Once More Unto the Breach: Rafael Goldstein Takes the Crown at A Noise Within

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

by Vanessa Cate

In 2012, I accepted a small part in Hamlet at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group because I heard that Rafael Goldstein would be playing the lead. I wanted to witness his work up close. For the extension I was offered the role of Ophelia, but much to my dismay that extension never happened (I can still lament, however). Goldstein won the LA Weekly Award that year for Best Lead Actor in a play.

Hamlet marked the near-beginning of Goldstein’s professional journey in Los Angeles theater, and since then he has played various roles and settled largely at A Noise Within (ANW) in Pasadena. For the past several years at ANW, his roles have been varied, from tortured Marc Antony in Julius Caesar to stern mathematician Septimus Hodge in Arcadia; from eccentric simpleton Claude de Aria in The Imaginary Invalid to romantic lead in The Madwoman of Chaillot. Now Goldstein finally gets to accept the mantle as King of England, and possibly of France: Henry V.

I caught up with Goldstein recently before one of his evening performances.

@THISSTAGE:  So, Henry V. Do you like this guy? How do you find the humanity in such a severe character? How do you even begin to develop such a role?

RAFAEL GOLDSTEIN:  Well, I found out that I was going to be playing him in October of last year, and I immediately started to run every day. You need so much breath for this stuff, for Shakespeare always, but with Henry he has a lot of words and you need the breath to support him. So I started running. And I love doing research as well, so I went to the library and got every book I could find about military strategy, about Agincourt, about historical Henry, and found out really cool stuff about him: That he got an arrow to the face when he was sixteen, and was dead basically, and then sat up and charged into battle with the arrow sticking out of his face. I think that’s when he found God. And he spent basically his entire life fighting battles. He died still waging the war with France. And apparently on his deathbed he lamented the fact that he hadn’t conquered Jerusalem for the Church, and then he died. So yeah, reading about him was great, but he’s not Shakespeare’s Henry. Shakespeare’s Henry is much more lovable, even with all of his blood-thirsty inclinations. So, I went back and read those plays, because it had been a very long time. Henry IV Part 1 is probably one of the best, one of Shakespeare’s best, because he has Falstaff, and the way that Henry and Prince Hal and Falstaff play off each other – amazing. And it also helps inform Henry V necessarily. You see him struggling to be the king that he thinks he needs to be, trying to avoid the pitfalls that kings before him fell into, and then creating pitfalls of his own. And all of that, all of that prep is so that you can go into rehearsal and forget all of it, and then you’re dealing with the world that the directors Geoff [Elliot] and Julia [Rodriguez-Elliot] create around the actors, and the designers. And then it’s figuring out how to inhabit that world. Luckily this one is really vivid and tactile, so you can – those steps [designed by Frederica Nascimento], the giant steps are – it literally feels like you are climbing a mountain sometimes, and that’s a good representation for the play I think.


Photo by Craig Schwartz.


@THISSTAGE:  On the drive here I was listening to your Henry V playlist on Spotify. It’s so eclectic. There’s hip hop and punk rock and Beethoven and Fiona Apple… First of all, was that your idea to make the playlist, because I know ANW has another playlist they advertised for A Raisin in the Sun, and is it something that you do for your work in general?

RG:  It’s something that I do a lot. I did one for Mercutio [for the 2016 production of Romeo and Juliet at A Noise within]. I had one for Hamlet [Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group, 2012]. There was a lot of Fiona on that one [laughs]. For Mercutio there was a lot of disco and a little bit of Lou Reed. And then for this one, it started off with a lot of angry punk music, a lot of Misfits and Agent Orange, and the Germs… and then as I figured out kind of who this incarnation of Henry was the music changed, and then you got a little more hip hop, you got a lot more classical, and again Fiona is always in my head so she always makes an appearance. It’s just something that it’s not necessarily directly related to the show, it’s just something more to – it’s just another weapon in my arsenal. It’s another way to get inside that head space, that, you know, it’s sonic, rather than physically or anything like that. Music is always important to me and I like to have any excuse to find new ways of putting it together.


@THISSTAGE:  Henry is maybe the biggest role you’ve played here. Does that intimidate you?

