Mr. Warren's Profession
Director David Warren talks with Brian Scott Lipton about his past successes and his latest project: Matt & Ben at P.S. 122.
Yet Warren has spent much of this summer in the unprepossessing East Village space that is P.S. 122, directing Matt & Ben. The 2002 Fringe Festival hit, in which writer/actresses Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers star as Messrs. Damon and Affleck, purports to tell the story of how the starry pair really came up with their Oscar-winning screenplay of Good Will Hunting.
"I'm just David from the block, keeping it real," Warren says, with a laugh, of his downtown foray. Actually, Warren has a deeply sentimental attachment to P.S. 122: "One of my first friends in New York was [performance artist] Tim Miller, who co-founded this space," he explains. "The place was important to me when I first started being interested in theater, about 20 years ago. Plus you can't let something like venue, or money, shape your career. That's dangerous. You do shows because you're fond of them, and this show feels exactly right to me right now."
Not that Matt & Ben felt right to him when he was originally approached. "One of the producers, Steven Pevner, and I are working on another project, and he asked if I wanted to do this," Warren relates. "At first, I said no; even though the show had some buzz last year, I knew very little about it. But when Steven told me it was two girls playing Matt and Ben, I said, 'Send it over.' After all these years, I know that if I really respond to a script it will be quickly. Two pages into it, I was laughing. Then I met the girls, who are so great and so funny, and I knew this could be nothing but fun."
Warren relishes his reputation as an actor's director. He has guided Reg Rogers to both a Tony nomination (for Holiday) and an OBIE (for The Dazzle). He also escorted Martha Plimpton to an OBIE (for Hobson's Choice) and his direction has helped earn raves for such performers as Laura Linney, Patricia Clarkson, Betty Buckley, and Julie White. "As my career has developed, I've developed a deeper reverence and understanding for actors," says Warren. "I love working with them and I think I am good at helping them do their best."
He has never worked with Affleck or Damon, let alone met them, but Warren isn't worried if they should decide to drop in to see the show they have inspired. "I can't imagine that Matt and Ben would have anything but delight in seeing this play," says Warren. "Let's face it: They're rich, handsome, and talented. They basically own the candy store, so they should be able to laugh at themselves a little. And, while the play is somewhat satiric, in the end it's also somewhat admiring of them. I want to stress that this isn't a mean piece; 'mean' is so uninteresting to me. It's wicked, but not mean!"
The show's schedule -- it began performances on July 28 and will run through September 6 -- had to be tinkered with so that Warren could begin rehearsals of that aforementioned other project: the musical Harmony. Written by pop legend Barry Manilow and frequent collaborator Bruce Sussman, Harmony tells the story of The Comedian Harmonists, a German sextet of singer/musicians who were huge stars in the 1920s but who eventually ran afoul of the Nazi regime because the group included both Gentiles and Jews. The show will play Philadelphia's Forrest Theatre beginning November 25 and may hit Broadway this season. It's a dream that has been long deferred: The musical's original out-of-town tryout, also directed by Warren, was at the La Jolla Playhouse in the fall of 1997. Numerous rewrites, the failure of another show on the same subject (Band in Berlin), and a lack of appropriate venue have been among the reasons for the delay.
Warren has no idea what's next on his horizon after Harmony, but if his pattern holds, it could easily be Miss Julie or The Wild Duck. "When I've finished a big musical, I usually want to do something that involves three actors and a dead playwright," he says with a chuckle. "But when I am finished with that, then I think 'Wouldn't it be fun to be surrounded by all those people again, to check with the choreographer or sit in on a dance audition!' The bottom line is that I want to keep moving forward, and I hope that I never end up just doing one type of show. To me, that would be more dangerous than anything."