With some 20 productions at South Coast Repertory to her credit, actor Nike Doukas admits that it’s hard to narrow down specific favorites. Three things make a role memorable for her: it teaches her something about herself; teaches her something artistically; and reveals something about the playwright.
“When you do a play, you immerse yourself in a piece of literature, you share the experience with some incredible artists, and then the audience comes in adds to that experience,” she says. “Each time I worked on one of these plays, I fell in love with the role and the playwright and what the playwright could do for, and with, an audience. It’s fabulous life.”
Eric Woodall, Doukas and Mikael Salazar in Loot.
Loot by Joe Orton (1993)
This was my first show at SCR, and directed by the late, great Mark Rucker. I’ve always been a pretty bad liar, but this role taught me how to lie convincingly. I had to be brazen because the character of Fay is a compulsive, brazen liar. Creatively, I had never really done a farce before, which requires split-second timing, utter conviction and a straight face—this last part is the hardest. Orton himself is so brazen: he dares to pay tribute to Oscar Wilde, Coward, the whole tradition of British comic playwrights, while making the play utterly singular and contemporary.
Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward (1995)
This is an extremely funny play, in which I played a ghost, and I thought I understood where all the laughs came. Coward wrote Blithe Spirit during World War II, and many of the jokes had a deep resonance for people who had relatives away fighting in the war. I found the jokes about ghosts for some of our older, matinee audiences were quieter, more reflective moments. So, what I learned about myself and my artistry was to be humble: to let an audience teach me about the play and let go of my own assumptions. That if you listen there may be sorrow in the joy and vice versa. All while a third of my body was covered in grey make-up.
Lynn Milgrim, Doukas, Anne Gee Byrd, David Byrd and Nicholas Hormann in Pygmalion.
Pygmalion by George Bernard
Role: Eliza Doolittle
I love accents, I even coach accents, and this play is all about how accents do and don’t define a person. How the way we express ourselves makes us unique and shapes who we are. How if our unique voice is robbed, we are left with something less than what we were, despite the fact that we’ve found something more within that new accent/voice. Also, my father, who was a huge theatre fan and who saw me in almost every play I did, was dying while I rehearsed this play. There’s a lot about fathers and daughters here, too, that Shaw addresses. And it’s also about our ability to love. Neither of the two main characters can take responsibility for their feelings, though Eliza is better at it than Henry Higgins. It required a lot of exploration, and it was a deep, deep experience.
Doukas and Douglas Sills in Much Ado About Nothing.
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (2001)
This was a part I had always wanted to play, and the fact that I got to do it with one of my best friends, Douglas Sills, playing Benedick, was magical. The two smartest people in the room aren’t emotionally smart enough to understand that they love each other, until their friends and family trick them into discovering their feelings—it takes a village! Finding Beatrice’s journey was tricky; it’s hard to see beyond the wit and into her heart. I had to work hard to find her emotional journey, and when I did, I was so moved by what a sensitive, understanding character Shakespeare had created and how complex our hearts and minds are. Plus, our choreographer, Art Manke taught me to tap dance!
Adam Scott, Doukas and Kandis Chappell in Everett Beekin.
Leo Marks and Doukas in Major Barbara.
Everett Beekin by Richard Greenberg (2000)
Roles: Anna / Nell
I am the second generation of an immigrant family and I really love how, in the first act, Greenberg (or Richard, as I call him), captures that tension between first and second generation and, in the second act, how the third generation gets even farther away from the familial roots, but still, there are echoes and reverberations from the past. And he does it all in an incredibly elegant, almost invisible way. The range of things you get to do in this play is thrilling.
Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw (2002)
Role: Barbara Undershaft
This play is a sentimental favorite because it’s where I got to know my future husband, Leo Marks. AND, it’s another Shaw! I love that Shaw never lets you figure out who’s right, because everyone is right or wrong, depending on what part of the argument you are engaged in. That is really fun for an actor, because you get to play both the dark and light sides of a person, so you’re never fully evil or fully angelic. And, all the while, you’re more passionately articulate than you could ever be in real life. And then you end up marrying the guy who played Bill!
Doukas and Lorena Martinez in Yoga Play.
Yoga Play by Dipika Guha (2017)
This was one of the few times I got to play the absolute leader of the play—literally the boss—as well as the heart of the story. That’s rare for female actors and it’s really empowering. One of the things you discover when you act any role is that you’re capable of doing and saying and feeling more than you thought, because the playwright allows and forces you to live up to what the character needs, wants and does. Joan allowed me to take charge, give orders, think big. And yet, she was full of fear, so that made her human and funny and I hope, relatable. It’s a generous play to all the characters, it loves and makes fun of them all, and consequently, I think the audience is allowed to laugh at some of the absurdities of our moment.