RG:  Well I don’t know. Intimidating? It’s well known, so when people walk into the theater… you know if you’re playing a part like Henry you’re dealing with people’s pre-conceived notions. You know that when they walk in they’re going to have an idea of who Henry is supposed to be. But all you can do is just be you. Any actor who takes on a role like this has to, you have to just bring yourself. You have to do your due diligence, you have to do your work and invest in the scenes, and luckily you have a writer in Shakespeare who gives you everything and more. So, if you honor the playwright and you listen to your scene partner and you listen to yourself then you can’t go wrong. It was definitely daunting, but I never felt over-taken by crippling fear. Not never, but rarely. We always have moments of crippling fear, but I think those are valuable too.


@THISSTAGE:  You’re also in rehearsals for Noises Off right?

RG:  We start rehearsals on March 27th, so there is just a bit of overlap. Not as much as there usually is though for the rep. Because usually we have three shows running in rep, but for this spring season we just have Raisin and Henry, so there does seem to be a bit more breathing space. Because usually if you’re in the first show and then you’re in the third show there is a lot of overlap, and it’s hard sometimes to keep it all straight. But that’s kind of the joy of the rep. It requires a muscularity and a flexibility that just doing a straight run doesn’t always provide, or doesn’t always test… We’re all getting off book for Noises Off because it’s one of those shows where you need to be frosty. It’s so fast and so precise. You know, comedy is math a lot of the time, so getting that, getting the words at least in your bones, it frees you up to do anything, anything else you want.


@THISSTAGE:  It’s pretty exciting how different tonally the two shows are and the two characters are.

RG:  I have a feeling that they are more closely related than I see right now. Granted, Henry’s ambitions are cosmic, but Tim Allgood, beleaguered stage manager, he’s up against something monumental as well. They’re both fighting battles, and there’s blood spilled in both of them, so I think there’s a lot more cross-over. You know the whole theme this season [at ANW] is “Entertaining Courage”, so in every show there is a sense of people trying to take agency in their lives up against seemingly insurmountable odds. And sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I think that’s what ties the shows together. There is a struggle, and varying degrees of success.


@THISSTAGE:  Do you approach drama and comedy differently?

RG:  I try not to. There are certain rules for comedy. There don’t seem to be as many rules for drama. So, if you know the rules for comedy and you follow them, you are almost always guaranteed a laugh. And sometimes you miscalculate and you have to go back to the drawing board. I think comedy is more like a laboratory, and I think drama is more like a … I don’t know, like running through the woods naked. That’s not an apt comparison. There just seems to be more structure in comedy. And I feel like in drama you just have more freedom. Generally, my rule for comedy is “once through lightly.” That’s something I stole from a character actor.


@THISSTAGE:  Once through lightly?

RG:  We’re just going to go through this once through lightly. So come along, and don’t lean into it too hard. Lift your feet.


Photo by Daniel Reichert.


@THISSTAGE:  I have enjoyed over the years watching you grow. Right now you’re ANW’s golden boy. [He giggles.] You are! But you’re so young still. What’s next? What’s the future trajectory?

RG:  I mean, who knows. I have trouble planning next week. I don’t know, I’ve been doing a lot of voice overs for video games lately. …You know, you get into a booth and create a character in five seconds and just scream into a microphone for four hours, and that’s a lot of fun. I don’t know, I’m very open in terms of what I want the future to be. As long as I’m somewhere on a stage, or on a set, just telling stories, and working with good people. That’s all I want to do. I’ll take a page out of the Brit’s book and work ‘til I die and just go where the jobs are.


@THISSTAGE:  So you’re content at ANW?

RG:  Yeah, yeah. I mean this is sort of my theater home and it’s rare to have that. …When you find people whose aesthetic you are into, when you find people whose work challenges you and makes you better. …I feel very lucky to have been brought into the fold.


@THISSTAGE:  How would you describe that aesthetic that you connect to?

RG:  Polished and messy.


@THISSTAGE:  Succinct.

@RG:  [Laughs.]


@THISSTAGE:  You’ve worked with Julia and Geoff for a long time. 

