Out actor talks return of ‘The Threepenny Opera’ to Atlanta

Next week, the play with music “The Threepenny Opera” – known for its score including numbers such as “Mack the Knife” – opens at 7 Stages to launch the company’s 38th season. Written in the 1920s by Bertolt Brecht, this version – directed by Michael Haverty – brings out actor Don Finney back to the stage. We caught up recently with Finney – a veteran of the company – to talk about the show, his amoral character and his return to acting after a long layoff.

Hello, Don. How did you get involved in this production?
I got a call from Heidi (Howard, the company’s artistic director) asking if I would be interested. I have always wanted to do it. I went in assuming I would be looked at for Mr. Peachum but when I got to the audition they had me learn Mrs. Peachum’s number and the rest is history.

For those not familiar with the piece, tell us a little about it.
It’s basically just a crime story about the catching of the most notorious gang leader in London. It is filled with characters who are not the nicest people in the world. It’s also filled with lust, sex, guns, and violence.

Tell us about your character.
My character, Mrs. Peachum, is probably the darkest in the play. She will do anything to get what she wants, but she is trapped in a horrible marriage, a marriage of convenience. She’s in a very dark place.

Why does this hold up?
There are so many human aspects. One of the most important things about the play is how its power and corruption really resonate now. There seems to be something in the world today where people feel trapped. Just look at our election now, and what’s happening in the U.K. with Brexit.

The interesting thing is that there is a lot of comedy in the play but when done well, it turns your mind inside out. It’s almost like a nightmarish cartoon; there is something profoundly human that comes out of it. On top of that, there is this fabulous score.

Is there any significance to the fact that a gay man is playing this role?
I don’t know that there is one. I don’t look at it that way personally. I look at it as an actor taking on another role. If anything, it might make her more monstrous.

Why did you take a break from acting?
I walked away for a while. I didn’t think I was getting what I wanted out of it. There were other things in life I wanted to pursue,

How has theater changed since?
You walk in and the cast is very young. Yet the wonderful thing is, for me, coming back, I do feel like I am home. I have worked at 7 Stages for years. I have known Heidi forever. Bryan Mercer is doing the music and he and I have known each other 30, 35 years. The surprising thing is to work with all these young people and they look up to me.

What can gay audiences get from the show?
Besides the human element I mentioned earlier and the score, we have a really hot leading man. And a fat man in a dress. I think it’s going to be fun.

“The Threepenny Opera”
7 Stages
1105 Euclid Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30307
Through September 25