Who says you can't go home again? Peter Riegert is revisiting David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, the landmark play in which he originally starred as Danny 30 years ago, as the director of a revival at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. And he's decided that the piece has lost none of its relevance in the ensuing years. "In the sense that David was really exploring the idea of nature versus intellect, I think nothing has changed," says Riegert.
Best known for such films as Crossing Delancey and the TV version of Gypsy, Riegert has obviously had plenty of time to think about how to approach the piece. "The thing about the play is that if it's done badly, it just sounds like people talking badly," he remarks. "But if it's done well, you realize the perversity isn't the sex, but their behavior. What I really love about Mamet is that his ideas aren't always articulated by the most self-aware people; he often puts the wisest words into the mouths of the least attractive characters."
As Riegert readily admits, the play shocked many audience members back at the Cherry Lane: "Some people got up and left, but a lot of others watched the whole show and then asked for their money back. I am fascinated to find out if that will happen again. I don't think we're going to shock anybody today with the four-letter words like we did then, but we may still shock them with the characters' behavior. The big difference is that, in 1976, there was no cable or Internet, so people's exposure to bad language and pornography was somewhat limited. Now, everything we once thought was forbidden is available to any 12-year-old."
He also notes that something else has changed since the '70s -- namely, actors' salaries. "I was in heaven back then, making my $110 a week," Riegert laughs. "Of course, in those days, it was enough to pay my rent."
The concept of home runs through Richard Greenberg's new play The Well-Appointed Room. That proved to be an eerie coincidence for Josh Charles, who's starring in the world premiere production at Steppenwolf. "As I was reading the script and meeting with the director, Terry Kinney, I kept seeing all these references to leaks and furniture and Bosch appliances," says Charles. "At the same time, I was dealing with these things for the first time, having just bought an apartment in New York. A couple of months before, I wouldn't have known about any of that stuff; but now, words like 'original brick' and 'crown moldings' mean something to me."
With a new mortgage to handle, he allows that it might have been financially wiser for him to pursue some movie offers rather than take a low-paying theater job. "But I wanted to have this experience, to work with Richard and Terry and Steppenwolf," says Charles, who was last seen on stage as part of the Drama Desk Award-winning ensemble of The Distance from Here. "Richard is such an incredible writer, and he's a really funny guy," he adds. "And I can't say enough good things about Terry. He's so collaborative and supportive; I know he will make me a better actor. There will be another time for me to go and make money."
The play deals with two separate couples who live in the same house at different times. Charles plays one of the residents, Mark, who also serves as the work's narrator. "Mark is an incredible optimist," the actor comments. "He's one of those people who are always in the moment and have this incredible well of happiness to dip into. That's a challenge for me. There are a lot of people like that in the world, but I know the other side -- the darker side."
THE GOLD STANDARD
Anyone who has ever seen the Emmy Award-winning comic Judy Gold do her stuff knows how much she talks about motherhood -- both her own mom and her life as the mother of two kids. Now, Gold and playwright Kate Moira Ryan have collaborated on 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, her new solo show, set to open later this month at Ars Nova. "One day at a book party," Gold relates, "I was telling Kate this story about how once, after I went on The Tonight Show, I got all these complaints about my promoting the stereotype of a Jewish mother. And that led us to the idea of finding out if there really was a stereotype."
The next step for the pair was serious, honest-to-goodness research. "For five years," says Gold, "we interviewed every type of Jewish mother you can think of. We asked questions like what was the best piece of advice they ever gave, what they thought the difference was between Jewish mothers and non-Jewish mothers, what they would have done if they hadn't had children. One woman said she'd have gone to Nashville to become a country-and-western singer. A Jewish country-and-western singer? Can you imagine anything more miserable?"
Gold is also looking forward to working in a real theater rather than a comedy club. "The fact that there will be no blender in the background is going to be a big plus," she says. "And the people won't be yelling at me while I'm trying to do my job. You just get to tell your story, and the audience is there to really listen to it."
Rick Lyon and Tonya Dixon began 2006 in a very special way. The co-stars of the Las Vegas production of Avenue Q got married on January 1 at the show's glamorous home, the Wynn Las Vegas. (Did you think they would choose the Elvis Presley chapel instead?)
They met last year while working together on the production. Lyon, a member of the show's original cast and creative team, plays the roles of Trekkie Monster and Nicky; Dixon-Lyon, as she is now known, is one of two actresses who play former sitcom star Gary Coleman. (She cleans up very nicely, doesn't she?) All of us at TheaterMania wish the couple many years of wedded bliss.
WHAT AM I BID?
Fans of the TV show Alias got double their pleasure at the first annual New York Times Auction for the Arts on Thursday, when both Ron Rifkin (who plays evil genius Arvin Sloane) and his pal Joel Grey (who briefly played a man who thought he was Sloane) came to Christie's to show their support. Also on hand were the great Lynn Redgrave (off to L.A. next week for The Importance of Being Earnest), opera diva Renée Fleming, actress Marilyn Sokol, and the multitalented Hazelle Goodman (who will be doing a new show at HERE on January 10). The auction raised more than $80,000 for The Actors' Fund of America -- in part thanks to a $22,500 bid for a walk-on role in Rent, a $16,000 bid for a voice lesson with Tony Award winner Barbara Cook, and a $1,700 bid for one of Grey's photographs.