For my fortieth birthday, two of my friends took me to the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts for a couple of shows.
Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.
Isn’t it nice to have friends that know you so well? That realize that candles are ok and jewelry is nice, but a live performance is something that stays with you forever.
Despite my love of theater, I had never ventured to Williamstown before. I had been tempted once when one of my theater crushes, Jesse L. Martin from Rent and Law and Order, starred in Three Penny Opera. But I never made it to the show.
And even the summer that I dragged my mother to almost every regional theater in New England to see this play or that, we didn’t hit Williamstown.
The theater is on the college campus and, with its lush lawns and charming small town feel, it’s immediately obvious why New York actors would consider the festival to be like summer camp. It’s beautiful and calm and far away from the heat and hustle and bustle of the city.
And the shows are great.
For me, the very best thing about Williamstown (and why this was the perfect gift) was the fuel it gave me for “six degrees of actors you’ve seen on stage.”
I should probably come up with a catchier title.
This version of six degrees is one of my favorite games. All you do is watch tv (or a movie, but you get shushed a lot if you play it at the movies. And you might end up getting kick out of the theater if you’re having a good round) and when you see an actor you’ve seen live, on Broadway or in regional theatre, you yell out as loudly is you can, “I saw him in…” and you name the show you saw the actor in.
It’s fun for the whole family!
One of the shows my friends treated me to at Williamstown was Our Town. I was excited to see it because I had directed the show but never seen a professional production.
I wasn’t disappointed. The performance was stunning. And filled with actors who often appear in cameos or bit roles on television. I was in heaven.
The stage manager was played by Campbell Scott. I was hooked on him after just a couple of lines. He was younger than I had always envisioned the stage manager, but he had a kindness, a genuine affection for the other characters, that was palpable even from the front row of the balcony.
Plus he has a recurring role in Royal Pains, on USA. I watch the show regularly and never fail to call out that I saw Boris Kuester von Jurgens-Rateniczon on stage. (Yes, I had to look that up in Internet Movie Database. I like the show, but I’m not crazy enough to memorize that name.)
He was also in Damages with Glenn Close.
The other day I was watching the PBS American Experience biography of Bill and Hilary Clinton. After a few minutes, I shouted “I saw him in Our Town!”
My mother thought I was crazy. Clearly I had not seen Bill or Hilary in a production of Our Town. I explained that Campbell Scott was narrating the documentary. She remained skeptical until we got the credits.
When is name appeared on the screen, I enjoyed a little “told you” so moment, but internally. It’s not nice to gloat.
I think of this six degrees game to be like collecting baseball cards. Once you see an actor, you have the card. But it only exists in your head, so there’s the added pressure of remember who you have seen.
Sometimes I fail miserably. It took me half a season of Glee before I realized I had seen Leah Michelle in Spring Awakening.
And it wasn’t until I read the playbill at intermission that I came too that I had seen the guy playing Elder Cunningham in Book of Mormon when he was in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
I was ashamed of myself.
If six degrees is like baseball cards, there are two actors who I consider comparable to the 1909 Honus Wagner and the 1933 Babe Ruth. (I had to look those up too. I had never heard of Honus Wagner, much less know that his card is worth 2.8 million dollars and Wayne Gretzsky owned it at one point. Now I know!)
The first of these “Broadway” cards is Denis O’Hare.
Denis O’Hare is in so many tv shows and movies that if you’ve seen him live you’ve got the game won.
I’ve actually seen him live three times, so I have my choice. I can yell out “I saw him in Take Me Out” or “I saw him in Sweet Charity” or “I saw him in Assassins.”
Assassins is my go to, but I tend to tailor it to the show I’m watching. If it’s a show about baseball I use Take Me Out, for instance.
Most recently Denis O’Hare was a judge on The Good Wife and that creepy guy with a half a burned up face on American Horror Story. You never know where he’s going to turn up next.
The other guy you want to have in your collection is Dylan Baker.
Dylan Baker is one of those actors who you recognize, but never know his name. One of those “Oh, that guy” actors.
I saw him in Our Town and have been enjoying shouting out his name ever since. He’s been on Smash and The Good Wife.
The Good Wife employees a lot of stage actors, doesn’t it? Good for them.
And, one of the best parts, I’ve also seen Dylan Baker’s wife Becky Ann Baker on Broadway in… wait for it… Assassins with Denis O’Hare!
Isn’t that satisfying? I think it is, but in case you couldn’t tell, I’m kind of a geek about this stuff.