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Quick Wit: Will Lebow

Bobbie Steinbach goes Full Circle with the A.R.T. actor. logo
Will Lebow
A veteran of numerous roles at American Repertory Theatre, including an unforgettable as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Will Lebow most recently held audiences rapt with his performance as Heiner Muller in Charles Mee's Full Circle. Other critically acclaimed roles as a member of the company include Borkin in Ivanov, Karl in The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Tiresias in The Bacchae, Captain Hook in Peter Pan and Wendy, the title role of The Imaginary Invalid, Hjalmar Ekdal in The Wild Duck, and Shlemiel in Shlemiel the First. An incredibly versitile actor, Lebow is also well known to regional audiences for his countless performances in all the male roles in the long-running Shear Madness. If you were allowed only six things on a desert island, what would you take? A tape of Donald Fagan's Night Fly, an electric piano, my favorite pair of jeans, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind, my girlfriend, and a young Sophia Loren. Speaking of pianos, I know you play. What kind of music? I play mostly blues, ragtime, boogie woogie, and classical. I used to play at weddings as a teenager. I actually played piano in two shows at A.R.T. this season, Ivanov and We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!, in which Tommy Derrah and I did a pre-show nightclub act. What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was twelve I wanted to be an economist or a lawyer. What happened? I found out what it entailed. Also, the '60s happened. I was class of 1970 in college, and was right there when flower power struck. I was always interested in theater and it seemed like a fun thing to do. Also, theater was in my family: my grandfather Morris Lebow, who died before I was born, was an actor in the Yiddish theater. He never made it to the big time on the Lower East Side. He was in Williamsburg, the Off-Broadway of Yiddish theater. I heard about him all the time from my father, who also let me know that acting was not a profession where you could have a life and raise a family. Who's your hero? Alvin Epstein. He's a working actor at A.R.T. who's well into his 70s. He's strong, fit and has been doing worthwhile work for a long time. And he has fun doing it.
You just finished doing Full Circle at A.R.T. Describe your character for us. I'm playing the role of Heiner Muller, the real-life director of the Berliner Ensemble Theatre. Muller was a famous playwright and director, and very popular in Germany. He succeeded Bertolt Brecht. Full Circle is Charles Mee's adaptation of the many versions of the Chalk Circle fable, which dates back to 9th Century China. Mee's setting is East Germany, 1989, at the fall of the Berlin Wall. Muller was extremely intense and committed. He was able to tread a fine line to keep the Ensemble going even throughout the oppressive years in East Berlin--in real life and in the play. He was able to placate people in power while being provocative in the theater. How did you research your role? I had access to Muller's essays and plays, and did a fair amount of research. One story seemed life-defining to me: he was asked in a famous interview what his first memory was. His reply certainly showed me how sick and pathological the character could be. He remembered standing in his bedroom as a young boy, and through a crack in the door watching his father being beaten in front of his mother. He watched for a while, then went back to bed. You do an amazing 20-minute monologue lying mostly in a fetal position in a little box. How do you come down after the intensity of the role? The impact of the monologue and the last scene actually feels like completion to me. I feel satisfied at the end of the night. Worn out, but in a good way. Any role you'd like to play? The Thane from the Scottish play. I've played all around it--MacDuff and, in the old Boston Shakespeare Company's production, the Narrator. I wore all black and narrated. I called myself "neutral man." If you could eat only one thing, what would it be? Shrimp. Do you prefer a movie or a book? Movie. Boxers or briefs? A combination. Beer or champagne? Beer.

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