Think of Adam Pascal, and thoughts spring to mind of the romantic roles he’s played in such musicals as Rent or Aida or his more dramatic turns in Cabaret and Memphis or his sensitive rock persona as a solo rock artist.
But in a bust-a-gut comedy?
In the touring Broadway musical Something Rotten — which plays at The Bushnell in Hartford Jan. 30-Feb. 4, Pascal plays an egocentric, codpiece-strutting William Shakespeare as if he were a rock superstar of London, circa 1490.
Is he channeling any one of his own rock heroes for this wild and crazy interpretation?
“Freddie Mercury, definitely,” Pascal tells me on the phone from his home in Los Angeles where the tour had landed for the holiday season. “And David Lee Roth and David Bowie, too; those peacocky, flamboyant front men whom I wanted to be like when I was growing up and wanting to be a rock star myself.
“And, ironically, when I started actually playing [in a rock band], I wasn’t like them at all. It wasn’t in my personality. So now I get to pretend and work through these fantasies I’ve had since childhood by playing this character in that way.”
Comedy is an untapped area of his career, which has been going on for 21 years since he made his theater bow with Rent and became the face for a new generation of leading men.
“I love to laugh,” says Pascal, now 47 and the father of two teenage sons. “And I love to make people laugh. People who know me know me as a comedian at heart, so this is my opportunity to express that. Having done so many dramatic roles in my career, right now I’m really having fun doing comedy and I would like to continue to do it for as long as I can.”
It’s hard to describe the theater collective Rude Mechs and its collaborative work on stage.
Yale’s Binger Center for New Theatre commissioned the Austin-based group to create a new piece several years back and the result is Field Guide, which will receive its world premiere Jan. 26-Feb. 17 at New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theatre.
It’s a free-wheeling take on Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Coincidentally one of the Rep’s earliest hits was The Idiots Karamazov in 1974 by Christopher Durang and Albert Innaurato, starring then-student Meryl Streep.
“We found out about that after we started working on it,” says Shawn Sides, one of the five artistic directors of the theater collaborative.
They started by exploring the idea of “how to be a good person” but soon realized they needed a narrative to hold the piece together. That’s when they turned to the Russian novel — “which is famously about how to be a good person” — and even fooled around with the 1958 Hollywood film.
Soon the collaborative’s theater piece became a thing unto itself.
“We all put in ideas for moments and scenes and monologues and text and choreography on note cards in a collage-y way,” says Sides, who also directs the show. “No good art is made without a big stack of notecards. Staples should be a sponsor!”
Sides says they foolishly thought they could arrive at an answer to their initial question. “The search is still there but —spoiler alert — we don’t have the answer on how to be a good person. But hmmm, wait. Maybe we should make the audience think we do have the answer so they’ll hang around for an hour and a half.”
A Romantic Return
Last time M. Scott McLean was cast at Hartford’s TheaterWorks it was in the two-hander romance Midsummer a few years back. McLean returns to the theater in another two-character romance, Nick Payne’s Constellations, which plays Jan. 19-Feb. 18.
Is there something about him and romance?
“I feel I just lucked out,” says the very modest McLean from Utah, where he was in rehearsal for another play. “I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to claim myself as that go-to guy.”
OK, then let’s talk about alternative universes, which is central to the play about the what-ifs of a romantic relationship.
“There’s a part of me that thinks that’s a really wonderful, beautiful idea, that every eventual outcome is happening on some plane and the one we are conscious of is the one we need the most,” he says. “I think there is something romantic about that.”
Is there a what-if in his life?
“Lots of those — though I try not to spend too much time thinking on it. But this play brings up all these questions about life and love and the people we want to be.”
Remember the film Night at the Museum, about the secret life after hours at New York’s Museum of Natural History? Well, imagine Night at the Library and think not of one single evening but an entire childhood of running free among the stacks. That’s the youth of actor Sharon Washington, who literally grew up in a branch of the New York Public Library. Her father was a custodian and her family lived in an apartment on the top floor. Her nighttime playground was the world of books.
That experience is the basis for her solo show, Feeding the Dragon, which plays Hartford Stage Jan. 11-Feb 4 before it moves off-Broadway. (It had its world premiere last fall at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre.)
Was it as fantastic as one might imagine?
“Oh, yes,” she tells me on the phone from her home in New York. “I was the little girl who lived in the library and who had all these magical adventures. Those night-in-the-museum fantasies were my reality and it fueled my imagination.”
“It was my first playground,” says Washington, an only child. “I’d go into the reference section, run down the spiral staircase, go into the librarian’s work room and play with the old library stamps.”
But it’s a more complicated story than just a tale of a fantastical youth.
Washington, who is a grad of the Yale School of Drama from the late ’80s, says the piece is also about the flip side of the fairy tale, “about a slice of New York life that is gone, of a kind of working-class family that I think is missing now. It’s about a certain part of our hard-working urban life with a particular stratum of society.”
The title comes from her father needing to continually feed the coal furnace in the library’s basement. So how does she keep her “dragon” fired?
“I’ve been fortunate to work in so many new plays and work with such great collaborators,” she says. “That keeps my fire going.”
Did You Know...
… that the Broadway musical hit The Band’s Visit had its start at Hartford Stage in 2010 when it was part of its play reading series there?
… that the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel, which is having a high-profile Broadway revival with previews beginning Feb. 28, had its world premiere at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre in 1945?
This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.
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