jakub | February 16, 2024

You Might Not Like Will Dagger in His Latest Role. He’s Willing to Risk That


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You Might Not Like Will Dagger in His Latest Role. He’s Willing to Risk That

The Off-Broadway regular is now appearing in you don’t have to do anything at HERE.


Will Dagger

Actor Will Dagger is becoming an indie-theatre darling. He’s compelling to watch, imbuing his characters with a quiet earnestness that floats beyond the figurative footlights of the stage. But in his latest role in Ryan Drake’s you don't have to do anything, there’s something dangerous lying beneath his simple delivery. Something that even Dagger himself finds it difficult to face.

“This is a dark play, and I play a shady and mysterious character,” Dagger explains. “The risk is finding how much I have in common with him, and letting people see those sides of myself to the point where I could be confused with him.”

In you don’t have to do anything, now running at Off-Broadway’s HERE through February 23, Dagger plays Clark opposite Yaron Lotan as Teddy. We first see the two as 7th-grade boys, although Dagger still sports a mustache and stubble. It’s a memory play, and adult actors play the characters from teen years through young adulthood. The mustache also serves as a grounding visual aid for an audience, especially when the show flashes back to two young boys in some of their first sexual moments. When Clark is expelled from school, the two continue an online relationship that lasts several years. As Teddy grows up, many of his intimate (and possibly abusive) sexual encounters seem to be shaped by his first experiences with Clark. Meanwhile, their malignant friendship that continued through chat, text, and phone messages.

The cast successfully walks the tightrope of communicating the complicated narrative while keeping their audience from shying away during uncomfortable situations. “It’s sort of autobiographical. It gets into trauma, and it gets into sexual stickiness…Ryan Drake, who wrote it, is taking a really deep and really useful look into himself and into his past,” says Dagger. “I think the play looks very closely and intricately at shame.”

So, it was important that a deep trust exist within the company. For this production, it wasn’t built from scratch. This group of theatremakers had already formed deep connections from prior projects. Playwright Will Arbery (of the hit play Heroes of the Fourth Turning) makes his first foray into producing with the piece. Arbery, Drake, and Dagger all first connected around their alma mater, Kenyon College. Director Ryan Dobrin was associate director on Arbery’s play Corsicana at Playwrights Horizons in 2022, which Dagger also starred in.

In Corsicana, Dagger played a kind of sad everyman who had moved from Los Angeles back to his small town in Texas to grieve his mother's death. The play also starred Dana H. Tony winner Deirdre O'Connell. Dagger talks about what he learned about trust working with her, and how it’s informed his approach to performance: “Most actors I know use the rehearsal process to carve out a groove. Like you’re carving out the track of a bobsled race. Then in performances, you sort of play in that groove. You might take the turns slightly differently, but the turns are all ones that you found in rehearsal. Didi charted a brand-new track every single show. It was terrifying, but it was also some of the most fun I’ve ever had acting. It was freer. It’s just beautiful—how much she trusts herself, the play, and us—that we can just be on the burning-wick edge of the thing and just follow where it happens to be leading.”

Dagger is reticent to use the word “muse” when speaking of his relationship with Arbery, but they certainly understand each other. Arbery can write to Dagger’s voice and Dagger can interpret Arbery for an audience. “It’s just a cycle of gift-giving,” says Dagger of the characters in Corsicana. “That can be what a play is—just people offering of themselves to each other.”

Growing up, Dagger wasn’t allowed to watch television shows in which people were mean to each other. He’s now drawn to work that exists in a place between hope and despair. He enjoys dark comedy and satire, but he wants the work to love the people that it’s poking fun at. “Art should be encouraging critical thought, but also deep love,” he says.

you don’t have to do anything fits that bill too. It is a challenging play—for audience and for actor alike. “Shame is painful to look at and live in,” he says of the gritty coming-of-age story. But the play has that flip side, too. “It’s also sneakily hopeful about what lives on the other side of the shame that society is quick to saddle us with, which is abundant love and trust and understanding,” Dagger says.

We should mention that the play is also funny, and Dagger ends with a final, comedic thought: “The point, or a point, is: Stop letting the whole world feel like one big middle school, because no one was safe there and we were all miserable.”





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