BACKSTAGE: Richard Dreyfuss, 'Love & Murder' in Hartford, & Greenwich's Rising Star

Who You Calling a Genius?

Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss is known for roles in which you can practically see the wheels in his head in hyper-drive. Think The Goodbye Girl, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws. But his new role as Albert Einstein takes “smarty pants” to a new level when the actor stars in Relativity at Hartford’s TheaterWorks this month, which deals with “the human cost of genius” and a little-known, shocking detail about the scientist’s personal life.

I asked the actor if he has known any geniuses in his life. (He’s been known to give Steven Spielberg that monicker because of what he calls the director’s “imagination and attention to detail.”

Outliers, the [Malcolm] Gladwell book about genius, poses the question: ‘Is there genius or is there 10,000 hours of practice?’ and I think I’m of the 10,000-hours-of-practice school,” Dreyfuss says. “At the same time, there is undoubtedly genius in the world. Einstein was called a genius during his lifetime because that’s what the world thought of him.”

Dreyfuss, who turns 69 this month, says in portraying real-life characters in which audiences are already somewhat familiar, the trick is the unexpected. “Drama consists of surprises, and you have to give them something new or something deeper. Your job is to make people sit up in their chairs and pay attention.”

And how was he in physics class when he was school? “Terrible,” he says with that familiar giggle. “But this [play] isn’t going to be useful as a science lesson. It’s about one man’s character.”

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He Just Killed In The RoleJohn Rapson (at right) just may be the happiest actor I’ve talked to in a long time. For the past year he has been touring the country in the Broadway musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, which originated at Hartford Stage. The show’s national tour returns it to the capital city at The Bushnell Oct. 25. Rapson plays the multitude of members of the D’Ysquith family, a rotten bunch of aristocrats who, one-by-one, end up dead at the hands of a charming, down-at-the-heels distant relative as he makes his way to a Downton Abbey-size inheritance. “They say roles like this don’t come along very often, and I don’t know if a role like this ever comes along,” says the well-rounded Rapson, who doesn’t in the least physically resemble the more lithe Jefferson Mays, who received a Tony award nomination in the multiple parts. Because of that disparity, Rapson, whose credits up to now were mostly made up of minor parts in Les Miserables, came in to audition for an ensemble part for the tour.

“This piece requires you to use every tool in the comic tool belt,” says the Rochester, Mich.-raised Rapson. “Every comedic influence that I care about in my life pops up at least a little bit for me in this show, whether it’s Peter Sellers, Buster Keaton or Homer Simpson.”

Being funny came out of growing up “being a sort of awkward kid, and making people laugh was a way to make friends.”

He says he is excited — and nervous — about coming to Hartford, where the show began. “It’s a daunting prospect. Still, I am the most fortunate person in the world. I can’t believe I get to do this.”

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You Saw Him Here FirstYou knew Chris Ghaffari had something special when Darko Tresnjak cast him in Hartford Stage’s Romeo and Juliet while he was still in his third year at the Yale School of Drama. He made for a charismatic and heartbreaking Romeo (and with a strong jaw, camera-ready for his Hollywood close-up). After graduation in May he landed the role of the frisky (and naked) bellboy in Joe Orton’s What the Butler Saw at the Westport Country Playhouse, and now the 27-year-old actor is strategizing on his next steps.

“The million-dollar question is how do you craft a career after Yale,” says the Greenwich-raised Ghaffari when I caught up with him at the playhouse before the run ended.

 “I think all my classmates are either in New York or will be soon,” he says. And he is too, based in Brooklyn for now, making the rounds, helped by a manager and agent at William Morris.

With so much TV and film work being done in the city and the ability to audition on tape in work that is being done anywhere, it’s less of an either/or decision regarding being in New York or L.A.

“People [coming out of school] are more bi-coastal now,” he says. “The next year or so I’ll be stationed in New York and trying to make a dent here.”

Says Tresnjak in casting him in Romeo and Juliet: “There was something special about Chris: an extraordinary speaking voice which is not to be underestimated in playing Shakespeare, handsome, of course, and a sense of being decent, appealing and lovable. I also felt that I better get him now.”

Catch the New York ExpressProductions that began in Connecticut will be popping up all over New York this season, and I’m not just talking about Hartford Stage’s Broadway-bound musical Anastasia. There’s Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman’s Indecent, which had its premiere at Yale Rep last fall before opening off-Broadway this spring and is now poised for a Broadway run — theater pending. There’s Carlo Goldoni’s A Servant of Two Masters, staged by Christopher Bayes and starring Steven Epp, heading to Brooklyn’s Theatre for a New Audience starting in November. An earlier production of the play with Epp and featuring some of the same actors premiered at the Rep in 2010 and it was gut-busting funny.

And then there’s Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, which bowed two years ago at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, and opens Oct. 6 at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Studio 54. (Words I never thought would be next to each other: Irving Berlin and Studio 54.) After the Goodspeed run, the show moved to the 12,000-seat outdoor MUNI theater in St. Louis.

“We had a great run at Goodspeed — honing it, refining it and making it feel fresher,” says Chad Hodge (at right), co-writer of the musical’s book, as well as writer of the TV series Wayward Pines, the upcoming series Good Behavior (starring Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery) and the new movie The Darkest Minds. “I’m not sure whether my [Hollywood] friends totally understand what I’m actually doing working on a Broadway musical, but they’re thrilled anyway.”

And what upcoming world premieres in Connecticut’s 2016-17 season have the greatest buzz for a possible future life? If I were you, I’d be sure to see Sarah Ruhl’s Scenes from Court Life: or the whipping boy and his prince at the Rep; Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower and the musical Table at Long Wharf Theatre; and the play Queens for a Year, written by T.D. Mitchell (TV’s Army Wives) at Hartford Stage. And who knows? There may still be life in a revised Camelot at Westport Country Playhouse. It doesn’t hurt that Robert Sean Leonard stars as King Arthur.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since the ’70s, including 33 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.

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