1) What was the first play you ever did? What role/job?
Well, the first role that said to my family "Dang, this boy has moxie" was my riveting portrayal of the all-singing, all-dancing 'Cheshire Cat' in the Westminster Center School's Spring musical production of Alice in Wonderland, performed onstage in the grand and spacious 300-seat auditorium of the Bellows Falls Union High School (in Bellows Falls, Vermont) in May of 1982. I had arrived. The production was most notable for the fact that it starred Claudia Williams, daughter of Red Sox Hall-of-Fame Hitting Legend Ted Williams, in the title role of Alice. Most of the community came out to see her and try to get a glimpse of her prodigious pop. Soldiering on in relative anonymity, I sang a rag-time version of 'Twas Brillig' complete with straw hat and bamboo cane, and the audience gave me the kind of ovation reserved for a three-run shot into Williamsburg. It was a really fantastic feeling. My Grandparents came up from Massachusetts to see the show, and I remember my Grandmother hugging me so tightly all weekend that I thought my eyes were going to pop out... There was a rumor that Teddy Ballgame himself actually came and sat in the back of the theatre, but we didn't actually meet him until the spring of 1983, when he showed up at our track meet against our rivals from Chester, VT, (which, BTW, his daughter won handily) and signed autographs for twenty-five minutes.
...So, that's when we all knew I had some theatrical Moxie. Coincidentally, Ted Williams used to advertise 'Moxie' the soft drink that is still popular in Maine-- the favorite beverage of Theatre IV's Andy Boothby, a fellow New Englander.
I'm telling you, it always comes back to New England.
The other, perhaps more significant stepping-stone was when I was cast as Nick in Scranton Public Theatre's 1987 revival of 'A Thousand Clowns' directed by Pulitzer-Prize Winning Writer-Director-Actor Jason Miller. Folks may recognize the late Mr. Miller as the embattled father Damien Karras in 1973's The Exorcist.
My father's job had moved us from Vermont to Scranton, PA, and my Mother, emboldened by my exploits in Wonderland, enrolled me in the Lucan Center's 'Acting Classes For children' under the direction of the late, great teacher Rita Julius. Rita suggested that SPT give me an audition for the role of Nick, and at the first audition (along with 40 other hopefuls for the role) I met Jason and read really well. The next day, duing callbacks, there was only one other kid in the lobby. I gave it my best shot and then, as kids are so amazingly able to do, I forgot about it all. About a week later, playing basketball with my Friend Danny Walker, I got the call from SPT that they wanted to use me. That one phone call changed everything, and set me on the path to making acting my life. From then on, it became important to me to do the best job possible for whatever audience I would find myself in front of. I owe a great deal to the Scranton Public Theatre, and to Mr Miller, whom I always wanted to work with again, but never got the opportunity. Jason Miller died in May of 2001.
2) What was your most recent show? What job/role?
I just finished an incredible run as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at Theatre IV in Richmond. The cast was like a big family, and every night was something new and fun. I particluarly enjoyed the dressing room debates on politics and religion with Woody Robinson, who played Uncle Henry. I met a whole host of great people, and I go to watch the talents of Alia Bisharat as Dorothy, Christopher Stewart as Scarecrow, and Richrd Koch as the Tin Man from the best seat in the house. That cast was like one big happy family.
I'm currently gearing up for tomorrow's premiere of Barksdale's revival of The Odd Couple at the gorgeously renovated Hanover Tavern space. I'm honored to finally be able to work opposite David Bridgewater, who has been a standout performer in the DC/VA theatre scene for years and years. I'm also very grateful to be able to work with my wife, Jennifer Meharg, who brings vivacity to the role of Cecily Pigeon (she looks great in the costume too-- trust me, it's worth the price of admission...)
3) What was your most fun show/role?
That is a very tough question to answer. I always have fun, but each show is 'fun' in different ways. I really enjoy screwball comedies like Scapino!, Rounding Third, Tartuffe, and Where's Charley?... Generally, whatever show I'm working on is the most fun for me. I find that fun people are everywhere in the theatre world-- I count myself lucky to be in constant contact with them.
4) What was your most challenging show/role?
