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A CurtainUp Feature

A Talk With Denis O'Hare
Take Me Out's Mason Marzac

by Laura Hitchcock

South Side Cafe

Denis O'Hare was the last actor to come down from his dressing room after the performance of Take Me Out, the play by Richard Greenberg that topped my list of must sees during a recent visit to New York. That may be because he's one of the few actors in this exceptional play which uses baseball as a metaphor who doesn't get to take a shower on stage.

The night we met, June 3rd, actress Lauren Bacall as well as several other celebrities also came backstage. Since a post-performance back-stage chat with other people in the room doesn't lend itself to a full interview, we agreed to continue our conversation by phone about the role of an inhibited accountant who turns passionate baseball fan which won him the 2003 Best Featured Actor Tony Award. Given O'Hare's busy schedule, it took over a month, until July 22nd, to make that happen.

O'Hare, a quiet friendly man who started life as a poet from Kansas City, Missouri, is as full of contradictions as Marzac and as articulate, as is evident from his comments. His resume includes a stint as Ernst Ludwig in Cabaret and a role inAnniversary Party, an intriguing film made by his co-star Alan Cummings. Other notable credits include Og in the musical, Finian's Rainbow, Michael in Dancing in Lughnasa, Ten Unknowns, The Devils and the title character in Hauptmann, about the man accused of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

.(DO= Denis O'Hare's comments; CU = CurtainUp-- Laura Hitchcock, 7/23/03.

For CurtainUp's review of Take Me Out go here.

CU: You're Irish-American but Denis has a French spelling? DO: It's actually an Irish spelling. When my grandfather came over in the 1920s from County Clare. his name was spelled Deis Hehir and the immigration authorities changed it. (note: He was born in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated Northwestern, but has an Irish passport). CU: Tell me about your history with Take Me Out. DO: Initially I did a reading in 2000 with Richard Greenberg {the playwright} at the Public, then another late in 2001 with Joe Mantello who was now attached. They offered me the part in Feb 2002, started rehearsing in New York in May 2002, went to London for two months, came back in late August, and opened at the Public. It was only supposed to run until early October and wound up running to late November.

CU: I understand it was changed somewhat after you moved to Broadway.

DO: Well, one of the producers made it a condition that she wanted us to look at the play again to see if we could get rid of the second intermission, because it was a three-act structure, which, of course, is not normal for Broadway now. It makes them nervous.

CU: That would be Carole Shorenstein, the San Francisco producer. I assume that's the reason the play is going to San Francisco next? DO: I'm not going anywhere. I'll give someone else a crack at it.

CU: Not even the movie version?

DO: Oh, that's another matter entirely.

CU: I read that Ben Affleck was cast as Kippy. DO: He's actually optioned the play and wants to play Kippy. Since he's bought the rights, he can play anyone he wants.

CU: Have you heard any time line for that?

DO: No. It's been my experience with these things it can take 3-4 years. They have to get a screenplay written, they have to raise money, get a director. I'm not sure if Ben's going to direct it.

CU: On the subject of touring, what about the cost of staging the shower scene?

DO: All three theatres achieved it with no problems. The Public, being non-profit, had the hardest time but did it successfully. The only requirement is positioning shower heads in the right place and providing some sort of egress to the water. People do use water a lot on stage and water has its own peculiarities.

CU: At least you come off stage clean.

DO: I don't because I don't take a shower.

CU: One critic thought the shower scenes didn't really feel essential.

DO: You know what, I don't discuss reviews because I never read them. I don't want to know. As for the shower scene, like all politics, it depends on your agenda. If you decide there's no place for nudity in the theatre, you'll decide it's not necessary. If there's ever to be a case for nudity being necessary, it's here. Since it's set in a locker room, you'd have to go to great lengths to avoid showing them changing clothes. Since it's about male insecurity in the face of male roles being challenged, what better way to dramatize that than to actually put people at their most vulnerable?

CU: Maybe I shouldn't say this but, to a woman like me who has never seen more than one man naked at a time, it was very educational.

DO: A woman friend of mine, Lindsey, said, "Wow! It's a real tutorial." The variety of nature. CU: After seeing the play, the word that popped into my head to describe it was "patriotic": using our national sport, baseball, as a metaphor for America in all its many-splendored black-and-blue infinite variety.

DO: Probably Richard and I are politically fairly close. It's patriotic in its purest sense, not in the current awful way it's being misused. It's true patriotism meaning philosophical, rather than jingoistic.

CU: You rarely hear a show-stopper speech like your "Baseball is like Democracy. " It's like an aria. Did you ever find the applause was distracting to the flow of the play?

DO: I certainly fought the applause for a long time. There are techniques you can employ to try to stop the audience from applauding. It's difficult to play that speech without them applauding. It does change my delivery. I try to soft pedal the ending because I don't want to give them a button. It's a little bit of a disservice to the actual ending because I don't want them to applaud. But I've kind of given up. Broadway audiences like to applaud. Then, of course, you get used to it and if they don't, you're devastated.

