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Richard Kind Takes On Stoppard in Sag Harbor

The Tony nominee looks forward to challenging the Long Island community with Tom Stoppard's stream of consciousness in Bay Street Theatre's Travesties.

Richard Kind
(© David Gordon)

The East End of Long Island may be popular for its beaches and golf courses, but if Richard Kind has anything to say about it, it will also be known for compelling theater. The star of stage (The Big Knife, The Producers) and screen (Mad About You, Spin City) leads the cast of Bay Street Theatre's production of Tom Stoppard's Travesties. Set in 1917 and 1974 in Zurich, the Tony Award-winning play imagines British consul Henry Carr (Kind) and the experiences he had with famous figures from the 20th century, including author James Joyce, founder of the Dada movement Tristan Tzara, and Communist leader Vladimir Lenin. The memories of Carr's experiences with these monumental men unfold through the lens of an amateur production of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest. Kind is no stranger to Bay Street, where as a board member and actor in previous productions he has successfully persuaded Sag Harbor vacationers to swap their barbecues for captivating dramatics. He spoke with TheaterMania about why it's important for theatergoers to challenge themselves, what it's like memorizing Stoppard's lines, and why it doesn't matter if people know his name.

What do you think of when a Stoppard play comes to mind?

Stoppard's a funny guy. He's actually ha-ha-ha funny, and intellectually brilliant at the same time. He does not pander to his audience. With Travesties you've really got to concentrate. I can't help but wonder what it will take [this summer] for somebody to put down their chicken skewer and their margarita and leave the campfire and say, "Yeah, let's go see a play!" And with this play, you've really got to pay attention. You don't have to know anything about history to enjoy it. Those who do know about it will have an easier time, and those who don't, they learn something. Wouldn't that be amazing if people went out and learned something?

Because you're on the board at Bay Street, how much input did you have when it came to choosing Travesties for a mainstage production this summer?

I told [Artistic Director] Scott Schwartz, "You're trying to change the image of the theater, and trying to give this community a challenge. It is one of the great plays of the 20th century. I don't know whether it is a play for a beach community, but if you're going to do it, I'd like to throw my name in the ring." He took me up on it! I hate to say it, but be careful what you wish for! Stoppard's prose is the toughest thing I've memorized in my entire life. It's dense and hard. It's written in this stream of consciousness, and trying to memorize that is the toughest.

You starred in Bay Street's Romance, Rough Crossing, and The Lady in Question, among others. What is it about performing there that most appeals to you?

The theater and the mission statement are great. As for Henry Carr in a Stoppard play: When are they going to ask a Jew from New York to play an Englishman in a great English comedy? It doesn't happen, so you take advantage of it. I'm not one to just sit on my butt and vacation. So you play golf and you go do a play. I love theater.

You have had so many experiences in all genres of entertainment. When will we get to read your memoir?

You know, I think about it. Honestly, everybody's got their stories to tell. I'm nobody special. They're fun around the table at [theater-district restaurants] Joe Allen's or Angus, but in book form I have a feeling they're not so great, no matter how much I love telling them around the table.

What is your favorite anecdote from your varied career to have people throw at you?

"I don't want anyone to know my name. I just want people to love me." That's really not correct, though. It should be, "People don't need to know my name; they should just have some sort of appreciation for what I do." As an actor I want to get feedback. A mirror or a canvas won't do it. The only way to do it is to reflect, a symbiotic reaction. It's not that I want them to love me — I want them to watch me! That being said, I know I'm not a Nathan Lane or a Bebe Neuwirth name, but I hope that people do come in for Travesties. No matter how befuddled they may be, they should know that what they're watching is funny. It's very large. There are no subtle choices.

Richard Kind as British consul Henry Carr in Tom Stoppard's Travesties, directed by Gregory Boyd, at Long Island's Bay Street Theatre.
(© Jerry LaMonica)