PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Mario Cantone

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Mario Cantone "That man's highly-strung" is an observation made of Gidger, a character in Richard Greenberg's Broadway drama, The Violet Hour. Enter Mario Cantone, whose specialty is playing highly-strung characters.

Mario Cantone as Gidger in The Violet Hour.
Mario Cantone as Gidger in The Violet Hour. Photo by Joan Marcus

Cantone is known to television audiences as the ruthless gay wedding designer in HBO's "Sex and the City," host of the bygone children's show "Steampipe Alley" and as a stand-up comedian seen on "The View," "Dave Chapelle's Show" and continuously on Comedy Central. He returns to the stage in the time-bending drama, speaking the first line in the first play at the newly-reopened Biltmore Theatre. His future looks bright: On the horizon for him are Assassins and his solo show, Laugh Whore.

Playbill On-Line: I read that Richard Greenberg wrote Gidger for you. Is that true?
Mario Cantone: Yes, the part was written for me. It's a funny part and a sad little part too. It's a great part: a repressed gay man in 1919. Only Greenberg would match me up with that.

PBOL: You seem to always to play very fervid characters. How do you summon the energy every night?
MC: Yeah, I do get those roles, but I don't mind it. I don't know, it's a hard part. I come in and out of the play. I really do love the character. I'm much better at it now than when I did it [for the world premiere at California's South Coast Repertory] in Costa Mesa. I think it's richer and I'm really realizing what it is: He's flamboyant and attention-getting [but] never going to have success. He's never going to be the writer that he wanted to be.

It's so funny because when I was doing it in Costa Mesa, the "Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell" book came out. The inside of the book, the hard back, is all little pictures of everybody who has ever been on the show. And I got the book and I was so upset, I'm looking through it and I wasn't in it. And it was so art imitating life [because] I have that line in the play "And I'm not listed in the index." [HBO has since revised it to include Cantone.]

PBOL: Are you returning for the last part of the final season on "Sex and the City?"
MC: Yes. They're doing the last eight: I'm on the first one, I'm going to be on the fifth one and hopefully, I'm praying I'm going to be in the last one. PBOL: You're also set for the upcoming Broadway revival of Assassins. Is this the first musical we will see you in?
MC: I guess. I mean, I did Boys From Syracuse at Encores! But, I don't really sing in Assassins. I know, it's weird that I've never done a musical. I turned down two of them. The Lion King and The Producers. I turned two of the biggest Broadway musicals down, am I a mess? For The Producers, I wanted six months, they wanted a year for Carmen Ghia. I wanted to leave to do Assassins because that's when Assassins was supposed to happen [in 2001] and then it didn't happen. But that's okay. I don't regret it. I'm fine.

PBOL: Your own one-man show, Laugh Whore, has been in the works, where is that on your schedule?
MC: I'm not going to do my one man show until the fall [2004]. We've finally got funding for it and we're ready to go. [Once on This Island and tick, tick... BOOM! star] Jerry Dixon actually wrote a title song that we're going to put it into the show. He's still involved writing musical stuff along with Harold Lubin. We've got [Take Me Out director] Joe [Mantello] on board. [The producers] wanted to do it this spring, but I can't. I can wait. I thought this is the only time I'm ever going to do Assassins [he'll play Samuel Byck]. I can do my show anytime, so I'll wait. I don't mind.