John Lesser Gets Serious for ‘Death and the Maiden’: Notorious Funny Man Takes on Dark Material in New WC Drama Production

By Katie Tabeling
Elm Staff Writer

“Death and the Maiden”, showing Feb. 17-19, delves into the dark repercussions of governmental and psychological suppression. A tale of past consequences colliding with an idyllic life, the play shows what happens when a woman identifies a friendly stranger as her rapist and demands the trial she never received. A questioning look at justice, morality and sin, “Death and the Maiden” stars juniors Mike Zurawski, Katie Muldowney, and John Lesser.

“[It’s about] what is your breaking point? How far will you and can you go until you break,” Lesser said. In the exclusive cast list, Lesser describes himself as the villain of the production. “This play is heavy … It leaves it up to the audience if I’m good or I’m bad. I’m really excited for it.”

“Death and the Maiden” may be one of the first productions with these three actors, but Lesser is no stranger to the stage.

He has acted on and off for a span of six years. Arriving from Annapolis as a potential history major, Lesser was cast as Don John in “Much Ado About Nothing” and was hooked from that moment on.

“My forte is making people laugh,” said Lesser. “It’s my first drama, and usually comedies, musicals, uplifting happy stuff [is what I do]. This is by far one of the darkest plays I have ever read and to be able to be a part of it I think is great.”

Life after “Death and the Maiden” appears to be laborious and rewarding for John Lesser as he prepares his role for upcoming “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and plans to audition for shows at the Prince Theater in Chestertown.
His connection with the Chestertown community does not end at the Prince Theater, however. He is currently mentoring middle and high school students in drama and is a member of the community Improv Club. Lesser’s involvement with the Drama Department almost rivals his association with the local community; as co-president of Fakespeare, teaching assistant for Acting I, a member of WACappela, and working to form an on-campus Improv Club, it is no question where his future is headed.

Whatever course his life takes, it is clear that Lesser’s family will support him, from living on his grandma’s couch for auditions in New York or his parents coming to see next weekend’s play. Recalling the moment he told his family about declaring as a drama major, “I heard [my father] say ‘Good. You need to do this. This is what you need to do.’”

Modestly, Lesser just laughs and easily brushes of his accomplishments and compliments.

“I want to be a good actor, that’s what I want to do with my life. What do I want? I want to have a successful career. That’s my goal.”

As life outside “Death and the Maiden” and “Brighton Beach Memoirs” approach, Lesser considers only a few aspects of the future. He plans to direct “I Hate Hamlet” for his thesis next year, but after that? “More or less, playing it by ear,” said Lesser.

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