Making his Off-Broadway directorial debut, Nov. 28, is Michael Rupert, best known for his roles in Falsettos and Three Guys Naked From The Waist Down. Rupert will stage The Lunch Anxieties, a new absurdist comedy by Larry Kunofsky and then go on to stage a workshop of an Off-Broadway musical.
Lunch looks at four friends whose fears and desires collide at lunchtime. The play asks: Will Roy give up his obsession with Mira's anatomy? Will the talking rats in Richard and Mira's apartment stop being so rude? And will Death leave Roy alone?
A former Resident Playwright at the Edward Albee Foundation, Kunofsky won Do Gooder Productions' second annual New Playwright Award with this work, which begins previews Nov. 28, opens Dec. 3 and runs to Jan. 25, 1998. Director Rupert starred in the new musical Don't Stop The Carnival At Florida's Coconut Grove Playhouse in April.
Starring in The Lunch Anxieties are Brian Quirk, Tracey Stroock, Jeffrey Yates, Gabra Zackman and Mark Robert Gordon. The latter is Do Gooder's founding artistic director. Designing the show are Andy Warfel (sets), Chris Dallos (lighting), Melissa Schlactmeyer (costumes) and Vincent Apollo (sound).
Rupert is taking his directorial duties very seriously these days. He's staged numerous pieces in workshop, college and Off-Off-Broadway situations, including a Crucible at Point Park College in Pittsburgh and City, for the Filling Station Theatre Company at the first International New York Fringe Festival this summer. The directing bug started to bite Rupert nearly a decade ago. He told Playbill On-Line (Nov. 24), "I had just come off doing Mail on Broadway, which was a disaster. I was very down on theatre, and I was really thinking, `Why am I doing this? I don't want to be an actor anymore.' And my friend Peter Neufeld knew I was in bad shape and offered me a chance to come down and be a guest artist at William & Mary College in Virginia. I told him, `I've never taught before? What can I teach these kids?' But he knew I'd been performing since I was 19, and there are things you pick up and don't even realize you know."
Rupert also points out he never went to college, so the William & Mary gig was tempting as a kind of second education for him. "Plus the campus was so idyllic. Anyway, I directed a play there by Arthur Giron called Becoming Memories, and it went better than I expected. Peter [Neufeld] flew down to see it, and he was extremely complimentary, which made me feel confident. I simply put on stage what I'd want to see as an audience member."
But rather than throw all his energies into directing at that point, Rupert instead went through a string of popular and critically acclaimed shows, including Falsettoland (Off-Broadway), City Of Angels, Falsettos and Putting IT Together, as well as a Mark Lamos mounting of The Merchant Of Venice at Hartford Stage, where Rupert played Antonio.
Rupert also did the workshop of William Finn's latest musical, A New Brain, three years ago and was poised for the lead. But when the show comes to Lincoln Center this season, he won't be in it. "Basically, they were worried that it's a musical about a gay man dying of a brain tumor and how that affects his family...and they just said people would identify it too much with the Marvin character of Falsettos. It's a wonderful piece, though, and I'm using one of the cut songs on my upcoming album." In fact, the song, "Sitting In The Middle Of The Ocean," will give the DRG compact disk its title.
But the directing itch was strong. At the behest of Cy Coleman, Rupert started to develop the musical Leopard's Leap when Jo Layton died. That project, set in South Africa, is still in the holding stage, but Rupert will put his musical directing skills to the test once Lunch is over. He'll be staging an Equity workshop of a new "musical romance," The Stars In Your Eyes, Jan. 6-Feb. 9, 1998 at NYC's Raw Space. Assuming the five-week staging goes well, a regional production of J. Arlington Meyrelles III's musical is planned for Sept. 1998.
"It's an old-fashioned, funny family show, not cynical. I'm not sure it could happen in New York, though we invited some hard-bitten types to the reading a few weeks ago, and they responded well to the charm of `Chip' Meyrelles' book and score. I call it a breath of fresh air because it's really a show you can take the whole family to, but not in a silly or kiddie way."
As if two directing projects and a CD weren't enough, Rupert hopes to get back to work on a new musical he's penning with librettist/lyricist Allan Heinberg. "It's called Strange Vacation and it's been optioned for Off-Broadway, so we owe the producers another draft. It's about two college freshmen at Georgetown University, one who's very naive and from the midwest, the other actually from Georgetown. They visit New York and check out the last remaining sleazy bar on 42nd Street. Suddenly, the more experienced freshman disappears, and the rest of the musical follows all these dark-comedy adventures of his friend to find him." Strange Vacation is looking at a workshop in summer 1998, with an Off-Broadway staging due in the 1998-99 season.
Despite all this activity and these new directions in his career, Rupert, 46, admits it's a daily struggle to devote his life to New York theatre. "I've been able to eke out a living, but it takes a lot of planning. The good years have to pay for the lean years. My agent, Bill Craver, was totally super about my concentrating on directing, but he warned me, `Are you really ready to do three years of low-paying, lower profile work just to get the experience, to build a resume and learn the craft.' I told him I was, and that's what I'm trying to do."
-- By David Lefkowitz