NATHAN LANE'S SIDEKICK IN FORUM
Like the sensible sidekick he played on TV's "Perfect Strangers," Mark Linn-Baker begins his performance as the slave Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by smiling wearily and assuring his master, "I live to grovel." Then comes the second-act surprise: Caught up in the machinations of his fellow slave, Pseudolus (Nathan Lane), Hysterium disguises himself as a young maiden to fool the warrior who has come to claim the real maiden's hand. Suddenly Linn-Baker is scampering around the stage in Miss Piggy-style blond curls, singing, "I'm absolutely lovely." It's a moment of comic revenge for unsung straight men everywhere.
Linn-Baker himself doesn't quite agree with that interpretation. "I keep hearing that I've always been the straight man, but I've never felt that," he says, sipping coffee before a matinee at the West Bank Cafe, the popular theatre district restaurant/cabaret space he co-owns. "I've always had very meaty stuff to do."
Linn-Baker's résumé is an unusual mixture of network televisionincluding seven years on "Perfect Strangers" and two seasons directing the ABC comedy series "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper"and nonprofit theatre, as co-founder of the New York Stage and Film Company. More than 80 new plays have been produced by the group in a dozen summers of workshops and readings at Vassar College.
"I enjoy working in TV because it's fast and furious," Linn-Baker explains. "You start on Monday with a script, and by Friday you've got a show. That's helped me find a balance between commercial success and my own artistic ambitions. One reason we started the theatre company and then chose to work outside of New York is so that writers and actors have a chance to develop and grow without worrying about the marketplace. On my own I tend to pursue things that are not commercial successes."
Forum, on the other hand, gives the actor his first taste of sellout crowds in a 1,600-seat Broadway musical house, and Linn-Baker gladly signed on for a year-long run alongside old friends Lane, Lewis J. Stadlen and Ernie Sabella. "We've all worked together in different combinations at various times," he notes.
One reason Linn-Baker doesn't mind taking a break from his TV directing career is that his bride, set designer Adrianne Lobel, is based in New York. The couple married last June. "I've been good at work, but not at relationships," he confesses. "It's hard to be in this business and then figure out how to be happy. It took 40 years, but both of us were ready for something more in our lives."
-- By Kathy Henderson