Probably the demands of I AM MY OWN WIFE-- 36 characters all done by one person-- the show was essentially put up in two weeks, and I did much of the 'Homework' of learnign the lines when I was in Gloucester, Massachusetts, working on the new Israel Horovitz play The Secret of Madame Bonnard's Bath. 'Bath' went up with two and a half weeks of rehearsal, followed by a three-week run. Then I jetted back to Richmond and put on a black dress to play a 65-year old german transvestite and her associates. It was one of the most difficult and challenging periods of my artistic life, but I find that it is often that urgency which creates compelling art.
5) What is the most bizarre show or role you've ever done?
I did Ionesco's Bald Soprano for a High School Showcase in my senior year. I really enjoyed the breakdown of language in it. I heard recently that U of Richmond took that play to Moscow with acting standout Sean Hudock opposite Walter Schoen and Dorothy Holland. Boy, I'd love to see that.
6) Has anyone ever written a show for you? Yes. I can't say much more than that. I don't want to jinx anything.
7) Have you ever gotten romantically involved with a co-star? Yes-- we celebrate four years of marriage on July 12th!!
8) Have you ever quit a show to accept a better one? Yes, I have. It really had nothing to do with being a 'better' show-- the facts of life often necessitate taking
jobs with longer runs, taking into account accruals of Equity health insurance weeks, and a whole host of other real-world considerations. Luckily, I haven't burned any bridges, and those times have proven to be learning experiences for me.
9) Have you ever completely blown character on stage? Yes. During a performance of Olympus on my Mind, we all cracked up at something, and it was contagious laughter that made the audience cackle. Luckily, it was the play-within-the-play format, so the audience was laughing at what they thought were the characters' inability to control themselves. Our Stage Manager laid down the law, and that was that.
10) What show are you just dying to do?
I'd really enjoy the opportunity to do Jason Miller's play That Championship Season and play the alcoholic Tom Daley. That's one of my favorite plays. Others I've got in my sights include John Adams in 1776, Ko-Ko in The Mikado (Did it in college, but I could do it much better now) Roche in Ron Hutchinson's Rat in the Skull (a play about IRA terrorism) Mr. Nickles in MacLeish's J.B; I'd also like to do JP Shanley's DOUBT... But the one I'm really chomping at the bit to do is Richard III.
11) Have you ever done one of your "dream" shows?
Yes, Man of La Mancha in High School opposite Elizabeth Banks (The nymphomaniac in 'The Forty-Year Old Vigin') Me and My Girl in college and Bat Boy: The Musical! At Firehouse Theatre Project.
12) Who was your favorite director? Oh, gosh-- well, I love working with Rick St. Peter, Steve Perigard and Ralph Hammann. They have a great balance between too tight/too loose-- they all know what they want, but they create enough space to experiment & play, and they all have a real sense of where a production is as it grows. Communication is always key with them. So is a sense of play & humor. I also loved working with Drew Scott Harris, Bill Patton, Morrie Piersol, Rusty Wilson, Ford Flannagan, David Salter, Susan Sanford, Anthony Luciano, Grant Mudge, Dawn Westbrook, Jan Guarino, Foster Solomon, Bruce Miller, K Strong and many others. The list is loooong. Joe Pabst has done a great job hitting all the comedic beats and telling the story of the 'Odd Couple.' See for yourself.
13) Who was your least favorite director? There are some things we just don't do, and one of them is to directly answer questions like that. Generally, I find that an inability to communicate clearly is detrimental to working well in the theatre. If we can get clear on what we want to do and need to do, and determine the best way to acheive a goal, we will be successful. Some of the worst times I have had have come when a director has simply not been clear with me what he or she needs to see-- and has not really cared to help me get there. I must say, causing an actor to flail about in self-doubt and negativity generated by unclear expectations and nebulously-defined objectives is counter-productive to say it politely. Worst of all, if you remove the creative safety-net for an actor, you stifle his or her creative spontaneity. That's not good. I don't like to be there with that kind of energy. That's all I have to say about that.
14) What is the most surprising role you have ever been offered?
Chicken in Kingdom of Earth. I thought, "this is a Stanley Kowalski type role and I'm built like Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley..." But I thought it worked really well. I loved working with Bill Patton, and his son Will was very encouraging when he came ot see it.
15) Have you ever injured yourself onstage?
Yes, I bruised my ribs in a fall during a saturday matinee of Scapino! I was standing atop one of the huge iron posts during the 'sack scene' (with Jack Parrish muttering 'The sack is too small, dammit,' from inside the burlap bag) and I slipped and the wind got knocked right out of me as the post drove itself into my side. My face went white and somehow I made it through the rest of the scene on sheer adrenaline. They only had to cancel two shows, thankfully, but the real pain came when my buddy Dave Clark called me the next day and made me laugh over the phone. Excrutiatingly painful.
