Visit our social channels!
June 12, 2015
Why Seth Numrich of ‘Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait’ Thinks Theatre Should Make You Uncomfortable
Chris Stack and Seth Numrich (c)Joan Marcus

In Daniel Talbott’s Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait (playing through June 27 at the Gym at Judson) Seth Numrich plays Smith, an American soldier stationed in an isolated desert outpost with only another soldier (Brian Miskell) keeping him company. They have been asked not to try to communicate with their base, but as their water and food supplies become scarce, things get quite ugly. As played by Numrich, Smith is a ferocious whirlwind of a man, who goes from playfully teasing his companion, to exploding in anger in a matter of seconds. The volatile young man never seems to stop moving, he’s always doing push ups or pull ups, and always seems to be in search of something to help conceal the pain he carries inside.

In the hands of a lesser actor, Smith would become an archetype, but through Numrich’s strangely straightforward approach he becomes a character we go from despising to pitying. The talented actor became a Broadway sensation after his roles in War Horse and Golden Boy, but he never stopped to rest in his laurels and has done theatre in both coasts of the United States, as well as in London. With an ever growing resume he also has a supporting role on AMC’s Turn where he plays Benjamin Tallmadge. We had the opportunity to talk to the actor about his work as Smith, his preferred method of approaching characters, and why he thinks theatre should make you uncomfortable.

That was a freaking intense show.

(Laughs) Right?

This is your third collaboration with playwright Daniel Talbott...

I guess this is the fourth time working on his material with him, other times we’d worked together in material he’d produced or had a hand in some way, and then also we’ve done smaller scale projects. It’s been a good handful and I feel very lucky that we can continue to collaborate.

Is it easier to work with someone you know as well?

Absolutely, I feel very lucky to work with him and the other people at the Rattlestick and Rising Phoenix Rep, and sort of being part of that theatre family in NY and in LA as well, has been amazing. The whole idea of an ensemble company is something that doesn’t exist anymore in the same way that it used to, back in the day this was the day theatre was made and I feel it makes so much sense because theatre is a collaborative medium and anything you try to create is just as strong as the company that you build around your project. The more familiar you are with people the easier it is to communicate with them, I love being in a situation where I trust the people who I’m creating with.

I’m going to take a wild guess and hope and assume you’re nothing at all like Smith in real life…


...because I’m curious about how as an actor do you approach a character that people might not like, or that you even don’t like?

It’s an interesting one and it’s something that I’ve thought about a lot and talked about with Daniel and the other people involved. I think part of what we’re trying to do with the play is show what happens to people in extreme circumstances and situations, like the ones these characters find themselves in. As much as I hope that I don’t have some of the traits in me that this character expresses during the course of the play, I guess I don’t really know that for sure because I’ve never really been in one of those situations, thank god, I’ve never experienced what would happen to me and my personality in situations of extreme danger. I truly believe as an actor, as well as a person, that we all have all the same capacities inside of us, we don’t like to look at the dark side of our nature and we often say “oh, I could never do that, that would never be me”, but in the right circumstances you really don’t know. Smith is going through something unimaginable and his reaction is violent, so I just try to find a way to do this every night.

For obvious reasons the play reminded me of things like American Sniper which deals with PTSD and I feel that artists are finally coming to terms with creating pieces about the recent war, they are more able to question and criticize war, without feeling the need to glorify the Army. Is this something you’ve notice as well?

I think it’s a tricky conversation to have, what I hope is that our play isn’t seen as a criticism of the people who very bravely give their lives to this cause. Every major civilization has had a warrior class and we have our here and now, unfortunately I don’t think our warrior class is treated the way they deserve to be treated, and those returning from war are not given the resources and care they deserve, but that’s another conversation. I think our play tries to look at the idea of violence and atrocity in general, Daniel tackled that through the lens of an imaginary future of the American military, I think what he’s trying to get into is much broader than that. The criticisms of the military system are criticisms of the military system that exists in our play, it’s an imaginary future and not a representation of how things are now. I don’t want people to think that we’re criticizing the people that serve, but I think it’s important to talk about these things and look at them in the theatre. It’s important for us to get out of our comfort zone, too often we stay in our comfort zones when we do theatre and we let the audience stay in theirs. Come and see our play, love it or hate it I don’t care, as long as it shakes something up in people that are watching and makes them look at something that’s uncomfortable, in that way we’re doing our job.

Brian Miskell and Seth Numrich (c)Joan Marcus

After watching the play I felt like I needed to go take a shower, it left me feeling dirty and tired like Mad Max…

(Laughs)’s a very demanding piece for you as well, and considering how physical your work in Turn is, I wondered if you ever sit back and say to yourself “hey, I wanna play a character that just sits for a while”?

Man, that’s a funny question. I’ve been lucky to get to do all these interesting things, and the play I just finished doing in LA was called Switzerland and it was basically a two hander, we mostly talked for 90 minutes using wonderful language and I found that so hard. I find this hard as well, but sometimes when I’m doing something like this I think to myself “I wish I was just sitting here talking” and then when I’m doing talking I wish I were doing push-ups (laughs). Everything is its own unique challenge, mentally, physically and emotionally, what’s the point in doing easy work?

I’m about to out myself as the biggest Sex and the City fan ever, but when I realized your character in this play was called Smith, I remembered you played opposite Kim Cattrall in Sweet Bird of Youth in London. I found some similarities between Chance and Smith in how they use their sexuality to overpower older women. Do you find yourself being drawn to characters with similar traits?

I think that’s interesting, I hadn’t actually thought about similarities between Chance Wayne and Smith before, but I do think there might be some similarities, they’re both enormously afraid, consumed by fear and try to react to that by trying to prove their manhood and their capacity more and more. I think what draws me to characters in projects always varies, it’s more of an instinctual thing, I get attracted to things I feel are scary, human and challenging, things that will push me beyond my comfort zone. I don’t think it’s wrong to draw a comparison between Tennessee Williams and Daniel Talbott, during his time Tennessee was trying to push the boundaries of what he thought theatre could be and show things that were scary to look at and that people didn’t want to see. I’ve recently become obsessed with the play Orpheus Descending and been looking into its history, and learned people were trying to shut it down, and I see similarities between what Daniel is going after as well. It’s not a coincidence that I’m drawn to his work.

Since you did War Horse with Marianne Elliott, I have to ask if you’ve seen The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time yet. I’m sure you were rooting for it at the Tonys.

That’s a good question, I’ve not been around a lot, so I’m not in the loop of what’s playing, but I do love Curious, I saw it in London a few summers ago and I am such a fan of Marianne Elliott’s work as a director, I think her work is extraordinary. I read the book years ago and I was so blown away by what she did with it, because I thought it would be impossible to capture the book, but then I saw it and went “she did it” and not only that, she went beyond my expectations.

Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, America, Kuwait plays through June 27 at the Gym at Judson.

Share this post to Social Media
Written by: Jose Solis
More articles by this author:

Other Interesting Posts


Or instantly Log In with Facebook