By Dann Gire
'Night in Alachua County'WildClaw Theatre's drama runs through Oct. 7 at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. In addition to Lombard native Moira Begale, "Night in Alachua County" also features former Bloomingdale resident Mandy Walsh as Martha and former Westmont resident Gaby Labotka as the "violence director." Go to wildclawtheatre.com for showtimes and tickets.
Actress Moira Begale dies so realistically in WildClaw Theatre's violent Chicago production of "Night in Alachua County" that we asked the Lombard native to explain how she does it -- night after night.
Getting it right, she said, started with the show's "violence director," former Westmont resident and Hinsdale High School graduate Gaby Labotka.
"She was incredibly helpful in the design of my murder," Begale said.
"Night in Alachua County" centers on a middle-aged woman who summons demonic forces to resurrect her dead husband. Begale plays a nosy neighbor knocked off with a "knife" to the gut.
"You first think, something just happened!" Begale said of acting out the scene. "You look down. But you're confused. You're not in pain yet. There's this time when your brain processes what's happened. All of a sudden, you realize you haven't breathed for two seconds. So you breathe. That's when you feel the pain."
This is just the beginning of a scene that Dario Argento would be proud to direct.
Begale credits Labotka for shaping her onstage death for maximum drama. On stage, the knife-wielding killer sends spurts of fake blood all over Begale, reduced to slowly crawling along the ground in an attempt to escape.
"(Labotka) gave me a great image of being an accordion -- you don't have the muscle strength to move your body up. You've got to shimmy your way along," Begale said.
Labotka even gave Begale film clips to watch, especially the bayonet scene from "Saving Private Ryan."
"It's a very visceral, terrifying moment," Begale said. "You don't think of how exhausting it can be when you're fighting for your life."
"Night in Alachua County" boasts an all-female cast in a tale written by Chicago-based playwright Jennifer Rumberger. (Glenbard North High School grad Mandy Walsh, who grew up in Bloomingdale, also stars in the play.)
Begale has been trained in sword and shield, quarterstaff, broadsword and unarmed combat by the Society of American Fight Directors.
"It's something that you constantly have to maintain," Begale said. "If you're not practicing your skills, you're forgetting them. I just signed up for a rapier and dagger class, something I have not yet completed."
Begale stands 6 feet, 2 inches, a factor that played into her decision to do stage combat and violence.
"As a tall female, you must deal with a variety of expectations," she said. "You must be good at sports. Or you must be a model."
She tried her hand, feet and everything else at sports: soccer, softball and tennis.
Her life took an unexpected pivot while she played on the junior varsity tennis team at Glenbard East High School. Begale had to miss a week of practice.
"It was a big deal to my coach," she remembered. "She said she didn't think I wanted to be here. And I thought for a moment and it suddenly hit me. I said, 'You're right! I don't want to be here!'
"Next day, I went to the scene shop in the theater and told them I'd like to help. They said, 'Fine. here's a hammer. Let's build a set!' It was a lot of fun."
Begale earned a theater degree from Illinois State University with a theater management concentration and a business minor. She spent some formative years in Vermont and Canada before returning to the Windy City theater world.
Begale confessed that she'd give her "left arm" to be in the movie "Wonder Woman." She saw its audition posting and discovered that casting directors were looking for female athletes, not female actors for the roles. Begale still loved the movie, especially for its message that it's appealing to be strong, not just slender.
"As a tall woman, I had to learn how to be in spaces, how to use my body to my best advantage," she said.
"I'm getting older. My knees don't work the way they used to. I need to be mindful now of how I actually use my body at all times in all situations. Otherwise, I'm just a klutz and will bump into everything, become bruised and battered and look like the fight didn't go well!"
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