It was from Robert Altman, who was making the film of David Rabe's Streamers, that Albert Macklin playing a young soldier in it learned something very important about acting.
"My character slashes his wrists. I remember asking: 'Why am I committing suicide? For this reason . . . or that . . . or some other?' Altman said: 'It's all of them. And that's what I hate about Hollywood movies. Everything black and white.'
"He was so right," says the actor who is now doing a beautiful job as a complex character named Maxie in Drama Dept.'s hit Off-Broadway revival of Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman's June Moon. "And it goes straight against acting school, where they always say: 'Simplify, pick one intention.' "
In fact everybody, under Mark Nelson's pinpoint casting and direction, does a beautiful job in this simple-seeming 1920's comedy, which is not really simple at all.
Satire, George S. Kaufman once famously remarked, is what closes on Saturday night. Well, this June Moon for the 1990's, a satire about a young hick from the sticks trying to break in as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter and getting mixed up with a good girl (Jessica Stone) and a bad girl (Cynthia Nixon), has thrived glowingly through many, many Saturday nights in three venues SoHo's Ohio Theatre, Princeton's McCarter Theatre, the current Variety Arts now winning all sorts of awards along the way, one of them an Obie for Albert Macklin.
The Maxie he portrays is a piano player who both participates in the proceedings and stands detached from them in a mix of sarcasm, sensitivity, arrogance, compliance, protective generosity and various other strands of personality. Though there is nothing in the script to indicate it, this Maxie is also, very guardedly, in love with Fred Stevens, the kid from the sticks (Justin Kirk).
In short, there's a lot going on under that forehead of Maxie's.
"Thank you. I hope so," said the lean and hungry Macklin, taking between performance fuel ("I have a notoriously large appetite") at Zen Palate, a Union Square spot within walking distance of Variety Arts.
"It was Mark's idea to play Max as a gay man a terrific choice if you think about it. Gay culture was very open in New York in the 1920's; it was chic to go to drag clubs; the openly gay annual ball at Webster Hall drew 6,000 people."
Though the 1920's music in the show stems from a number of sources, a share of it bears the notation: "Eavesdropped by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman." The first thing the Drama Dept. wanted to know "was could I play the piano. I said yes, I could; I'd taken piano lessons for 12 years, but I'd always been shy about playing in front of other people. Mark said: 'Well, one reason for this company' a combine of actors, writers, directors, designers 'is to give people the opportunity to stretch.' "
Albert Macklin, a very gifted actor, has been stretching since birth in Los Angeles on his parents' 14th wedding anniversary, 39 years ago. They are Sherman Mellinkoff, retired dean of UCLA Medical School, and June O'Connell Mellinkoff. "Yeah, half Russian Jew, half Irish Catholic and lots of guilt." Maxie in June Moon would know all about that. -- By Jerry Tallmer