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Stages

Director sees Harvard actor following Damon’s arc

Jack Cutmore-Scott plays the title character in “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.’’ Jack Cutmore-Scott plays the title character in “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.’’
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / March 5, 2010

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“He’s probably the most talented undergraduate I’ve seen come through since Matt Damon,’’ says director Eric C. Engel.

Engel cast Harvard senior Jack Cutmore-Scott in the title role of “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,’’ a Publick Theatre Boston production running next Thursday through April 3 at the Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts. In the edgy black comedy by Joe Orton, the London-born Cutmore-Scott makes his US professional debut.

“He is very funny, very smart, very nuanced. He’s also a great lookin’ guy. He’s got the whole package, and an incredible work ethic,’’ Engel says. “I often talk about student actors in terms of potential. This is not an issue of potential. He’s ready to go.’’

He’d better be, given the demands of this production.

“It’s a comedy, but it has many, many layers of human psychology to explore,’’ said Engel. “And he’s remarkably adept and speedy at all of that. He’s working with Sandra Shipley, who is a remarkably accomplished actress, and Nigel Gore, who is a force in his own right. Two remarkably seasoned professionals, and Jack is holding his own with them, no problem.’’

Sloane is a sexy, manipulative thug who may get more than he bargains for after insinuating his way into a deeply dysfunctional family.

“It’s a fascinating part with a lot of levels to find that I’m still exploring,’’ says Cutmore-Scott, 22. “Sloane is kind of the ultimate con man, but also really just a 20-year-old kid who has a checkered background, and that affects the way he deals with everything.’’

By contrast, the actor says he was fortunate enough to have a “stable and happy upbringing’’ as the child of two accountants. He spent his gap year at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and took an original play, “Making a Scene,’’ to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

His writing, he says, leans toward comedy. It shows in his answers to a Harvard Crimson Q&A from 2007:

“Describe yourself in three words: Only three? [Expletive].

In 15 minutes you are: Helping to shave my roommate’s back.’’

He knows “Entertaining Mr. Sloane’’ calls for more range.

“It’s a very, very funny play, and it is also a very dark and sinister play,’’ Cutmore-Scott says. “The way he deals with people varies from incredibly violent to very seductive, and he really does seem to be operating on a fight-for-survival basis every single second, which is very interesting, because the stakes are always incredibly high for him.’’

Cutmore-Scott plans to move to New York after graduation, where he’ll stay with friends and try to make the best of the time remaining on his student visa. He said Shipley, Gore, and the fourth cast member, Dafydd Rees, have helped him navigate as a British actor trying to forge a career here. “I think that, you know, there’s hope for me, at least,’’ he says mildly.

Cutmore-Scott had auditioned before for a student play Engel was directing, which didn’t work out, but Engel was impressed with his performances in other Harvard shows. “I immediately thought of him when I decided to do ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane.’ I knew I had Sandra in the show, and I was hopeful about finding a cast with all natural British accents,’’ said Engel.

Engel is director of Sanders Theatre and other venues for the Office for the Arts at Harvard, and artistic director of the Gloucester Stage Company. He says he has cast a number of Harvard and Boston University undergraduates in professional roles.

For Cutmore-Scott’s sake, it’s perhaps best not to make too much of the comparison, but Engel says he did play a small part in the start of Damon’s career, circa 1992. At the time, Engel was managing director of the Nora Theatre Company and its liaison to student actors at Harvard, he says, and he introduced the undergraduate Damon to the company. Director Bob Walsh cast Damon in a supporting role in “The Speed of Darkness,’’ his professional debut.

Of course Engel knew then exactly how big Damon was going to be, right? “No, I had no idea,’’ he says, and laughs.

Tickets: $33-$37.50. 617-933-8600, www.bostontheatrescene.com

Gurney in new space
“Later Life’’ by A.R. Gurney will be the first full mainstage production in the Salem Theatre Company’s new space at 90 Lafayette St. Last month, the company offered three weekends of performance, comedy, and music in the 60-seat venue; “Later Life’’ will run April 8-25, under the direction of John Fogle, the new artistic director. Tickets ($20) available starting March 15 at 978-790-8546, www.salemtheatre.com.