Liev Schreiber on Mamet and Shakespeare. Plus: Everything you always wanted to know about Amanda Wingfield but were afraid to ask.
Like many of his older castmates in the upcoming revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, Liev Schreiber saw the original 1984 Broadway production of David Mamet's brutal play about a group of cutthroat real estate salesman, and it left an indelible impression on the then-high school student. "It was my first Broadway show and I loved every minute of it," says Schreiber. "I especially remember Joe Mantegna's tremendous performance as Ricky Roma, which is the part I'm now playing. It's going to take a lot for me to shed his ghost."
But the play wasn't the only thing that made the experience so special. "I think another reason the show stands out is that I went to see it with my dad [actor Tell Schreiber] at a time in my life when we were just beginning to have a relationship after not growing up together." (Schreiber's parents divorced when he was five, and he moved from Canada to New York with his mother.) "I think he also took me to see 'night, Mother that season."
Having made his theatrical mark playing Shakespearean roles -- most notably Cymbeline, Hamlet, Iago, and Henry V, all for The Public Theater -- does Schreiber find saying Mamet's words a quantum leap? "I think they're more similar than people might initially imagine," he says. "Shakespeare and Mamet are both very language-specific, rhythm-specific playwrights, and they both write characters who jump right into the action. It's like you catch them mid-thought."
Glengarry's rehearsal period will be especially hectic for Schreiber, since he is putting the finishing touches on his film version of Jonathan Safran Foer's critically praised novel Everything Is Illuminated. The movie, which Schreiber directed and co-wrote, stars Elijah Wood as a young Jewish man trying to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. "I really can't wait for this film to walk," Schreiber tells me. So, is he ready to direct another film, or even a play? "I think that's like asking a woman in the middle of her Caesarean section if she wants to have another baby," he replies. "Right now, I'm really just looking forward to having a single focus on acting."
Meanwhile, the talented Frederick Weller -- who co-stars as Glengarry's John Williamson -- is hoping to move from Mamet to Edward Albee later this year. Weller starred in the 2004 Hartford Stage production of Albee's Peter and Jerry, which consists of the famed author's classic one-act The Zoo Story and its newly written prequel Homelife, and there has been some talk about a fall Off-Broadway production. But it seems that Weller may have some competition for his role. "Edward recently asked me about my schedule, so I told him that this show closes on August 29 and then asked him if he had a job for me after that," Weller relates. "Edward turned and pointed to David Harbour, who was nearby, and said, 'It depends on how he behaves.' [Harbour plays Nick in the new Broadway production of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?] No matter who does it, I believe the show deserves to be seen in New York."
Perhaps the master playwright will tell all on April 3 when he appears in the Cherry Lane Theater's Spring Gala: A Salute to 80 Years. The event's honorees include three of the theater's mentor playwrights, A.R. Gurney, Marsha Norman, and Michael Weller, and it will also feature an excerpt from the Cherry Lane's upcoming production of Slag Heap.
The theater craze for biodrama continues apace! Tony Award winner Jane Alexander is currently playing writer Djuna Barnes in What of the Night at the Lucille Lortel. Next month, actress Rosanne Ma takes on the role of film star Anna May Wong in Pan Asian Rep's China Doll; and Kara Wilson portrays famed artist Tamara de Lempicka in Deco Diva, which opens the three-month-long Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters.
KEEPING IN CHARACTER
Those who'd like to compare Jessica Lange's portrayal of Amanda Wingfield in the current Broadway production of Tennessee Williams's classic drama The Glass Menagerie with the work of some of her celebrated predecessors in the role will have an opportunity to do so next month. On April 6, PBS debuts its new monthly series Character Studies, in which each 30-minute episode focuses on the history of a single theatrical character. The opener features performance footage of notable Amandas Katharine Hepburn and Steppenwolf actress Molly Regan, as well as interviews with ex-Menagerians Julie Harris, Olympia Dukakis, Ruby Dee, Sam Waterston, James Naughton, Martha Plimpton, and Eric Stoltz (who is also one of the series' co-hosts).
Hosting that first episode is the legendary Eli Wallach, who is uniquely qualified for the job. "I saw Laurette Taylor in the original production six times," he confides, adding that he snuck into some of those performances by carrying an old program. "I was also friends with Tennessee for many years. Between my wife, Anne Jackson, and I, we did six of his plays on Broadway -- and I starred in the first movie he ever wrote, Baby Doll. We're still doing his work: Anne and I are reading two of his very early plays, which have never been produced, at Food for Thought at the National Arts Club on May 9."
Character Studies will continue this spring with episodes on Gypsy's Mama Rose -- featuring interviews with Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley, and Tyne Daly -- and an examination Lena Younger from A Raisin in the Sun. Series creator Tony Vellela is also hoping to examine more contemporary characters, such as Mark from Rent and Heidi from The Heidi Chronicles, in future episodes. But there's one show he doesn't plan to examine, no matter how long the series runs. "Eric [Stoltz] suggested we do one of the characters from Cats," he says, laughing. "I told him he could host and produce that one if he wanted."
Kathleen Chalfant (who will star in the upcoming Berkeley Rep production of Honour) and playwright pal Sybille Pearson, sitting ringside at Joe's Pub for Billy Porter's moving solo show Ghetto Superstar...Dessa Rose star Norm Lewis, who will be taking to the Joe's Pub stage on May 9 for a special benefit concert, dashing into Tower Records...Neil Patrick Harris, who wowed the audience at Wall to Wall Sondheim with his version of "Finishing the Hat," joining a standing ovation for All Shook Up...André De Shields, who opens next month in the Classical Theater of Harlem's mounting of Caligula, at the 92nd Street Y's "Lyrics & Lyricists" salute to Dorothy Fields.