RG:  Oh it’s awesome. I’ve known them since I was a kid. I started here when I was fourteen or fifteen in the summer program. I took the Summer with Shakespeare Program before I went into high school at LACSA … So there’s an emotional shorthand with them. You know usually when you go into a rehearsal process there’s that first week of trying to figure out – where am I in this? How do I relate to you? Whether you’re a director or another actor. We’ve gotten past all of the preliminary, introductory stages of a relationship. So now it’s: You walk in ready to work from day one. And you start to pick up people’s vocabulary. And they both have very distinct styles. She’s visually expansive. And then Geoff will come in and tweak little moments here and there. So they work together as a team in a way that I, I don’t know how they do it. I can’t, maybe it’s just because I’m a selfish person, I mean I am an actor, I don’t know if I can share that responsibility with somebody else, but they manage to make it work.


@THISSTAGE:  I feel as an actor being directed by them you sort of do share that.

RG:  I agree.


@THISSTAGE:  What other roles are you yearning to play? Because you’re really checking them off.

RG:  When I get older, I want to play Falstaff so badly. But I think you need years for that. In the shorter term I would love to play Iago [in Othello]. I feel very close to that role. And then non-classical stuff too. … There’s a universe that I want to put in my hands, and hopefully I get to do a fraction of that before I die.


@THISSTAGE:  Well, you’ve done a fraction already.

RG:  I guess technically a fraction is anything, so yeah.


@THISSTAGE:  You did something at Theatricum Botanicum this past summer. How was it working there as compared to ANW?

RG:  It was awesome. It was a play, Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz, and I had the pleasure of working with the family, the Geers, Ellen, Willow, and Melora Marshall, and then an actor who used to work here a lot, Mark Bramhall. And like [ANW], over there they are literally family. So you walk in and there is immediately an understanding how good a person works. And the play was so good. It was the first time I had done a contemporary piece in a while. But the skills you need to do classical stuff, especially in rep, when you get handed a contemporary script, it’s like: Oh yeah! I know how to do that. It is different, but because you have the base knowledge of tone and scansion and crescendos and declensions, when you get handed a script like that you know how to read it. So it was an utter delight to work with them.


@THISSTAGE:  Do you have any theater companies in LA or elsewhere that you wish to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?

RG:  Oh yeah. I love the work that goes on at Rogue Machine, I think that they’re doing really interesting work. I’d love to work over at Boston Court. I don’t know, I want to go everywhere. I have a bunch of friends in New York who are making their way, making their own theater companies.


@THISSTAGE:  What about New York then? Why not go? 

RG:  Oh yeah, I think about going back. I was there for college and then a little bit after, and did a lot of theater for free. Not to denigrate that at all, because the work was so good and vibrant and alive. There’s nothing like working on a new play. It’s so different from working on a classical piece, because with a classical piece you kind of know that it works on paper. Because it wouldn’t have survived for 400 years otherwise. With new plays there is this popping excitement, but you’re not sure if it works, so it is a little bit like running blind and naked through the woods – yeah it is more like that. …So you know, the world of the theater is what I want to work in, wherever that may be.


@THISSTAGE:  Do you just happen to be in Los Angeles because you’re getting work here, or can you put into words what it is about LA theater that specifically appeals to you?

RG:  I don’t know how to say this. [He takes a long pause.] LA theatre is so varied and so, like the city of LA, LA theater … is a titan. It’s massive and strong and spread out and hard to understand and unwieldy at times. And when it works it blows away anything I’ve ever seen in my life. And when it doesn’t it can bring the world crashing down around us. But it’s hard to put into a box, LA theater, because it just goes all over the place. But I love it. And right now this is the place for me.


@THISSTAGE:  What advice would you give to young actors who are just starting?

RG:  Live. Live and read and do stupid stuff and feel bad about it and fall in love and fall out of love and do crazy things, do wonderful things, do bad things. Be a person. And if you can be a person in real life then you might be able to be a real person on stage.


‘Henry V’ plays at A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107 thru April 6. Performance schedule and tickets www.anoisewithin.org.

Read the review in Stage Raw.

‘Noises Off’ opens April 21st at A Noise Within. Performance schedule and tickets www.anoisewithin.org.

Check out Rafael Goldstein’s Henry V playlist on Spotify.

Vanessa Cate

Vanessa Cate

Vanessa Cate is Editor-in-Chief of @THISSTAGE. She has worked with STAGE RAW since its inception as a contributor, Posting and Assigning Editor. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of True Focus Theater and the fantasy dance group Cabaret le Fey.