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

Durang's work reads very funny. Do actors fall into the trap of thinking that because it's written funny that they don't have to work as hard?

David Hyde Pierce
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

DHP: I think in a weird way the opposite may happen. When people go wrong with Chris's work, it's when they work too hard. It's when they say, "Oh, this is funny," so they try to make it funny there is such a very fine line between doing enough and doing too much. In Chris's work, there's a real music that actors have to have an ear for in the way his sentences flow and are put together, and I think we've all found that anyone who has been in a rehearsal room knows part of the way of getting you to do the right amount is doing too much. You have to constantly push the envelope. As a director, I can see when nothing's happening and I can see when too much is happening. When the actors zero in on just the right intention and emotion, then the lines just come out, and that's what we're aiming for.

Can you discuss your own journey into directing?

DHP: People have said I should direct for a long time, back when I was on "Frasier," one of our camerawomen would frequently say to me, "Don't you want to direct? You look at the process like a director." I never wanted to. I liked acting and I liked being on stage and I liked getting the response. Then what happened was my partner Brian had written a musical (It Shoulda Been You) and Casey Nicholaw was slated to direct it. Then Casey was offered The Book of Mormon and, for some strange reason, he decided to do it. The musical at the time didn't have any stars or anything like that and Casey was a very successful director and we were sort of left hanging. I was familiar with the material because of Brian and I knew it and I loved the material. I said, "Run this by the producers. I'm not a director, but I'm a name, and so if that is useful, I actually would be interested in directing this." And so I went ahead and did it, and it ended up being very successful. Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris were in it, and we did it out of town in New Jersey and it was a big hit, and we're planning to bring it to Broadway next fall.

The thing I didn't realize because it was my first time directing is that directing a brand new musical is completely insane for a first-time director, but fortunately sometimes a first time director doesn't realize that, so I just went ahead and did it. Now looking back on it, I think that was insane.

That was that, and then I've been very happily acting in theatre and so directing wasn't something I was totally moving into and I'm not someone who wants to direct just to direct. The second time it happened was at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, which is a place where I've worked many times. The artistic director had seen the musical I directed and asked if I would direct. I said I would love to, but I don't know what I would direct. I said the only idea I ever had was to do The Importance of Being Earnest with gangsters. It had to do with the language of Oscar Wilde's play and how it was identical to the Damon Runyon of Guys and Dolls. So Jenny Gerstein said "Oh that sounds interesting." and Williamstown is a great place to do something odd like that. So I did that and that also succeeded way beyond my wildest dreams and Tyne Daly was also in that playing sort of a Ma Barker Lady Bracknell.

So I found that the voices that had been in my head all the years I had been acting were actually a director's voice, and by directing I got to actually articulate what I had been thinking. So I love it. I love every aspect of it. I love being involved in the design. I love the chance to work with actors. it's very humbling just sitting there and seeing when they discover things on their own. That's also been a pleasure.