The dashing man with the winning smile around the cape's beaches nowadays is Anthony Simone, who plays John, a former slave, in Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man.
Both beaches and his character, John, are familiar to Simone, who grew up not far from southern California's sunny coast and who is bringing John to life for the second time - having played him once before, at the Sacramento Theatre Co. "I was born in Covina, California," says Simone, who did theatre in church and in high school, but then went off to San Diego State University to major in pre-med. "And then one day, in my second year, I ran into this woman who forever changed my life, named Margaret Larlham. We were chatting outside the choir room, and we had an hour conversation. And she said, 'I'm directing a show in the drama department. I want you in my show.'" Together with her husband, Peter, a Shakespearian scholar, she hooked Simone on the arts for good. "I was going to be an oncologist, but in hindsight I am very grateful that I'm not," he says, adding, "My parents eventually came around."
He began performing across California during the summers, at local theatres and Shakespeare festivals, summer stock shows and a children's camp. After graduating, with a degree in psychology in tow, Simone moved to Minneapolis, joining a theatre company and also working with autistic children, and then returned to California, where he secured a master of fine arts degree at the University of California, Irvine. "It was an eight-person program, four boys and four girls, and it was a three-year program," he says. "We got a lot of individual attention." For the past two years, he's been in and out of New York, and among his credits are Amadeus, Angels in America, The Fantasticks, and several of Shakespeare's plays. Both Gregg Daniel, who directed The Whipping Man at Cape May Stage, and Roy Steinberg, the producing artistic director, were impressed enough by Simone's facility with the character, John, to cast him immediately. "I love, love, love this character," says Simone. "He gets to do all the things in society that are taboo. He gets to fight for what he wants by all means necessary."
And did you know that Marcus Crowder, who reviewed The Whipping Man in 2015 for the Sacramento Bee, wrote: "Simone's dynamic, unpredictable John has a welcome edge, [and] his response to the suddenly unlimited existence in front of him gives the play its life"? See for yourself, through June 24, at Cape May Stage.