Shane O’Regan is going places — for starters, Philadelphia, Chicago and Austin, Texas. He and the 24 characters he plays in the World War I drama Private Peaceful tour the U.S. after an off-Broadway run ends on Oct. 7.
Casting agents are checking out the 25-year-old. He slips “from one character to the next with preternatural ease,” critic Alexis Soloski wrote in the New York Times, citing his “actorly excellence (and he really is excellent).” Back home he was nominated for an Irish Times Irish Theatre Award for the role in Dublin.
O’Regan plays the young farmhand Tommo, who is jolted into adulthood in the trenches, as well as Tommo’s older brother, Charlie, and all who Tommo encounters in boyhood and in battle. Thanks to director Simon Reade, who adapted Michael Morpurgo’s 2003 novel, as well scenic and lighting designer Anshuman Bhatia, a mattress and box spring prove to be as versatile as the actor. We spoke after a recent performance at the TBG Mainstage Theater.
Q: How do you switch among characters? Are you thinking about how they sound?
O’Regan: It’s more the concept of the person. I’ll be picturing what they look like. When you’re working on it, it’s that slow process — how does he move or talk — but once you’ve got it, it just happens.
Q: Did it take long to develop?
O’Regan: We only had nine days of rehearsals for the first production, which is pretty scary. But they had given me the script so I had been planning a lot of the characters, discovering them on my own in my bedroom in Dublin, messing around. Like a crazy person, I have little cards on my wall of each character and traits. I had two or three months on my own. If I see a kid move a certain way, I’d say, ‘That’s very Tommo’ and store it away.
Q: Has the show changed your view of war?
O’Regan: I’ve always been quite anti-war, but it’s made me respect soldiers so much more. That’s usually not the takeaway actors get from this. It’s usually the pointlessness of war. I got obsessed with World War I after this. I went to Belgium and visited the trenches.
Q: How do you like being a working actor in New York?
O’Regan: It’s pretty much the best feeling in the world. I’m very critical, incredibly hard on myself about everything. Sometimes if I think I’ve had a bad show in Ireland it can stay with me for hours. Here, not so much. If I’ve had what I consider a bad show and I’m walking home and I pass the Empire State Building, I’m like ‘Oh my God, look where I am.’ It just completely takes me out of the moment.
Q: What is about working in America?
O’Regan: Walking down the street here you just see 50 million different cultures coming together. That’s so exciting to me. Dublin isn’t nearly as diverse. And the Irish film and theater industry is smaller than London’s and obviously London’s is smaller than here. There’s more variety of projects and there is more opportunity.
Q: With this show, which is both exuberant and grim, do you get on a high when performing?
O’Regan: I feel that any time I perform. I hurt my wrist in a show the other day, and it was a two-show day. I wondered whether I should take a pain killer. I said, ‘Oh no, I’ll let Dr. Theater cure it.’ The minute you get onstage, the adrenaline takes over and you’re fine.
The interview has been edited and condensed.