If Stiller is experiencing some telltale déjà vu, it at least is coming at him from a different angle. "Everybody in the play believes the play's about them — and Ronnie, for sure! Ronnie's whole part is: he comes out and he talks to the audience about what he wants to do with the Pope. He was very focused, so, for me, I always looked at the play from that character. It was just about me, and the rest of the play was all this other stuff that went on before and after until it got to Ronnie's part.
"Now, to look at Artie as a full person and to really see what he wants and what he needs and how he relates — it's almost like a whole different experience. And then just to find my own reality in that guy and his desires — he has all these desires for fame and to be validated and all these things — these needs, these deep needs. It's almost like there's no subtext in the play. It's all out there. People say their subtext.
"This is a brand-new adventure for me because it doesn't relate to anything I did the first time around. To look at Artie's relationship with Ronnie — from Artie's side — is really interesting. I only knew Ronnie's side of it. Now to understand how Artie feels about his son, how that relationship's going to be — it's about finding it for myself."
Christopher Abbott, who was Laila Robins' spectacularly unsettled son in Off-Broadway's That Face last year, is the new Ronnie — and, to date, there haven't been any notes from the old Ronnie. "We haven't gotten to 'chum about it,'" admitted Abbott. "I'm waiting, man. I'm waiting for him to give me some pointers on how to do it."
But he seems to be on the right track: Breaking down the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly "is easier if you imagine the audience has always been there, watching these people live somewhat normal lives in this cramped little apartment in Sunnyside, Queens. If it is a crazy environment, the people who are in it don't think so. That's the wonderful thing about it, and that's what makes it fun to play. If you're playing crazy, you don't think you're crazy. You think everyone else is crazy."