PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With David Hyde Pierce, Going from Star to Director of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

By Evan Henerson
08 Feb 2014

How about the role of Vanya? Has it been at all challenging letting Mark Blum make his own discoveries with the role you created?

DHP: Mark Blum is not only a fantastic actor, but he's perfect casting for Vanya, and I can say that because I had nothing to do with that casting. For me, the balancing act is to allow Mark to discover the role for himself and also to provide guidance where I can. Mainly my guidance is less about the character and more about sort of the overarching structure of the play. One of the things that we learned having done it for a year is sometimes there's a perfectly good choice that an actor can make in the first scene, but it may not pay off if you go all the way through the end of the play. I think I take advantage of all of our experiences in the play and allow people to discover their own way but also not have people waste their time going down blind alleys that we already explored.

Having said that, many times in this rehearsal the new cast have tried something different and my first impulse would have been to say, "Ohhhh no, don't do that," but then either I let them do it or they fought for it and we discovered something completely new and equally wonderful in a totally different direction, and that's been a real learning experience for me. I would also say the thing that really has made this a joy for me is that Kristine Nielsen and Shalita Grant and Liesel Yeager have been totally open to completely new interpretations of moments, blocking changing, ending up at different places on stage, losing tried and true comic bits which they had before and finding new ones with the new people. That's been very gratifying and has made my job very easy, because everyone has been open to whatever happens in rehearsal.

Did you take them apple picking prior to the start of rehearsal for bonding purposes?

DHP: (laughs) No, we didn't have any of that although a bunch of us are going to see A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder in a couple of days, the new musical produced by Joey Parnes, who brought Vanya to Broadway, so we're having little events like that. The whole rehearsal process is a bonding experience. Essentially the thing we had that was so great at the start of the original production was summer camp in Princeton, NJ, where we were all away from home and just had each other and had a great time. That's what we're all about to do. We're about to go out to L.A. and be away from home and be ensconced together, and that's going to be a big part of the bonding. But it's already started. I knew Mark Blum and I knew Christine Ebersole from before, so it's sort of like old home week.


David Hyde Pierce, Peter Michael Goetz, Kate McGregor-Stewart, Jack Gilpin, John Lithgow and Dianne Weist in Beyond Therapy
photo by Martha Swope

Your Broadway debut was in Durang's Beyond Therapy. Do you have any recollections of Durang from that experience? Has he changed much in his process?

DHP: I can't talk very effectively about how he's changed in the rehearsal room because my first experience with him was my first job back in 1982 with Beyond Therapy. I didn't have anything to compare it with, so I don't have vivid memories of anything but sort of, "Oh my God. I can't believe I'm in this room with these people." Over the years, I've come to know Chris as a friend. I will say this about his writing — and I'm not the only person to say this — I think this play is his consummation of all the things he's written before.

I went back and read basically everything Chris ever wrote. A lot of things he wrote I was unable to see, partially because I was out in L.A. doing "Frasier" during those 11 years, and you see the roots and the seeds of everything that's in Vanya in his earlier plays. But something happened in this play, consciously or unconsciously, where his sense of humor, his sense of character, the kind of depth of character that happens in Chekhov's plays but that we're not necessarily used to seeing in comedies, always seem to come together in this play along, with his very keens sensitivity to the times and to what's going on in the world and in our minds. So I think that's one of the reasons all of us who are connected to the play have a great emotional attachment to it. It's not just our history with Chris. It's that we feel like this is his most mature and wonderful piece.