PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The People in the Picture I Remember "Bubbie"

By Harry Haun
29 Apr 2011


Buy this Limited Collector's Edition

It's cold out there on the stage for Nicole Parker, who, in the harsh and thankless role of Red, spends most of the play without any audience sympathy — until the source of her mean-spiritedness toward her mother is finally revealed.

"She's sort of purposefully misunderstood at the beginning," Parker pointed out. "I think we're not supposed to know all there is to Red. It's the classic example of you never know what someone is going through. You might look at someone and see how they act and think, 'Wow, that's not a very good person,' or 'That's not a choice I would have made.' Then you find out where she's coming from, what she's been dealing with for so long, and it sorta opens up. We kinda come to understand her.

"So I have to work backwards with the show, where I have to remember that what happens in the end is still happening to me when I walk in on that stage in the first act. I've dealt with it all my life. I love the complexity of her, trying to figure it out.



"Unfortunately, what happened to her has not defined her but really set her on a path that was going to be tricky — feelings that she was not quite good enough."

Completing the play's three generations of women is young Rachel Resheff, who was bright as a penny and precocious as hell with the press. "I like how my character — sorta like me — wants everybody to get along and wants there to be happiness around her. She really absorbs things — that's where she gets her energy."

She has made all the child-actor stops to get to The People in the Picture — from Mary Poppins to Billy Elliot to Shrek — and still she found the evening to be especially exciting. "I had the feeling that everything was complete, everything was done. There's a feeling of accomplishment. It's amazing."

The merry band of Polish players here, who are forever pausing for photo-ops ("the better to remember you by," as it turns out), is colorfully cast with knowing veterans like Joyce Van Patten, who has a quiver full of zingers. "The one that gets the biggest reaction," she revealed, "is, 'I believe that if a person surrounds himself with the proper hair and makeup people one need never go into elder-care.'"

The comedy team of Chip Zien and Lewis J. Stadlen has a place on Raisel's bill, tapping as hard as they can as war clouds gather ominously. "My take on the character is that he's a gentle soul and facing these horrifying events," Zien said. "I think he's a guy who wants to jump around, laugh a lot, but is confronted with this tidal wave of history that is overwhelmingly sad, and he ends up losing his life. My sense of him is he can't believe it's happening. And that's how I try to play it.

Christopher Innvar and Joyce Van Patten
photo by Peter James Zielinski

"It's a difficult show, and I'm really proud of the Roundabout. Like, I think it's awesome that Todd Haimes took it on and said, 'Yes, let's do it. I want to do it.' Good for him. I think it's tough material, and I hope the theatre world accepts it."

Stadlen, who must have Showbiz Concentrate flowing through his veins, takes effortlessly to the situation. "Somebody said to me what they liked so much about this show was that Chip and I were able to kinda bridge between the David Burnses and now," the actor relayed, referring to the late character actor. "A lot of people don't do that kind of comedy anymore.

"I like the idea of playing a straight man, and I like the stillness. You're extremely animated in the present tense of your life, but then, when you are a memory — part of Donna's consciousness — I like the stillness. I just think that Donna Murphy is giving one of the most extraordinary performances that I have ever seen in my life."

Alexander Gemignani, who has gained some leading-man dash (in his Laird Cregar sort of way) from a very becoming wig, marks his second show with his dad, conductor Paul Gemignani — in the same house as Assassins before.

Christopher Innvar is not short on dash either as the redheaded director who fathers Raisel's child. "I did two readings of it, and it has changed, but my relationship with Raisel has always been the same. That's always been the main attraction to me. I get to play across from Donna Murphy, and I feel as though we have this great chemistry right from the beginning, so I enjoy doing this."

Innvar's next theatrical venture will likely take him behind the footlights: "I'm probably going to direct Lord of the Flies up at Barrington Stage Company where I'm an artistic associate. It will be an adaptation by Nigel Williams."

Andy Williams, a stranger to Broadway openings but a lifelong working buddy of Artie Butler's, led the opening night guest list, followed by Shawn Elliott (Murphy's husband), Matthew Broderick, actress Carolyn McCormick, comedienne Caroline Rhea, producer Scott Landis and director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall, Pearl Theatre regular Sean McNall, Hello, Again's Elizabeth Stanley (with a couple of musicalized-movie readings in the offing: Giant and Robin and the Seven Hoods), Tovah Feldshuh — of course, John Scherer (bound for a West Coast Anything Goes with Jason Graae and Vicki Lewis in Sacramento), Jim Walton, Baby It's You! co-director Sheldon Epps, Goodspeed's Michael Price, a lean-and-mean Denis O'Hare (going Gothic on us: not only is he lingering between dead and undead on "True Blood," he's doing the pilot of a new F/X called "American Horror" with Jessica Lange in May), Marc Kudisch, Catch Me If You Can's Terrence McNally, actress-producer Jana Robbins, conductor David Loud, theatrical attorneys Jason Baruch and Mark Sendroff, Anything Goes co-adapter John Weidman, director-choreographer Susan Stroman (slaving over a still-untitled Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical at Lincoln Center), Max Von Essen, holidaying before Death Takes a Holiday, Jack Koenig and, fleetingly, of Glory Days, Nick Blaemire.

View highlights from the show: