How a Conversation on LinkedIn Led Harry Hamlin Back to the Stage in One November Yankee
Hamlin's agent didn't want him to follow his passion. But his attraction to the material was too strong.
Theater has always been Harry Hamlin's passion. Even as he became a film and TV star, with credits like Clash of the Titans, L.A. Law, and People's Sexiest Man Alive 1987 to his name, Hamlin has made it a point to keep his stage muscles in shape, interspersing celluloid fame with turns in theatrical classics like Awake and Sing!, Summer and Smoke, and Chicago, among others.
It's been over a decade since Hamlin was last seen on the New York stage (he played Billy Flynn, opposite wife Lisa Rinna as Roxie, in Chicago in 2007). Now, he's back and playing the smallest theater he's ever acted in — the 98-seat Theater B at 59E59. The play is a passion project called One November Yankee, written and directed by Joshua Ravetch, and he stars opposite fellow TV star Stefanie Powers.
Hamlin loves One November Yankee so much that he went so far as to seek the playwright out on LinkedIn. Since then, they've become great friends, and Hamlin is thrilled to bring this labor of love to the Big Apple.
So many people know you from film and TV, but theater has been a very big part of your life.
Theater is where I started. I never intended to do film. I turned down the first three things I was offered in film. It wasn't my ambition. It wasn't what I was trained to do. I was trained at American Conservatory Theater to work on a big stage, and I love working in a big house like that. I did Hamlet at the McCarter and realized that that's where my sweet spot is, the classics and Shakespeare and stuff like that. I still go to acting class every Saturday at the Beverley Hills Playhouse. I've been doing that my whole life.
Tell me about your first encounter with One November Yankee.
I first read it in 2012. Josh Ravetch, the writer, had been trying to get it to me, but my agent at the time, who is not my agent now, didn't want me to do it. It was a 99-seat Equity waiver house, and I think I was paid a total of $60 for the entire run, so do the math. [laughs] Josh was doing it with Loretta Swit and Robert Forster, but Robert had to drop out nine days before opening night and suggested me to replace him. Josh finally convinced my agent to send it to me on a Friday night, and they sent it with no explanation. It was just a file of the play. I read it that night and I immediately went on LinkedIn to try and find the author, because all I had was his name on the title page. I found him and asked if he was the same guy, and he said, "Yeah, I've been trying to find you. We go up in eight days, can you do it?" So I did it. I just love the play.
Why do you love it?
It's like nothing I've ever read before. The format, and the way it unfolds, is very unique. It's about three different sets of brothers and sisters exploring their relationships through tragedy and competition. It's a true comedy, and it's also filled with pathos. I guess you would call it a dramedy, if that's a workable term. And it's also not really a play about siblings. That's not the main thing about it. But I fell in love with it instantly and was willing to do it for free.
How did the 59E59 production, which was preceded by a mounting at Delaware Theatre Company, come about?
I always felt like it had a life past Equity waiver in L.A., and the playwright and I have become good friends. He's very prolific. He's always working on three or four films because he's the go-to guy in L.A. for arranging product placement, while at the same time writing and producing plays. He had come to Delaware Theater Company last year with a play about ice-skating and they loved that play, so Bud Martin, who runs the theater, asked if he had anything else. Josh suggested a different play of his, which I had read, but I said, "Just do One November Yankee." It's a two-hander, it's cheap to do, and it's really funny and endearing. They have an association with 59E59 and put the New York run together. So here we are years later in a different iteration, with Stefanie Powers playing my sister.
What's the biggest difference about the New York mounting, compared with the others?
This play has always been done with a proscenium, but at 59E59, it's a black box. In Delaware, we had audiences of 310 people a night, and in New York, we have 98. In fact, 59E59 is the smallest space I've ever worked in. It's really interesting to compress it to a much smaller stage and space. It's much more intimate in New York.