On the soccer field at Dublin High School, Craig Marker experienced a defining moment. A teammate casually mentioned auditioning for "Antigone" (which he mispronounced), and Marker suddenly knew he should audition too.
His only previous experience in the theater was as part of the backstage crew, but when he was cast as a chorus member in the Greek tragedy, he had what he calls "one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had."
Now 30, Marker is a success story in the world of Bay Area theater. Fresh from the acting program at California State University Hayward (now Cal State East Bay), he nabbed his first professional gig at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre Company and has worked steadily since. He's covered all points on the local compass, from Berkeley Repertory Theatre to American Conservatory Theater to San Jose Repertory Theatre.
The boyishly handsome Marker spent much of last year at Marin Theatre Company. In the spring, he appeared in "Equivocation" and in the fall in "9 Circles," both written by Bill Cain.
During the audition for "Equivocation," Cain remembers Marker doing a monologue from "Twelfth Night" and asking the actor to take it again, only this time to make it about "outrageous, over-the-top ecstasy."
"He started with ecstasy and soared up from there," Cain says. "And as he got to the end, still building, he jumped off the stage, ran shouting through the auditorium and ran out of the theater. In ecstasy."
The audition for "9 Circles" was quite different. Marker was asked to do a cold reading for the part of a troubled 18-year-old soldier just back from Iraq.
"He played hard and fast," Cain says. "He hammered his way through the twists and turns of the 20-minute scene. By the time he got to the key moment, Craig was sitting on the floor of the theater, sobbing out the truth behind the toughness. Agony and ecstasy. What more could you want from an actor?"
Marker is back at Marin Theatre Company in Chekhov's "The Seagull." He's playing Trigorin, a famous writer wrestling with success, and the actor remembers clearly the first time he felt successful. He and his wife, Jeanette, were in their first apartment and had just spent what was for them an extraordinary amount of money for a couch.
"You know what? This couch is mine," Marker recalls declaring proudly. "I'm making enough money to be here right now. If I can follow my passion and pay my bills on time, that's success to me."
Marker cites two inspirations while in college: Professors Ric Prindle and the late Edgardo de la Cruz.
Prindle isn't at all surprised that Marker has made such a mark on local stages. "He's an exceptional person not only in terms of acting but also in terms of personality," the retired professor says. "He's got a great reputation as someone wonderful to work with, and it doesn't hurt that he's strikingly handsome."
After "The Seagull," Marker's dance card is full. Next up is "Wirehead" at SF Playhouse, followed by "Love in American Times," the new Philip Kan Gotanda play, at San Jose Repertory Theatre. This summer he'll be back with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival touring parks in "Cymbeline."
When young actors make a splash in the Bay Area, they tend to shove off for New York or Los Angeles in a hurry. Marker, his wife, and Ava, their 3-year-old daughter, are happy to stay in Hayward.
"People tell me I should go to New York or L.A.," Marker says. "But I also had people tell me I shouldn't get married. I don't like listening to people who don't listen to me. I'm my dad's son. I'm Norwegian stubborn. I always wanted to have a family, so I've made the choice to stay here. The fear for me, to be honest, is that if we uproot and move, I'd be starting over. I'm successful here. I'd rather crawl up in my cubby hole and be comfy here."
The Seagull: By Anton Chekhov (new version by Libby Appel). Directed by Jasson Minadakis. Through Feb. 20. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. $32-$53. (415) 388-5208. www.marintheatre.org.