From films like My Cousin Vinny to Meet the Parents and TV shows running the gamut from Seinfeld (as the DA who gets the gang thrown in jail) to Homeland (as Carrie Matheson's father), James Rebhorn has proved himself one of his generation's most indispensable character actors. On stage, he's a mainstay at Roundabout Theatre Company, appearing on Broadway in Twelve Angry Men and Prelude to a Kiss, and off-Broadway in The Overwhelming.
Now, he's working in their Black Box Theatre, in Meghan Kennedy's Too Much, Too Much, Too Many, part of the Roundabout Underground program. Rebhorn plays James, a father stricken with Alzheimer's Disease, an illness with which Rebhorn himself has more than a passing familiarity. TheaterMania chatted with the actor, who shared his thoughts on why this new drama is a truly special piece of theater.
How did you come to be a part of Too Much, Too Much, Too Many?
I have been involved with the Roundabout for over a decade. Every once in a while, they'd give me a call to participate in a reading or offer me a show. Four months ago, they called and asked if I'd be interested in doing a reading…I said "Let me read the play." I liked it very much. I did a reading for the in-house staff at the Roundabout, and based on that they decided to find a slot for it down at the Underground. They asked me if I'd like to do it and I said yes.
Is this your first time working in that space?
Yeah. I'm glad I'm not any taller. [laughs] It's a very intimate, little space. Everybody is so much in there together on each other's laps. It takes you back to your days in college theater performing in a black box.
What attracted you to the play and your character?
There were many things. I found it very moving and affirming, in its own quiet way. I was attracted to the story of these women. I have two children who are daughters, so female issues have always registered high on my scale of awareness. Throw a pastor into the mix…I happen to be a very religious person. I take my faith quite seriously, so the issue of faith and where that takes you in the face of inexplicable sadness is an intriguing journey. Additionally, my mother died of Alzheimer's. So the character of James had an instant hook for me.
I was going to ask if you had some connection to your character in that way — you can tell from your performance.
I do mean this — I had the good fortune of being around a number of Alzheimer's patients in the last three years of my mother's life. She was in a care facility that was devoted to just people with memory-loss issues. I found those people engaging and generous in ways that I had not imagined. Struggling to hold on in ways I could not imagine was possible. It was very sad, but it was a privilege to be welcomed among them.
That the playwright presents these issues with such care and maturity is what impressed me most.
It's amazing, isn't it? What, she's like ten years old, the playwright? [laughs] That's the other thing that attracted me: I wanted to get on this young lady's coattails. She has an emotional maturity and understanding of the world I'm struggling to grasp myself. She has a depth of understanding that is breathtaking. [This is] a terrific group to work with. Sheryl Kaller is an outstanding director. The actors are all just wonderful. Clearly, I'm pretty much working with just [actress] Rebecca [Henderson], although the dance at the end of the play with Phyllis [Somerville] is the moment I look forward to every night, I must say.
Had you worked with Phyllis before?
Phyllis and I have known each other for years. We did a two-character one-act at the Marathon [Theater in Florida] one time where we were sort of romantically involved, so it's a nice re-do for us. My wife, she's now a school psychologist, [and I] met when she was a stage manager and had worked with Phyllis at the Peterborough Players.
Switching gears slightly, I know this season of Homeland has been polarizing to viewers, but as one of the cast members, I'm curious what you think so far.
I'm gonna be biased on this. I think it's a terrific show. I was a little nervous with the first episode, to tell you the truth. I know it garnered some good reviews but I didn't quite get it. The last four episodes have been really strong. [This season] raises so many questions that I think are gonna be unanswered. I'm in the last episode briefly, as well, so I have some idea of where these things end up.
I'm not going to share with you. [laughs]
Well, I tried.
[Laughs] It's a good show.