A wintry fix

Nothing surpasses a sound sense of self. When pondering his artistic ardor as a high school senior, David Pica had an epiphany, realizing that he needed to go with his gut in choosing drama over musical theater. More than a decade later and still true to that penchant for preferring emotional depth, the resident of the 2000 block of Emily Street will play another figure fond of showing fortitude, Richard, a son of King Henry II of England and an eventual ruler of the same land, through Commonwealth Classic Theatre Co.’s production of “The Lion in Winter.”

“I have this role at a particularly interesting time in my life,” the 29-year-old said of portraying the man whose military might would earn him the sobriquet Richard the Lionheart. “The stakes are high for him, and they’re the same for me, yet in a far less historical respect, of course, because I’m considering what I’m going to be and what experiences I will have.”

Beginning with tonight’s preview performance and the slate of shows running through Aug. 27, the West Passyunk dweller and the South Philly-resident-heavy cast, including Newbold’s John Lopes as the monarch who must decide which son will inherit the throne, are giving life to James Goldman’s 5-year-old text at The URBN Center Annex Black Box Theater. Teeming with thought-provoking themes such as the betrayal of trust, love, and loyalty in the quest for personal gain, intergenerational discord, and the daunting task of living during an era of political and social unrest, the text has long won regard for its examination of responsibility to oneself, with Pica primed to pounce on his chance to channel Richard’s conviction.

“The weight of expectations is pretty hefty, and he has such impressive belief in himself,” the thespian said of the royal descendant whom a release dubs as the “darling of Eleanor, Henry’s estranged queen.” “Something in his upbringing just gave him that nudge to be bold and determined, so that’s compelling to tackle.”

The opportunity marks the first exposure to the 12th century-chronicling play for Pica. He finds himself especially enamored with his endeavor because of the work’s emphasis on making historical figures more vibrant. Giving a nod to the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” he values projects that, like the Tony Award winner, explore long-gone personalities’ wants, desires, problems, and issues.

“I like that the show, along with letting me interact with amazing people, makes the past more relevant and contemporary,” Pica revealed. “It can be easy to think these people lacked the sort of chaos and uncertainty in their lives that we have in ours because they were monarchs and heirs, but we’re akin to them because we’re all trying to sort out so many matters. Add a solid text and folks who admire its mission and, voila, we have something dramatic and invigorating.”

the Illinois native enjoyed a well-rounded childhood through which theater and sports helped him to form his affable identity and enthusiasm for discovering the depth of his ambition. He broke from his basketball immersion as a high school senior in Champaign, devoting himself to helping his institution’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” rendition to shine.

“That decision really influenced my progression as an actor,” the Prairie State product explained. “I knew there would be some challenges in pursuing this as a vocation, but I never believed I would shy away from any of them because strengthening the art form is what I felt the most prepared to do no matter how long it would take for me to feel ready, if one can ever truly feel completely prepared to do that.”

Realizing the range of his contemporaries topped his, Pica picked drama as his guide in engendering added confidence as a stage presence, feeling that probing a character’s emotional integrity would yield invaluable professional and personal lessons. Matriculation at Millikin University proved fruitful yet not enriching enough for him to commence his career in theater.

“I have a very solid work ethic,” he said in commending his parents. “With commitment and curiosity, I feel someone can go another length of the way because my main thought centers on how I can respect, acknowledge, and keep someone’s attention. There have to be those intensely mutual exchanges between us and audiences for there to be enduring projects, and that’s what I needed to come to understand so much better.”

Pica pursued that additional acuity through the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama through which he excelled in honoring classical and contemporary plays, even spending time at the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Time in London, through which his artistry matured, followed, with the United States beckoning once his two-year post-graduate study program had elapsed. Seeking a residence where theater not only had a pulse but a robust heartbeat, he moved to Philadelphia, where unlike with the action in “The Lion in Winter,” he found individuals devoid of dreams of self-aggrandizement and bravado.

“I thought ‘Let’s see how it goes,’ and I soon found Philadelphia to be a place that is indeed very welcoming,” he stated of the expanse, with West Passyunk having been his haunt since December. “There’s support across the board for new work, and I have found that so many people derive genuine pleasure in seeing others do well.”

That affinity for their shared devotion to exploration has bred wonderful interactions for Pica, who is happy that South Philly has helped in fostering friendships with other performers. Now that he has prepared himself to bring one historical reign to the masses, he anticipates a second round of delight next month when he joins an accomplished cast for Revolution Shakespeare’s FringeArts Festival contribution “King John,” a tale that chronicles Richard the Lionheart’s brother, at Hawthorne Park, 12th and Catharine streets.

“Kind of like Richard, I’m wondering what to do with my awareness of the world around me,” Pica confessed. “I have this very curious nature, and Philadelphia is a great place to nourish that. With this show and ‘King John,’ I know I’ll find some amazing answers to my questions. ■

Call 610–202–7878, or visit commonwealthclassictheatre.org.

Contact Editor Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.

Portrait Photo by Tina Garceau