Anthony Michael Lopez — Tony to his friends — had not read “Vanity Fair” by William Makepeace Thackery before being cast in the adaptation American Conservatory Theater is presenting at the Geary Theater. That wasn’t a dealbreaker, though, because, as he’s quick to point out, “This isn’t the novel. This is Kate Hamill’s ‘Vanity Fair,’ and she’s got her own perspective which is very prevalent throughout.”
Hamill has taken the sweeping 1847 novel and condensed its 20-character, 18-year story arc set in multiple countries into what’s been promoted as a “rollicking” seven-actor, two-and-a-half hour romp, and Lopez is one of the seven.
“It is very much one of those plays where you show up, and you’re off on an adventure,” says Lopez, affirming comparisons to rapid-paced style of “Peter and the Starcatcher” or “The 39 Steps.”
Being quick on his feet for costume and character changes is just part of the job, and he does it on a prosthetic leg, something he has needed since childhood. Lopez self-describes as disabled.
“Disability is,” he confirms, “the term that my community, my fellow disabled brothers and sisters like to use.”
Rather than a barrier, Lopez sees his disability as “a color that can be added to any story and not necessarily something that needs to be ignored.
“I recognize the fact that my disability is not necessarily clockable right away is a privilege that not a lot of other disabled performers have. At the same time,” he continues, “every role I play is disabled because I’m playing it.”
The Pew Research Center reported that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 12 percent of the population identified as disabled in hearing, vision or mobility in 2015.
Lopez suggests that “from the casting perspective, that is a huge percentage of the human population.”
Looking beyond the proscenium, he adds, “I think it also helps to understand that disability is a minority group that anyone could join at any time. Our bodies are not infallible. At some point, pretty much all of us will become disabled in some way. Our culture doesn’t like to think about the fact that our bodies are not going to work perfectly forever but I think showing how to work with that is a really valuable insight that disabled people can provide.”
His career is acting, but it’s clear Lopez also willing to play the activist. “Yeah. I’m happy to take on kind of an activist voice and open up the conversation about these things in a way that will hopefully move our society forward.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
Where: Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursday-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes May 12
Tickets: $15 to $110
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org