For his work as Mason "Marz" Marzac, the nebbishy gay accountant who falls in love with the game of baseball when he takes on a superstar ball player client, O'Hare has received a Drama Desk Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Lucille Lortel Award, and a 2003 Tony Award nomination. Like the other characters in the Tony Award-nommed play by Richard Greenberg, O'Hare deals in raw emotions, but it's the combination of direct-address to the audience and self-deprecating humor — mixed with the splashes of euphoria Mason expresses about the elegance of baseball's form — that makes O'Hare an audience favorite.
PLAYBILL ON-LINE: Are awards important?
Denis O'Hare: The short answer is "yes," and the longer answer is: You try not to let them be important and you try to really stay above them and say they don't necessarily make me a better actor from day to day. They give you a sense that somebody is watching, some sense of recognition. Either you should never get one ever, or you should get more than one. They're not the focus of my career, but they certainly are a nice little gift. The thing to keep in mind is, the show is the show — it's a great show, we do great work every night and that exists independent of recognition.
PBOL: This play began in London a year ago at the Donmar Warehouse, played The Public Theater and then moved to Broadway. Are you learning new things about the play?
DO: I'm a very slow actor. I feel like I never figure things out until performance 198.
PBOL: Much has been made about Take Me Out's central plot point of a hotshot baseball player named Darren Lemming coming out of the closet, but the play is so expansive and is about so many other things — celebrity, racism, homophobia, class. The second time I saw it, the play struck me as a rumination on straight male friendships — how fragile they seem. What speaks to you most vividly about the play?
DO: I think it's a search for community. "Where do I belong that I can be Shane, that I can be Darren, that I can be Kippy, that I can be Kawabata, that I can be Mason?" Who is my community? By the end of the play, for Mason at least, his community is an unlikely one. It's 40,000 people at a stadium.
PBOL: Darren and Mason's friendship can be read as a kind of love story. In a world where true friends seem unknowable, they seem to survive.
DO: That was always there in the play, but as Daniel [Sunjata, a fellow Tony Award nominee] and I got more and more comfortable with each other and got looser it started to play more. As we developed, it kind of deepened. There's something that happens in the second act that only started happening late in the run. When he decides to retire from baseball, I have a line, and I started yelling it at him one day. I figured I would get yelled at by [director] Joe Mantello, but Joe said he loved it. We started amplifying that: Marz is one of the only people in the play who actually tells Darren the truth. He actually turns and challenges him and says things kind of pointedly. That equalizes their footing in a strange way. Do they "get together"? One wants to leave that to the audience's imagination, but from my point of view, no they don't. They're smart enough to realize they are not in each other's class, or "weight class." John Cusack says that in "High Fidelity" — "you don't date out of your weight class." I think it's the beginning of an actual friendship. PBOL: You grew up in the Detroit area. Did you go to Tiger games as a kid?
DO: I think I must have gone once if not twice.
PBOL: Do you hate the game?
DO: No, not at all. I played. I played from seven on — T ball and Little League for about three years. I'm a good athlete, I just never trained. They wouldn't let me hit the ball or anything. They said I was short, so they'd say, "Just stand there and try to get walked." I actually swung once and connected and got a double. I was so thrilled. I got to second base and the manager pulled me out of the game because I disobeyed his orders. I was like, oh, that's how it works — I get it. That killed my spirit. From then on, I was in outfield, literally sitting down on the grass, picking it and eating it, not watching the game.
PBOL: Did you do theatre in Michigan?
DO: I started when I was 13. The local community center, Southfield Civic Center, had auditions for Show Boat and I played a black person. They had no qualms about putting us in black face. It was horrifying. It was 1975. I was in the chorus. The following year I was in Carousel, I was Enoch Snow. I'm a tenor. All through high school I did musicals — Guys and Dolls, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Mikado, Man of La Mancha.
PBOL: Did you know in high school that acting would be your future?
DO: No, I was going to be a musician. My mother is a church organist and her two sisters are both musicians. My godparents were my mother's sister, who was a cellist, and her Bohemian husband, who was a violinist for the Detroit Symphony. They were really my spiritual parents. I played clarinet, oboe, piano, organ and violin. I was best at oboe, when it came down to it. I was also studying opera and was accepted to the University of Michigan's opera department, but I chose to go to Northwestern because it was farther away, which is the most important thing when you're 18 and gay. I was in Chicago for 12 years, starting in 1980, but at Evanston for four of them. After 1984, I did non-Equity theatre pretty intensely with a bunch of troupes, one called Storm Field in particular, and then got my Equity card in '87 from Wisdom Bridge. If anyone says they wanna learn how to act, I say go to Chicago. You'll work. And you'll learn style, which is maybe the most important thing. I remember one season at the Court Theatre, I started doing What the Butler Saw, by Joe Orton, at night, and in the day rehearsing a Lope de Vega play, and then when that opened it overlapped with Caucasian Chalk Circle, with Linda Emond. Orton, Brecht and Lope de Vega — talk about styles!
PBOL: A Chicago play called Hauptmann was what got you noticed here in New York.
DO: We did it in Chicago, we brought it to New York in 1992 and we were supposed to run forever at the Cherry Lane Theatre. I think we ran a month.
PBOL: You had already won a Chicago Jeff Award for it.
DO: I definitely got noticed. I actually got a Drama Desk nomination for it. A lot of folks came down and saw it. I already had a New York agent. They posted a notice for Hauptmann to close and I had to be out of the apartment they gave me. All the people were going back to Chicago. I just thought, well, I'm not going back. Forget it. I had a boom box, two suitcases and a fold-up bed.