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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Next Door Neighbor Doesn't Live Here Anymore
An Interview with David Garrison

David GarrisonIn New York, David Garrison made an early splash and garnered a Tony award nomination as Samovar in A Day In Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. In recent years, he gave distinguished performances as Ismay in Maury Yeston's Tony winning musical Titanic, Sandor in the revival of Bells Are Ringing , and a Drama Desk nominated turn as Michael in the Off-Broadway revival of I Do! I Do! opposite Karen Ziemba. He received the Helen Hayes award as Charley in the Arena Stage Merrily We Roll Along, and played Nathan Detroit opposite Lorna Luft's Adelaide in the national tour of the Jerry Zaks revival of Guys & Dolls. Still, most of the country (if not indeed the TV watching world) remembers his four-year stint as next door neighbor Steve Rhoades on the Fox Networks first smash sitcom "Married With Children." Now a world away from that lucrative but limited role, Garrison is in rehearsal for world premiere staging of Craig Lucas' ambitious, challenging new play Singing Forest, opening July 30 at Intiman Theatre.

The eloquent, intense actor seems happy to meet the scripts' challenges, and to be here enjoying an unusually sunny Seattle summer. "I've gone out exploring whenever I can," he chuckles, "But rehearsals keep getting in the way of my vacation." I mention having seen an early Seattle workshop of Singing Forest at ACT a few years back, at which gifted playwright Lucas was hobbling about after enduring a minor injury, and Garrison retorts:

"He probably injured himself writing it; it's such a big piece of work. I've done two subsequent readings in New York - one at Lincoln Center just a few weeks ago - and there was one out South Coast Rep in California earlier. He just keeps refining it along the way. It's a really ambitious play, very dense. And it's also kind of a new animal. It's a hybrid. It fractures time in that we are living in contemporary New York, and we're also living in Vienna in the late thirties. The time spent in the contemporary world is quite funny; it's almost farce at times and Craig in his Reckless mode - that wacky, high intensity comedy that comes out of very deep psychological stress. The time spent in Vienna is very, very soulful, and quite tragic in spots.

We're walking this fine edge of comedy and tragedy, and trying to keep all of this accessible to the audience without tipping the cart one direction or the other. You've got to be willing to go to both places as the play proceeds. The comic behavior is based on real tragedy, and deep psychological damage. We all inherit our family baggage, and when the damage is so deep in early generations it can really backfire on later generations."

Garrison's time travel in the play involves related characters. "I tend to play two ends of the same rubber band, stretched very far in each direction" he says. "There is a central, matriarchal figure who is attempting to come to terms with her past. In the contemporary world I play her son, and in Vienna I play her father. Sort of both ends of the DNA assembly line. The son, as she was, is a Freudian analyst, while her father is a very successful Austrian businessman, who befriends Freud."

Having made the journey through several readings, Garrison is clearly pleased to be part of this first full mounting, and is quite a fan of playwright Lucas. "The play has obviously become clearer each step along the way. Craig writes from a subconscious place, and his writing is quite unlike any other contemporary playwright that I can think of. I love the places his mind goes ... many of them quite dark, but always fascinating." The production will travel to New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre January 5-February 6, 2005. And then? "Well we all think there's a good shot it will go to New York. A lot of people are saying this is Craig's best play yet."

Tackling the proverbial elephant in the room, I, hesitantly bring up "Married With Children," which along with The Tracey Ullman Show was a ground breaker in establishing Fox as a major player in with the big three (CBS, NBC, and ABC). "I believe that most television series," he muses, "have four, maybe five good years in them before you start losing the original writers, and then the first team that follow them. I left the show after four years, and that was fine. My bank account may curse the decision every so often, but I don't. It was time. Before I crossed over to that place where I would only be remembered as that funny next door neighbor." I offer that Katey Sagal has shed her Peg Bundy role at last as the star of ABC's "Eight Simple Rules," and Garrison offers the comment that "So much of what Peg was had to do with her look, with what she wore. Katey has reinvented herself. It hasn't been as easy for Ed O'Neill."

Among his theatrical memories are his two years with Titanic. "We had that legendary [first preview] where everything that could go wrong with the tech did. And we all came out and had like eight inches from where the scenery ended to the lip of the stage to take our curtain call. But, and I have never seen this happen before, the creators knew what needed to be changed, and they made all the right changes. And I have never worked with a closer, nicer cast. Two years is a long time to stay with a show, but none of us wanted to leave." And Rosie O'Donnell's campaign to get people into see the show? "That was something; Broadway needs someone like that in our corner. And now there isn't anyone."

Does he think Merrily We Roll Along will ever come back to Broadway? "Well," he laughs, "Ours was supposed to. Me, Victor Garber, Marin Mazzie ... that was another great cast. I honestly think that's a show that theatre people love. I had friends in the theatre tell me it made them weep, it was so moving. And that is one of the great scores, isn't it? But no, I don't really see a big New York revival happening."

On a recent day off from Singing Forest, Garrison flew to L.A. to tape an episode of the highly touted and anticipated fall 2004 PBS series Broadway: The American Musical, which airs in October. "It's like those great Ken Burns documentaries, only it's about the American musical. People keep telling me they can't believe it hasn't been done before now. I'm just glad it's being done. And that's what I was doing on my day off, David. Flew to L.A., taped all day with Julie Andrews and the others, flew back that night, and back in rehearsal Tuesday morning."

Well Mr. Garrison, you looked none the worse for it!

Singing Forest by Craig Lucas, directed by Intiman Theatre's artistic director Bartlett Sher, now in previews at Intiman Theatre in Seattle Center, opens July 30 and runs through August 21. The ensemble includes Laurence Ballard, Kristin Flanders, Malte Frid-Nielsen, David Garrison, Jay Goede, Daniel Eric Gold, John Procaccino, Jeanne Paulsen and Anne Scurria. For further information, visit Intiman online at www.intiman.org.



- David-Edward Hughes



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