PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Daniel Sullivan

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Daniel Sullivan This spring, if you happen to be hovering about Times Square, you may see a tired, bearded man cutting a groove into W. 45th Street as he crosses and recrosses Broadway. That man is director Dan Sullivan, who will be simultaneously staging two Broadway productions: the Judd Hirsch-Ben Vereen revival of Herb Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport at the Booth (opening April 25); and a Lincoln Center Theater mounting of Paul Osborn's evergreen Morning's at Seven at the Lyceum (opening April 21). But then, there's almost no point in saying that Sullivan is having a busy season, for Sullivan is never not having a busy season. The last couple years, in particular, have seen him produce some of his best and most successful work to date, including: David Auburn's Proof on and Off-Broadway; A Moon for the Misbegotten on Broadway with Cherry Jones; Spinning into Butter, the New York stage debut of playwright Rebecca Gilman; and the latest by Jon Robin Baitz, Ten Unknowns at Lincoln Center Theater. All of which makes Sullivan a hard man to get on the phone. Playbill On-Line recently caught him during a rare free moment.

Daniel Sullivan stands behind his I'm Not Rappaport cast of Ben Vereen and Judd Hirsch.
Daniel Sullivan stands behind his
I'm Not Rappaport cast of Ben Vereen and Judd Hirsch. (Photo by Photo by Aubrey Reuben)

This spring, if you happen to be hovering about Times Square, you may see a tired, bearded man cutting a groove into W. 45th Street as he crosses and recrosses Broadway. That man is director Dan Sullivan, who will be simultaneously staging two Broadway productions: the Judd Hirsch-Ben Vereen revival of Herb Gardner's I'm Not Rappaport at the Booth (opening April 25); and a Lincoln Center Theater mounting of Paul Osborn's evergreen Morning's at Seven at the Lyceum (opening April 21). But then, there's almost no point in saying that Sullivan is having a busy season, for Sullivan is never not having a busy season. The last couple years, in particular, have seen him produce some of his best and most successful work to date, including: David Auburn's Proof on and Off-Broadway; A Moon for the Misbegotten on Broadway with Cherry Jones; Spinning into Butter, the New York stage debut of playwright Rebecca Gilman; and the latest by Jon Robin Baitz, Ten Unknowns at Lincoln Center Theater. All of which makes Sullivan a hard man to get on the phone. Playbill On-Line recently caught him during a rare free moment.

Playbill On-Line: You directed Judd Hirsch in the original Broadway production of I'm Not Rappaport. How did you and Judd come to return to it?
Daniel Sullivan: Judd and I were at a party—it was at Herb [Gardner]'s. And Judd mentioned, "Why don't we do this again." And I thought, "Well, that's a good idea." It began rather casually. Then we started throwing around ideas of when and who.

PBOL: Did you feel a need to come back to this play?
DS: There has always been, for me, very good feeling around that production. It had a lovely kind of glow to it. I, in fact, wanted to revisit it, not so much to rethink it, but just to see it again. That's what this was all about. It wasn't like a lot of revivals. It's about reestablishing it again.

PBOL: It was one of your first big New York successes.
DS: It was, yes. It's also interesting, because Judd is older. He closer to the right age to play the character. He's not quite there yet. [Laughs] There is a deepening of the character.

PBOL: In the meantime, we've lost Cleavon Little, Hirsch's original co star. Who came up with the idea of casting Ben Vereen?
DS: You know, I can't really remember. I know Herb and I had talked about Ben several times. Herb had seen Ben do it in San Francisco. I had not. It was a separate production. And Herb had good memories of that. So we got together and read the first act. I thought, that was a really good actor there.... I think that maybe Clevon was a more overtly comic actor. Ben is very detailed. It's all very psychologically based. You wouldn't know at all that there is a song-and-dance man there. He's completely submerged into the character. PBOL: You, of course, are always busy. You're doing Morning's at Seven at Lincoln Center Theater. There are a lot of roles for seasoned actors in that play. Casting must be fun. You have Frances Sternhagen, Elizabeth Franz, Estelle Parsons, Julie Hagarty, Christopher Lloyd, Buck Henry...
DS: It's a great play. It's also a bit terrifying when you realize you're doing this good play with all these senior people and they're all your friends. [Laughs]

PBOL: Any ideas on what you want to do with the play, or do you just plan to stage it well?
DS: Well, it's not as though I want to set it in a different period. In fact, the [1980] production was set in an earlier period, the 1920s. I can't quite figure why they did that. Maybe it had to do with trying to establish a more innocent time. But we're putting it back in the '30s, where it was originally.

PBOL: Is there still a future on Broadway for Jon Robin Baitz's Ten Unknowns?
DS: Right now the plan is to do it in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper, because the Mitzi Newhouse [at Lincoln Center] is shaped like the Taper stage. Our thinking was to take another look at the text and recast it and do it out there and see what happens.

PBOL: I imagine the production will have a new lead.
DS: Probably. It might be Donald [Sutherland] again. There was a problem getting Donald to Broadway, an economic issue, and I think that would probably happen again.

PBOL: Meaning, the amount of money he was asking for.
DS: That was another problem, yes. Whether it would come to Broadway or Off-Broadway, I don't really know. But [Baitz and I] both like the idea of getting to work on the second act.

PBOL: Beyond that, any other projects coming up?
DS: I'm planning a production of Retreat from Moscow, the Williams Nicholson play, for the fall, hopefully on Broadway. We're just in the process of casting.

PBOL: My guess is you enjoy being busy.
DS: [Laughs] I do. Although I force myself to put spacers between shows, so I can actually recover. I feel if I can do that, it will prevent me from actually spinning out of control.