By Mark Thomas
The rich history of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, affectionately known as the KC Rep, began more than 50 years ago. Eric Rosen, an award-winning writer, director and producer, was appointed to be the artistic director in 2007. The KC Rep recruited him when he was artistic director of Chicago’s About Face Theatre, which he helped found.
Rosen is directing Constellations, which opens at the Rep on March 3, and he cast Kansas City native Tuc Watkins in one of the two roles. (Bree Elrod is his co-star.) The play delves into “the infinite possibilities of a couple’s relationship to reveal how the slightest change in conversation might send you down an entirely different path,” according to the KC Rep website.
Watkins said, “It’s a very layered play. It took me a number of times in reading it to really understand all the layers.”
The actor has an extensive TV and film career. One of his more memorable roles was as Bernard Burns, an American adventurer, in the 1999 film The Mummy.
We asked Watkins a question about the movie that we’ve always wondered about. In the film, Burns is extremely myopic. So after the mummy “steals” Burns’ eyes to use as his own, why isn’t the mummy nearsighted?
With a surprised laugh, Watkins says: “It took about nine months to shoot that movie, and the question never came up! But it should have! Why would the mummy steal the eyes of the guy with the worst eyes on the team? That, in my opinion, is a hole in the script.”
Watkins’ ties to the Kansas City area began when he was born in St. Luke’s Hospital. He grew up in Mission and Prairie Village before moving to St. Louis for high school.
Growing up in Kansas City, he said, “was sort of like an after-school special. It was fantastic. We had a big back yard, we had a sledding hill, we stayed out until the streetlights came on. My mom rang a triangle to call us in for dinner. What people around the world think of when they think of the Midwest, my sister and I grew up in ... and it was awesome!”
When asked how that childhood affected him as a young actor, Watkins replied: “That doesn’t necessarily translate to a platform which actors spring from, but it’s where people with a good foundation come from. It informs who I am as a person, and that informs who I am as an actor.”
Watkins now lives in California, but with extended family still in the Kansas City area, he returns a couple of times every year.
“I’ve seen Kansas City really grow as a progressive city, which I’ve found inspirational, politically, culturally and artistically,” he said. Watkins is the single father of twin 4-year-olds and notes that they greatly enjoy the trips.
His artistic influences? “My earliest influence was [British actor] John Cleese, specifically in Fawlty Towers. I love farce. When farce is done well, it’s magic.”
How important is the Rep to Kansas City?
“I think it’s indispensable,” Watkins said. “Kansas City now has a number of theaters. I get the sense that they are all part of an essential machine. I see them as supporting one another and flourishing. It’s a cool phenomenon that’s not happening in a lot of cities.”
The Rep also enjoys the support of the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, where it’s been a member since 2014.