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"He has a lot of heart, which is actually really true. He is the emotional center of the play, with Kaufman being cerebral and distant. Hart had the heart of that duo."
Shalhoub has the best hat trick of the evening, playing Kaufman and Hart, plus in his few idle moments Hart's life-battered working-class father. This stunt comes off smoother than you might think, thanks to some lightning-fast costume changes. He moves with gazelle-like grace, sliding in and out as the older Hart who narrates the story. His hilarious take on the grouchy, germ-fighting, cynical Kaufman consumes the second act, bouncing the character off the fresh-faced, unworldly Fontana.
"One thing that's fun to play," he said, "is Kaufman's impatience with service people. He was always irritated with waiters. He appreciated that they were underpaid and overworked, but he just didn't have a lot of patience for bad service. When one of the waiters at the Algonquin died, he said, 'God must have caught his eye.'"
He cracked several books on Kaufman and Hart and got some first-hand accounts. "I talked to his daughter, Anne Kaufman Schneider — she's amazing — and Hart's children, Chris and Kathy, have been very present and very helpful in getting us material."
Andrea Martin, a two-time Tony winner for Featured Actress, has set herself up for a third with three delightful, and radically different, portrayals of the most influential females in young Hart's life: The eccentric aunt who sparked his interest in theater; a tough, hip-swinging lady agent; and the elegant, stylish Mrs. Kaufman. (Look out for the aunt's poignant underpinnings — they're unexpectedly heartbreaking.)
"She really went out on a limb for those," beamed her proud director. "She was so brave, really brave. I think she's just amazing, and I know it was hard for her."
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