It's funny because when I first read the play, I thought the character of Mason was entirely expungeable. He was not germane to the play. He's certainly not essential to the plot. I thought, if they were going to cut any part, it would be him. But that begs the question as to what kind of play it is. It's not a linear play. It's not a play that's simple. While there's a play that concerns the plot, it's also a play that concerns the emotional lives of the characters. Mason and Darren are mirror images. One is coming to fall in love with something, the other is coming to fall out of love with something. In that respect, Mason is integral to the play's structure.

CU: I think Mason speaks for us.

DO: And the playwright.

CU: I thought Kippy spoke more for the playwright.

DO: There's a kind of split focus there. I guess no playwright ever writes himself clearly.

CU: I know Richard came to love baseball. I think Mason spoke for both fans and the audience whether you're speaking about baseball or for a writer like me who just took up tango and feels the passion of something physical and different, just a revelation, a whole new world and a new dimension of oneself. That 's the kind of discovery anyone can make, that universal, almost elemental thing that he feels.

Have you done any other monologues that compare to this? DO: The opening monologue in Hauptmann was probably 15-20 minutes. The structure of that play was Hauptmann speaking to the audience, conjuring other characters out of prison guards. That play was also direct address. I did Michael, the narrator, in Dancing in Lughnasa who never interacts with the characters at all. That was oddly similar, because he's also direct address to the audience.

CU: I hear you'll do a revival of Sweet Charity in January.

DO: Don't know quite when. Bringing a musical to life on Broadway is a risky unpredictable venture. All I know at this point is that I'm in a workshop of it.

CU: With Marisa Tomei?

DO: Marisa started the workshop but had to withdraw, so Jane Krakowski came in.

CU: That's not too shabby!

DO: She's wonderful. The workshop is mostly for the creative team to try out their ideas and to see if the producers want to hire this creative team. I don't really know what's happening. I'll be the last to know. It would be nice.

CU: Any other plans?

DO: I have some projects I'm trying to keep alive. I write myself. I have two screenplays, and am shopping for video cameras, upgrading the Mac.

CU: You're going to do it yourself, like The Blair Witch Project?

DO: A little higher end than that. Funnily enough, I did a ten-minute video last night for an interview that was a fundraiser for this bar. They wanted me to bring along a funny videotape, so I videotaped the guys back stage and put together a funny montage. I got a taste of the limitations of camera equipment and video editing, so I'm going for a much higher end camera. I'm a pretty quick study but I'm not sure I'll ever be a cameraman so I'm going to see who I can convince to help me, -- free, of course.

CU: You've always written? DO: Yes, I was a poetry major for two years at Northwestern. They have an amazing writing program. The writing major was fiction, essays or poetry. I was on the poetry track for two years but decided to abandon it. I had to declare a theatre or English major, and went with theatre at last minute in my Junior year. One of my classmates is now a published poet and back at Northwestern teaching.

CU: I've heard that poetry is the purest art.

DO: Yes, it has its own difficulties and politics and doesn't pay very well, unfortunately.

CU: I was interested in something you said about Broadway audiences liking to applaud. In Los Angeles, audiences are always being criticized for standing ovations.

DO: It's a weird thing. When I'm in an audience, I rarely feel compelled to stand for a performance, although I have felt compelled. In our house, bowing every night, it's a nice thing. What happens then is the coercive factor. The other audience members may not be as genuinely thrilled and suddenly they're forced to make a decision.because, by not standing, they're making a stronger statement.

CU: How long will Take Me Out run?

DO: My contract is through late November. We had a rough spring, because of the economy and trying to distinguish ourselves from the pack. We weren't selling beautifully but now we're selling almost to capacity, so we'll see what happens after Labor Day when many plays seem to fall apart and new plays open. Oddly enough there'll be very few plays left on Broadway. Long Day's Journey is going to close, the George Burns show will close. Master Harold and the Boys is closing. We'll see if Enchanted April can limp through to the end of the year. Nine is up for contract renewals in October. Antonio Banderas is up then. If they can find an interesting person to replace him, they can go on for a long time.

CU: I'm sorry you're not coming out west with Take Me Out.

DO: Nothing is foreclosed but I can't imagine I'd be at my freshest by the time they get to that stage. No one in our cast has been approached about anything. We're not even talking about it backstage. You probably know more about it than I do.

CU: Denis, it's been a pleasure talking to you. DO: And to you. I'm so glad we got a chance to do this. Sorry I was kind of crazed up until a week ago. This is my first day at home for a long time and I'm looking forward to getting back to normal.

CU: What's normal?

DO: Puttering around the house, seeing friends, working on projects -- doing eight shows a week.

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