Michael Park spent the last 14 years in Oakdale: the fictional town that was the setting for the now-defunct CBS daytime drama As The World Turns, on which he played Detective Jack Snyder. Now, this TV and Broadway veteran has a new home, Middletown, the setting of Will Eno’s play about the residents of a small American town, currently debuting at the Vineyard Theater. Park recently spoke to TheaterMania about this project, the bittersweet ending of his day job, and his plans for the future.
THEATERMANIA: This is actually the first time you’ve done a straight play in New York, after many musicals. Was that a plan?
MICHAEL PARK: I don’t think was there was any specific drive on my part to do a play, per se, but after the soap ended, I wanted to get my feet wet in theater again. And since I had done The Burnt Part Boys recently, which was a co-production of the Vineyard and Playwrights Horizons, I got to know to a lot of Vineyard folk, which helped.
TM: So what has the experience been like so far?
MP: I lucked out! First, there’s something in this play for everyone; it answers questions about life and the universe. It’s a very smart show and the words are so wonderful, Will is so easygoing and witty. Plus, it has an incredible cast; and our director, Ken Rus Schmoll, has created the most relaxed atmosphere. He is always asking us what we think. So every day you come to work and want to do your best for him! The only experience I ever had like this one was when I did Violet. And now I’m afraid it’s only downhill from here.
TM: What can you tell us about some of your celebrated castmates?
MP: Not to steal headlines from critics, but Linus Roache and Heather Burns are magical. Georgia Engel is delicious. I didn’t know Georgia had been a ballet dancer — I’m finding out things I never knew. It’s just a great group of people to be with.
TM: After 14 years of playing a cop, you’re playing another cop. Why do you keep playing cops?
MP: I don’t know what it is — maybe I have a cop face. We were just laughing about that the other day. On the soap, I didn’t play a beat cop, like I do here, I played a detective, and I’ve been staring at all these beat cops on the street trying to figure out what’s on their belt. Maybe one day, I’ll just go up and ask. After all, on ATWT, I was going into hostage situations without a gun, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about the logic of things so much.
TM: Just a few weeks before ATWT went off the air and after you’d already filmed your last episode, you finally won your first Daytime Emmy. What was that night like for you?
MP: It was really overwhelming, especially because my two leading ladies, Maura West and Julie Pinson, also won that night. I saw that our colleagues rooting were rooting for us, and that was comforting. You try to be good and nice, you think you have friends, but you never know. I do know there are lot of wonderful people in that business and it’s sad that it’s going through such a tough time.
TM: Were you happy with your final storyline?
MP: I think it was fitting that Jack and Carly got married. And I felt pleased that the writers and producers had our story be so important up until the very last day of a 54-year-old show. That was heartwarming.
TM: Have you adjusted to not being on the show?
M: It didn’t take any time to adjust to not to going to Brooklyn at 5:30am. But it’s hard not seeing some of those faces again on a daily basis. But I know that everything comes to an end.
TM: What’s next for you? Another soap? Another play? Another musical?
MP: Going back to daytime would be great, but I don’t want to move my family to L.A. I’d commute if that would work out. As for theater, I would like to see what’s going to happen with The Last Goodbye, the musical I did in Williamstown this summer. It’s Romeo and Juliet set to the music of Jeff Buckley, and I think it would really open Shakespeare up for a lot of kids. If I could, I’d give it all the money it needs. But I’ve learned you just have to be patient and wait. Who knows where the opportunity is going to come from? But as long as you’re flexible, there’s always another gig out there.