Since my mother spent her entire career as a registered nurse, I am always curious about plays that feature medical professionals. Chasing Jack is advertised as an Off-Broadway play with high stakes for the main character, Dr. Jack Chase (Emanuele Secci). That’s because Dr. Chase, a heart surgeon and a gambling addict, is being sued for malpractice by the grieving family of Michael James. Will he win his case and save his career? You can find out the answers to those questions and more by attending a performance of this play, which won the Best of Festival Award and Best Play Award at the 2019 New York Summerfest.
Chasing Jack, written by John S. Anastasi and directed by Peter J. Loewy, premiered at the Jerry Orbach Theatre this year on September 29. It’s important to note that the play is moving to the Actors Temple Theatre, with the first performance scheduled for Saturday, November 6. The cast includes Emanuele Secci, Samantha Ruston, Alejandra Mangini, Dennis Brito, Matt Burns, Caroline Sposto, Robert Eigen, and Joel Shaw.
I caught up with Emanuele Secci by phone to hear more about his complicated character, the “gifted but addicted” Dr. Chase. A recipient of three Daytime Emmy Awards, Secci’s career includes numerous roles across television, film, voiceovers, and theater. He is also an award-winning concert pianist. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
I notice you’re a concert pianist. Do you have a favorite composer to play?
I enjoy listening to Rachmaninoff a lot. Schumann always comes to mind when I think of my favorite classical piano composer to play. As a classical pianist, your range is usually vast [with] Haydn from the 1700s all the way to the 20th century. I also played a lot of Béla Bartók back in the day. I won a Béla Bartók competition in Europe. I studied with Bartók’s protege, Gyorgy Sandor, who taught at Juilliard and passed away a few years ago.
If you hadn’t become an actor, would you have made a better doctor or a better lawyer?
It’s funny you should ask that. When I was little, I always wanted to be a surgeon. I remember when anybody got hurt with a little cut at home, I would grab the first aid kit for my parents, my brother, or myself. I wanted to be a missionary doctor in Africa, a continent in need.
Then I started music and piano. The kid was good, so you keep going and going. I was [also] playing tennis and I had to quit. You can’t do tennis, medicine, and concert pianist all at the same time. When you are that young, it’s a full time commitment besides going to regular school and high school.
Lawyer? I never thought of being a lawyer. A doctor? For sure.
What do you like about performing in theater?
Acting to me is exactly the same process for theater, TV, or film. The medium is different, so there are some technicalities on how you can express the same thing. What I like about theater is that you basically live a life uninterrupted for two hours. In rehearsal, you can stop and go back to revisit, research, and so forth.
I play the lead character in this one. It’s very intense because he has so many layers. As a general rule, you become the character by the time you’re onstage on opening night, but you really don’t know him or her completely until you are there. That’s when your character starts living. It’s when I feel you’re confronting yourself with the reality of it. You do feel the difference.
What do you admire about your character, Dr. Chase?
Dr. Chase is a mess. What keeps him alive—what keeps me alive in playing this role—is that when he operates on people, he helps them a lot. He does it because he loves it and he cares. The interesting part is when you see the play, you would argue he’s doing it for the money because he’s a gambling addict. Correct, but getting the money is separate from why he operates and saves lives. It just so happens that he has this almost dual personality. These bad traits, as he says in the play, also make a great surgeon.
In certain leading roles, if [the character] isn’t a bit egotistical and arrogant, they might not make it. Open heart surgery is important. It is in your hands when you stop and restart the heart. It can get to your head. You can’t be too modest or humble with it. You have to take charge and believe you are the best.
What was it like to collaborate with your director and fellow cast members?
Everyone was in it with a great commitment. Everybody was different in approaching acting and rehearsing, including the playwright and director. I found that the playwright helped me a lot in building the character, but not just because he wrote it. He is also a heart surgeon himself, with precious inside information. Peter, our director, was more on the technical part with staging it for a relatively small stage. Overall, I think it worked out. It is good work…
What do you hope the audience takes away when they come to see Chasing Jack?
Going to a concert, a movie, or a play, what I personally like to come out with is a richer heart. Something fills your heart more than when you entered the theater. That could be in a good or bad way, happy or sad, or even encouraging.
Art is the elevation of our emotions. Sometimes you see a movie and you don’t really understand it, but it leads you somewhere and makes you feel alive. You are thrilled and excited. That’s what I hope the audience comes out with. I don’t care if the audience says “Secci is a great actor” or “He’s not that good.” Opinions are a relative thing. If you feel something, that’s not an opinion. It’s a real emotion that’s undeniable and it’s the most important thing.