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Further Thoughts

Jennifer Dundas and Dan Futterman on their roles in MTC's Further Than the Furthest Thing logo
Dan Futterman and Jennifer Dundas in
Further Than the Furthest Thing
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Opening February 5 at Manhattan Theatre Club, under the direction of Neil Pepe, is a new play by Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris. Further Than the Furthest Thing, set in 1961, concerns some residents of a remote island located in the middle of the Atlantic, somewhere between Capetown and South America. The tale was inspired by the inhabitants of the island of Tristan da Cunha, where the playwright's grandfather, an Anglican priest, had lived. Featured is an ensemble cast of five: Jennifer Dundas, Dan Futterman, Peter Gerety, Robert Hogan, and Jenny Sterlin. Earlier this week, TheaterMania had the opportunity to chat with Dundas and Futterman.

Probably best known for Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, Dundas made her Broadway debut at age eight in Jules Feiffer's Grownups. Her other Main Stem credits include The Little Foxes and Ah, Wilderness! Off-Broadway, she has appeared in Shopping and Fucking, Good as New (for which she won an Obie), and A Winter's Tale. Dundas has turned up frequently on TV. Though she has made a number of movies, she's most often identified as Diane Keaton's lesbian daughter in The First Wives Club.

Famous for having played Robin Williams' son in The Birdcage and Amy Brenneman's brother on the TV series, Judging Amy, Futterman previously appeared at MTC in Dealer's Choice. On Broadway, he succeeded Joe Mantello in Angels in America. His other New York stage credits include A Fair Country, The Lights, and Club Soda, and television viewers have enjoyed him on Sex and the City (as Straight/Gay Guy), Class of '61, and Homicide.


THEATERMANIA: What attracted each of you to Further Than the Furthest Thing?

JENNIFER DUNDAS: The character, of course; but, initially, the language. It's written like poetry but, once you actually hear it, you see they're speaking English.

DAN FUTTERMAN: It's written as if it's in verse.

DUNDAS: There aren't very many periods [in the text]. Each line starts with a capital letter. The play takes place in this world that no one in the audience has ever been exposed to before. You really have to believe that these people are bonded very strongly.

FUTTERMAN: At first, I was kind of turned off by the language, but I got incredibly drawn into the story. There are so many huge events that happen to the people in this play, and I think [Harris] dealt with them honestly and, in some cases, surprisingly.

TM: How would you describe your roles?

FUTTERMAN: I think that Francis is a young man who has great ambition to be an important person, but he doesn't have the social skills to realize what's appropriate and what's not. By the end of the play, he comes to understand things a little more. I think the things that drive him are ambition and pride--to a fault. In some ways, he's the real innocent in the play.

DUNDAS: Rebecca is somebody who, within the circumstances of the play, is a very solid person. I think that she's in love with Francis. She's not interested in the outside world. She's a very strong character, trying to make the best out of some shitty circumstances.

TM: Is it possible for actors to just do stage work? Realistically, do you have any choice but to work in other media as well?

FUTTERMAN: You have to do movies and TV. You have to pay the rent or the mortgage, whatever. But I think I've had more challenging roles in theater.

DUNDAS: I guess if you're Nathan Lane, you can just do theater. But I don't think I know a single actor who does just theater. If they don't do movies and TV--and it's the lucky few who can--they do commercials or voice-overs. A possible exception is Robert Sean Leonard. He does mainly theater.

TM: Dan, did your role in The Birdcage help your career?

FUTTERMAN: Definitely! You become aware of what parts you have access to and what parts you don't--not meaning you're going to be offered them, but it's a possibility. You read something, you think: "I'd love that part." In the creepy way that this business works sometimes, I think I ended up on a few more lists of possible people to get parts because of Birdcage and Judging Amy.

TM: One night at the theater, I happened to be sitting next to Mike Nichols. It was right before he started directing The Birdcage and he said that he wasn't happy with the title, which was then Birds of a Feather. He asked what I thought of the title Screamers.

FUTTERMAN: There were a lot of possible titles. At one point, he was pushing for Strange Barbecue.

Another Futterman/Dundas moment in
Further Than the Furthest Thing
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
TM: Do you folks read your reviews?

DUNDAS: I read them when the run of the play is over. I used to read them [during the run], but I got into some trouble...

TM: Did you shoot a critic?

DUNDAS: Oh, I wish! No, I had trouble performing. When I was in Arcadia, Victor Garber warned me to not read the reviews. But I snuck a look at some of them, and I really regretted it--even reading the good ones.

FUTTERMAN: I say I won't read reviews but, every time, I have a hard time not reading them. I don't think I'm going to for this play, though, and I don't know why.

TM: Which roles have given you the most satisfaction?

FUTTERMAN: Probably--even though I didn't originate the part--Louis in Angels in America. Joe Mantello was so fabulous in it that I stole everything I possibly could from his performance. I loved being in both plays [Millennium Approaches and Perestroika].

DUNDAS: I guess, for me, it was Arcadia, just for the character [of Thomasina]. But also incredibly satisfying was Shopping and Fucking.

FUTTERMAN and TM (simultaneously): The play? [general laughter]

TM: Do either of you have movies coming out soon?

FUTTERMAN: I'm in a picture called Enough with Jennifer Lopez, directed by Michael Apted. It opens Memorial Day.

DUNDAS: I have a small but key part in Changing Lanes, which stars Ben Affleck and Samuel Jackson. And I'm in Swimming, an independent film starring Lauren Ambrose from [the HBO series] Six Feet Under. I'm told it's opening in Boston in March.

TM: Dan, how did you meet your wife?

FUTTERMAN: We met when I did an episode of Homicide. She was one of the writers; her name's Anya Epstein. Eight months later, I called her for a date. We have a daughter, Sylvie Epstein, who was born last spring. She has my wife's name because I don't wish Futterman on anybody. I've been dealing with it my whole life.

TM: Jennifer, you were using a third name for a while.

DUNDAS: When I was married. That was a huge debacle, but it's over now. I'm back to my normal self!

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