F. Murray Abraham's Golden Age: The Threepenny Opera Actor's Late-in-Life Renaissance
29 Mar 2014
F. Murray Abraham
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham, currently performing in The Threepenny Opera at Atlantic Theater Company, chats with Playbill.com about his lengthy career and recent resurgence of Off-Broadway performances.
F. Murray Abraham has gotten into an Off-Broadway rhythm in recent years. A little Ethan Coen play at the Atlantic Theater Company (Almost an Evening), and a little more Ethan Coen at the same theatre (Offices). Then some Brecht at CSC, playing the title role in Galileo. A trip down memory lane with Terrence McNally's Golden Age at Manhattan Theatre Club — in the 1970s the actor appeared in multiple McNally works, including the Broadway hit The Ritz. And this spring, back to the Atlantic and back to Brecht, as part of the ensemble in director Martha Clarke's new interpretation of The Threepenny Opera.
Not only is he in the cast, but Abraham's convinced that, as Peachum — the petty crime lord who controls London's beggars — he's as close to being the show's Brecht as possible. "I'm sure my voice is the voice of the man in charge," he said. "I'm sure that Peachum is Brecht. The statements are so exactly his philosophy, so precisely what he thinks."
He finds Brecht a challenge, particularly the author's discursive, presentational songs, of which he delivers four in Threepenny. "I think you have to have a real feel for it," he said. "The Galileo I did a couple years ago, it was hard, the way he chases ideas. It's really tough to get the thing together. It was a big surprise to me, because I'm a very quick study. And I was having trouble balancing the whole thing. One idea was never enough for the character."
For Abraham, one project is never enough. At the age of 74, and three decades after his career-defining triumph as Salieri in the film "Amadeus," the actor is enjoying a late-career renaissance. Aside from the numerous stage assignments listed above, he landed critical parts in two high-profile art films: "Inside Llewyn Davis," the Coen brothers' mediation of the folk scene in early 1960s New York; and "Grand Budapest Hotel," Wes Anderson's delirious farce set in an absurdly lush 1930s European hotel. In addition he appears regularly as black ops specialist Dar Adal in the television series "Homeland." Abraham seems visibly invigorated by all the activity, and he's not shy about stating that he thinks he's doing the best work of his life. The boast, however, is not necessarily meant to be boastful, but rather a evocation of a certain undying dedication to his work.
"I've always felt that way," he explained. "I still feel that way. I can't imagine why you'd do it otherwise. I'm no spring chicken, but I still feel an amazing energy."
Mary Beth Peil and F. Murray Abraham in The Threepenny Opera
Holed up in a seedy motel on the edge of the Mojave Desert, two former lovers unpack the deep secrets and dark desires of their tangled relationship, passionately tearing each other apart. Led by director Daniel Aukin (Back Back Back at MTC, 4,000 Miles), Tony winner Nina Arianda (Venus in Fur at MTC, Born Yesterday) and Sam Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, The Way Way Back) bring an explosive intensity to Sam Shepard’s (Buried Child, True West) landmark myth of the new Wild West.