16) Have you ever worked on an original play?
Yes, a few, as a matter of fact. Brimstone, the Irish musical premiered at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in June 1994. I've also done staged readings of the new musicals Silver Dollar, No Way to Treat a Lady, and Calamity. And, of course, 'Bonnard.'
17) What show(s) have you done multiple times?
The SantaLand Diaries, You Can't Take it with You, The Wizard of Oz, Scapino and The Lost Colony outdoor drama.
18) Have you ever done different adaptations of the same show?
No, I never have.
19) What roles do you usually get?
Quirky, comedic clown roles in Musicals & comedies, but I think I'm also really good at taking things the other way. I am very fortunate to get the roles I've been offered, and I really feel that in many ways, I'm entering a new phase of my life. My work should reflect that-- I'd like to do shows that adress things which I would like to talk about.
20) Have you ever had an onstage kiss?
Yes, several. The weirdest ones were when I was doing Bat Boy and The Diary of Anne Frank, respectively-- both of my co-stars were sixteen or seventeen years old. Emma Orelove was still in High school. Paging Chris Hanson from Dateline NBC!!!
21) What was your scariest moment in a show?
When I hurt myself in the Scapino matinee-- at first I thought "Ohh, boy, I did some really serious damage." I couldn't breathe, and for a second, I thought I might die like Moliere, spitting up blood onstage. Funny, Scapino is a re-working of Moliere's Les Fouberies De Scapin or 'The tricks of Scapin'. And luckily , I didn't die!! Yay!!
22) What is your best show memory?
Singing 'Happiness' with the cast of 'You're a good man, Charlie Brown.'
Having Danny Hoch come & see 'Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop.'
Every night of 'The Laramie Project.'
Seeing my family in the fist three rows during 'Oz.' (The musical, not the HBO prison drama.)
Hearing Eleanor Dare's Lullaby & then starting Final March in 'The Lost Colony.'
Having my dad in the crowd to see 'Scapino!'-- the first show he'd seen me in in ten years or so.
Switching roles nightly in 'Rounding Third.'
'If we Shadows...' Hearing Andrew Hamm's music at the end of 'Midsummer' nightly.
23) What is your worst show memory?
Having to quit the 2001 North Carolina run of 'Ella & Her Fella, Frank' because the producer was a sly, conniving fella whose checks were made of rubber. I honestly ended that run with less money than I started with. Luckily I went union later that year-- That period was unquestionably the nadir of my professional life.
24) Have you ever pulled a prank on someone in a show?
During the run of 'Wizard of Oz', I must confess to some light-hearted scampery. Every evening when Dorothy killed the Wicked Witch, Michael Hawke would exclaim: "Hail!! Hail Dorothy!! You are now our Queen!!" And since I was facing upstage, I would point to myself as if to say "Me? I'm the Queen?" Either that or I would pretend to be sick because a woman just melted right in front of me, or I woukd pretend to be afraid of Dorothy for her capacity to take a life, or perplexed by the mob menatlity of the Winkies who celebrated cold-blooded murder; things like that. At times when the Tin man would say "Listen!! It Ticks!! My heart!! It TICKS!!" I would back away from it veeeery slowly, ever so slightly. In many cases, I was giving as good as I got-- Richard Koch kept me in stitches with the stuff he used to mutter to me out of the corner of his tin mouth... "Let's take a caller!!"
25)Have you ever been the recipient of a prank during a show?
Yes, John Dehasse used to mess with me big-time when I worked at Busch Gardens Williamsburg doing the Enchanted Laboratory show. I used to have to go offstage for like a brief moment or two-- John would hide backstage and grab me so I couldn't make my entrance ontime.
26) Do you have any theatrical superstitions? I usually say 'Scottish play' in the theatre. i just do, I don't know why. Probably because of the lore that it has-- it's really a tradition thing, I suppose.
27) Ever had a show open or close too early in its run?
Yes-- the aforemntioned revival of Elaa & her fella, Frank in 2001. I just couldn't do it, and my bowing out essentially pulled the plug on the whole venture. sorry, Herman. No pay, no play. I gotta get that cheddar, Bitch.