John Glover
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
John Glover
(© Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
A few days into rehearsal for his role as prestigious Broadway director Martin Kerner in Primary Stages' production of Jonathan Tolins' new play, Secrets of the Trade, which begins performances on Tuesday, July 27 at 59E59 Theatres, Tony Award winner John Glover was having what might be termed acting flashbacks.

It seemed that things he had learned about opera great Maria Callas for his recent role as Mendy in Terrence McNally's The Lisbon Traviata at the Kennedy Center, were bubbling to the surface. "It's interesting how one role can affect you," he notes. "Marty Kerner talks a lot about being an artist, and she was the ultimate artist. Her dedication to her art before she met Onassis was nun-like. She was 'Vissi d'Arte, I live for art.'"

The same might be said of Glover, who's been bouncing from one well-received play to another -- most notably the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Waiting for Godot and the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Royal Family -- since Lionel Luthor, his evildoing character on the long-running CW series Smallville, became a patricidal victim two years ago. It was actually during the Writers Guild strike in 2008, which shut down production of that series, that Glover first became involved with this play back in Los Angeles.

Director Matt Shakman, a former child actor, had played Glover's son in a movie called Meet the Hollowheads, so Shakman decided to ask him to take part in the production at the 30-seat Black Dahlia Theatre, where he is the artistic director. After a successful engagement, they've reunited for this Off-Broadway run, along with previous cast members Amy Aquino and Bill Brochtrup and new castmates Mark Nelson and Noah Robbins.

Bill Brochtrup, John Glover, Noah Robbins, Amy Aquino, and Mark Nelson
(© Tristan Fuge)
Bill Brochtrup, John Glover, Noah Robbins, Amy Aquino, and Mark Nelson
(© Tristan Fuge)
Robbins, who starred in the recent Broadway revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs, plays the impressionable Andrew Lipman, a star-struck 16-year-old with theatrical ambitions who makes contact with Kerner when he writes him a fan letter in 1980. His charming but combustible idol responds two years later and becomes the young man's mentor for the next eight years, as their relationship does a 180-flip from supportive and companionable to strained and turbulent.

Beyond professionally encouraging Andy (whose enterprising ideas include a Marxist version of The Pajama Game), Kerner also helps the young man come out to his family and himself.

"He wants the kid to look at the truth about things because the choices that you make in your life are mirrored in the choices you make in your art," says Glover. "That's what he's after the kid to do, so his work can be better and truer and more honest and touch people. And mean something."

Glover, who frequently returns to his alma mater Towson University to work with students there, counts the legendary Harold Prince among his mentors. The director cast him in a Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Great God Brown in 1972, when Glover was still in his 20s. "I was over the moon about it," he says, the enthusiasm still registering in his voice. "Hal fucking Prince! It was amazing. But as I'm reading about him, I see that he was always mentoring young talent."

That knowledge has helped to steer Glover as he works on his portrayal of the frequently explosive Kerner. "It's a tricky role," he says. "When I read it the first time what I saw was a kind of a monster, and then as I'm working on it more and more I see no, no, no ... the man is striving to be as good as he possibly can. I've been doing a lot of reading about men like that: Harold Clurman and Hal Prince and Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse. They've always been striving to be the best kind of artist that they can be with the challenges of what it takes to make theater happen in New York -- where the biggest challenge is money. But they're not about money, they're not about fame. They are trying to succeed at being artists."