. “So he makes millions building really kitschy condos built to look European, and he names them things like 'Versailles Acres.'”

In spite of the laughs in The Monster Builder, it’s asking questions about how we alienate ourselves from other people and what we value, Gnapp says.

“We’ve separated ourselves from our humanness and she’s using the design of buildings to speak to that bigger problem,” Gnapp said.

Taking on these kind of issues is why he wanted to be an actor in the first place, Gnapp said.

“When I read Clifford Odets and plays like Waiting for Lefty, I thought, ‘I want to do this!’” he said. “It’s exciting to me that people like Amy take the time to think about something big like this and give it a voice in such a way it could change people. Art can shake you out of your complacency and change your perspective and that’s how you change the world.”

The Monster Builder, Nov. 12 – Dec. 6, The Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berkeley, $32-$60, (510) 843-4822.

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