Dan Bucatinsky, of Scandal and The Comeback, Reconnects With Stage Roots in Quack
The Emmy winner stars in a new play by Eliza Clark at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
A recognizable face on television, Bucatinsky has an Emmy for his work as James Novack on Scandal, with a wide-ranging résumé that includes appearances on Will & Grace (original and reboot) and 24: Legacy. With Is or Isn't Entertainment, his production company founded with Lisa Kudrow, he has helped cocreate shows like The Comeback, Who Do You Think You Are?, and Web Therapy. He's written episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Cybill, and several other shows.
In Eliza Clark's Quack, directed by Neel Keller at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, he plays Dr. Irving Baer, a popular daytime talk show host whose career — and marriage — falls into peril when a takedown article goes viral.
Bucatinsky is getting fully into the spirit of this new play. He's helped launch an in-character Twitter account for the production, with videos and gifs of Dr. Baer in action. He's also eager to discuss this "paradoxical" dark comedy, which is responsible for bringing him back to the stage for the first time in…"Uh, a while."
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You're primarily known for your work as an actor, writer, and producer for television and film, so tell me about your theater background. When was the last time you did a play?
I had written a play that I performed back in 1999, and I adapted it into the movie All Over the Guy. That was the last play I performed in a theater environment that was commercial, and it got me knee-deep in television for a decade.
I've done a few readings over the years. I was involved with a staged reading of The Normal Heart that Joel Grey directed. It was a benefit for the Gay and Lesbian Center, with me and Lisa Kudrow and Tate Donovan and Jon Tenney, and it began the process for Joel to bring that production to Broadway.
What was it about Quack that brought you back to theater?
It was so smart and funny and well written. I was dazzled by the verbal and intellectual comedic banter, and I found rhythms in the character that I felt organically attracted to.
It's set in a world of a daytime, five-day-a-week talk show, with fun diets and shakes and acai berries, and then it sort of succumbs to a dark place. It's about, and this is a quote from the play, "the irresponsibility of influence" and asks the question "Where does responsibility lie?" Does it lie in the viewer or in the doctor on television? That gets posited to every audience member. What this play as a whole says about the power of social media and the media in general, as well as the ability for people to become famous and gain popularity, and how quickly one loses it, is relevant on so many levels.
Since you wear so many hats, as a writer, do you scrutinize the projects that come across your desk in ways that you think you wouldn't if you were solely an actor?
I do the same on both sides. I scrutinize things I'm sent by other writers to produce, or writers who I'm working with, from the point of view of the actor. That's something that Lisa and I, in our company, do a lot of.
As an actor, you want to read stuff that will speak to you. It's much more focused and the criteria has more to do with understanding the character. In this case, I wanted the role to stretch me, and it does.
That said, if you were to ask Neel and Eliza, I probably had a very hard time keeping the other hats off during this process. I'm not proud of that, but they were very collaborative.
What was the hardest part of this process?
The sheer volume of dialogue to learn was probably the most daunting of anything. When I got this play and saw the 120 pages to learn, I called upon Jeff Perry, who played my husband on Scandal, for a lot of advice. There's a technique in memorization that he and Allison Janney both told me about. I take a yellow legal pad, and scene after scene I write the first letter of every word that is said by my character, with punctuation. If it's "He's," you do a capital H with an apostrophe and that's it. It took weeks. But what happens is, if you only use the yellow legal pad as the thing to jog your memory, there is something about the cue of the letter that makes your brain extract the sentence. Over time, it became a huge aid to me learning the show.
For television, you memorize in such a different way. It's a different part of your brain. When you leave for the day, you can forget it forever. This is so cellular. It just has to come out of you like it's a natural thought.