Until this season, tall and lanky and perpetually employed Dylan Baker had, in two short runs, turned in a total of 117 Broadway performances — enough, please note, to bring him glory: The first play (Richard Greenberg's Eastern Standard in 1989) won him a Theatre World Award; the second (David Hirson's La Bête in 1991) got him a Tony nomination.
Then, silence for 16 years. But he was hardly invisible, working in feature films ("Spider-Man 2 & 3," "Kinsey"), TV movies ("The Laramie Project"), TV series ("Law & Order," "The West Wing") and Off-Broadway (What the Butler Saw, Homebody/Kabul).
Now, he has found his way back to the Main Stem — returning double-strength: first as a major player in a philatelic free-for-all in Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius, and this month at the Barrymore as chief of staff to President Nathan Lane in David Mamet's November.
"I never expected it to happen," says Baker, amazed that he has come back with such a vengeance. "Mauritius was just perfect timing. I'd made a little money on a TV pilot called 'Drive,' so I was just happy for a chance to do some theatre. I knew I wasn't going to make any money on it. Then, when the November offer came in, I said, 'Boy! I can't do two plays in a row.' And they said, 'Well, there may be a little bit of money' . . . so here I am." November is not the brooding, staccato-blunt Mamet of old. It's the manic Mamet of new, who surfaced with the uncharacteristically zany Romance, A Day in Court that cried out for The Marx Brothers. In November you get Nathan Lane as the president of the USA!
"The play begins several days short of his reelection. I'm trying to make him understand there's not a chance in hell he'll win. Since being elected, he has destroyed everything — I know we have no parallel in our current situation to compare this to, but in the play I feel I pretty much run things, filtering it all through Nathan so, when it all goes kaput, it's not my fault. Nathan's as wild a president as you'll ever want to see. He always comes up with ideas like 'We could stop the election by making it rain so hard no one would vote.' And I have to say, 'We don't have the technology for that.'"
Baker's wife is the Broadway Baby of the family. Only a year and a half out of Western Kentucky University, Becky Ann Baker checked into The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and stayed there all 1,584 performances, working her way through nine different roles in the process. Since then, she has made it to Broadway on the Titanic and A Streetcar Named Desire and was last seen there as Sara Jane Moore, that absurdly unsure shot among the last batch of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins.
Last summer the Bakers jumped at a rare chance to act together, supporting Kate Burton and her son Morgan Ritchie in The Corn Is Green (rumored to be Roundabout-bound next year). That was at Williamstown Theatre Festival, where she first laid eyes on him in 1985, right before he played Blythe Danner's young lover in Undiscovered Country.
"And the first time I saw her was when I went to the Equity board and looked at the headshots and went, 'Who's that?'" Almost before he could find the answer, they were cast together in a musical by Carol (Whorehouse) Hall, To Whom It May Concern, which Geraldine Fitzgerald directed at Williamstown — and the rest, as they say, is history.
Two-stars-in-the-house is not a problem for the Bakers because — in true marital give 'n' take fashion — one lowers its wattage so the other can shine. While he goes through his "Broadway phase," she plays lead parent as daughter Willa starts high school — "Seamless transition!" declares Dad. "Now, Becky's itching for work."
As for his own work, Baker considers himself an idea whose time has come: "When I was young, I tried Romeo up in Camden — me — and had the worst time with that. I've always felt I would grow into roles — that I was a character actor waiting to get into my late 40s and 50s — so now, hopefully, more interesting roles will develop. . . ."