Last to enter from the rehearsal room is actor-director Roger Rees, who took home a Tony almost 20 years ago for his Broadway debut in Nicholas Nickleby. Although Rees has never worked with Sir Derek before, Murray starred in Rees' New York directorial debut (Mud, River, Stone at Playwrights Horizons). Rees knew Laura Linney (Yelena) through friends, and Rita Gam (Maria Vasilyevna) threw him a welcome party when he first came with Nickleby. Today, sporting a vaguely Stalinesque mustache for his role of Dr. Astrov, Rees makes a curiously contemporary fashion statement by mirroring the latest facial hair fad (think Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson). Clad in traditional rehearsal jeans and carrying a large take-out container of carrot juice, he's relaxed and ready to chat.
With Vanya, Rees becomes the first person to direct (Shaw's Arms and the Man) and then immediately co-star at the Roundabout during the same season. That kind of thing does happen all the time Off-Broadway, in regional theater, and in England, so Rees finds nothing unusual about it. "I acted and directed quite a bit in Bristol [he was the associate artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic, 1984-86]. And, last summer at Williamstown, I directed The Taming of the Shrew and played Petruchio opposite Bebe Neuwirth," he notes. "I think it's just a continuation of that old Victorian concept of the actor/manager."
Rees attended art school in lieu of university. "Then my father died, and I began painting scenery at Wimbledon Rep," he relates. "It was within the sound of the tennis courts and it was run by Arthur Lane, one of the last of those great, old actor-managers. At some point, they needed an actor--and there I was." He doesn't like to discuss his preparation for a character, perhaps because he didn't train formally. When asked for his take on Astrov, he replies, "He's a doctor in Russia in 1900 who plants trees. We're doing this play, so I'll just be doing what Astrov does. I know some actors will say, 'Oh, he's dying of cancer,' or something like that. But I really don't think that way. I just learn the lines and I don't think much about what happens in the wings.
"For me, theater's a bit like a soccer game," Rees continues. "There are 22 people on the pitch [the playing field], and the permutations are infinite. I mean, by definition, if you're playing Hamlet, you're known by the cuts you make. Well, on stage [in Uncle Vanya], it'll be me playing these lines. Michael's a wonderful director. And rehearsal is, after all, when you find out what the play is about and who your character is. Of course, Vanya has only three weeks of rehearsal, which is rather short for Chekhov. I've done The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters before, but I've never even seen Vanya.