"I'm at the beginning of jumping into the pool without a life preserver." That's how Tony nominee and MCC co-artistic director Robert LuPone described the experience of returning to the stage after almost 15 years. "I'll let you know if I swim," he continued, with a wry laugh.

The multi-hyphenate theater artist, who was last seen on Broadway in the 2001 revival of A Thousand Clowns, will soon begin performances at the off-Broadway theater complex 59E59 in Dan McCormick's The Violin. The work follows two hapless brothers and an elderly tailor who find a priceless Stradivarius in the back of a taxicab. But it was director Joseph Discher who convinced LuPone to sign onto the project.

"I've been in discussions with him about the play and about the fact that I haven't been onstage since 2003," said LuPone, "and he was willing to take the chance, so here we are."

Robert LuPone will return to the stage in 59E59.
Robert LuPone will return to the stage in 59E59.
(© David Gordon)

What's unique about this project?
The demands of this play scared me, and that's why I decided to do it. I'm happily married; I work at MCC; I have a pension; life is good. But of late, within the last six months to a year, I've been feeling the urge to get back onstage. And the reason I took this play is because the demands of the amount of work the play would entail in terms of language and lines, it scared me. There's some real meat to this play, and I wanted to go after it; I wanted to try it. I wanted to see what chops I've got left.

What was the pull that made you want to get back onstage?
It wasn't showbiz — I can tell you that. It wasn't the idea of a career. I wish I could give you a concrete answer, but none of that was of interest to me. It was just something about the call of the wild. Something about the call to the stage, the call to the boards. This could all be an utter failure and end of story — who knows? But it was something about that call. I heard the call again.

So tell me about the character that you're playing.
It was a lot to chew on in this role. It's a kind of rich Italian opera. I play an Italian tailor. The emotional stakes interested me. It's like an operatic, Avenue A drama with lots of big emotions, lots of big gestures, lots of histrionics — and hopefully meaning. I like feeling dwarfed by this play.

How are rehearsals going?
All three of us actors, we're like nose to the grindstone to try to pump this thing out, because it's gargantuan, the amount of words that we're trying to put together in three weeks. It's just too much too fast, and it should have another week of rehearsal at least. To everybody's credit, there's nothing but the utmost professionalism and care.

As a co-artistic director, can you speak to me about what the relationship is between the different off-Broadway theaters?
The thing that we all relate to is the duress, because we don't have enough real estate, we don't have enough money, don't have enough audience, and we don't have enough marketing dollars. I mean, the list is endless. And I think that we all know the circumstances and yet we still decide to take it on. And with those obstacles we still make, I think, pretty cool theater off-Broadway. Life's short and we've got a lot of problems in this world, and so I think it's important that what the theater does best is educate and make an audience reflect upon themselves and the society that they live in.

New York is a tough place — it's very competitive, and if you can survive in New York as an actor, you've earned your stripes. There are a lot of people that come and go, and there's a few people that stick. The ones that stick really understand what it is to do theater in New York and what it is to be in a community that creates theater.

If we were to get you back on Broadway, what kind of project would you be looking for?
That's a really good question. You know, I haven't thought about that. As far as I'm concerned, my acting career is ending with this role. [laughs] So I wasn't thinking about a future beyond this role. Well, obviously, if a play came my way that I could really do well and meant something to me, then I would certainly be interested in that.

Listen, I'm approachable, let's put it that way. I'm approachable for anybody that wants to talk to me about giving me a job to go back on Broadway.

Robert LuPone in a scene from The Violin.
Robert LuPone in a scene from The Violin.
(© Carol Rosegg)