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Another Golden Age
A theatre renaissance for a master
by Robert Simonson

F. Murray Abraham has gotten into an Off-Broadway rhythm in recent years. A little Ethan Coen play at the Atlantic Theatre 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 his 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 says. "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 says. "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 Sallieri 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 the 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 visible 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 explains. "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."

[image: photograph of F. Murray Abraham smiling]

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The Perfect Blendship
Continued from page 12

Foster concedes, "I think we all carry around these scars that we deal with every day. And there is something about this character that resonates on a deep level with me personally.

"I think I can pull from a lot of my own experiences. My own upbringing definitely correlates with her story. I grew up in the South and watched televangelists... I know what it's like to believe in something so much you think it'll take away all pain and suffering. To play a character who learns to forgive, learns to love, learns to acept is great. These are all these I know I can relate to and others can, too." 

During this long bus ride into self-awareness, which officially opens Apr. 20 at Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre, and runs until Aug. 10, Violet falls in with a couple of soldier-boys fresh from basic training and bound for Fort Smith-Month (Colin Donnell), a lover-type boy, and Flick(Joshua Henry), an African-American who, it being the South of 1964, is also sensitive about how he looks to others.

"One unique thing about Flick and Monty is that the scar does not affect them the way it affects other people," Donnell notes. "The reason Violet attaches herself to us-and us to her- is we're unaffected by it. Shortly after meeting, we joke about it. For whatever reason, we are able to see the person beyond the disfigurement."

Donnell and Foster were best buds in their previous time together on stage, in 2011's Anything Goes. Now they've amorously upped the ante. "It's exciting to work with Sutton again. It felt, even on the first day of rehearsal, great to get back on the same page with her- so easy, so wonderful- and to work on a completely different kind of relationship."

He has a new song in the works that he hopes will take the negative edge off his role. "Monty has a song where he keeps saying 'You're Different,' so whatever it is it'll be different from 'You're Different.' The great thing about having Jeanine and Brian so involved int he process again is that they're really re-attacking the material and re-investigating all they did in 1997, looking at it 17 tears later with fresher eyes."

[image: Colin Donnell, Sutton Foster, and Joshua Henry]

Henry will stick with the songs he was dealt, among them "Let It Sing," a gospel showstopper. "I think that Flick's creed," he says. "His mother-like mine-taught him [that] your voice matters. Your path in life doesn't have to be like everyone else's. You're a unique individual, and you don't have to prove things to others."

The city center resurrection, which was newly configured as a one-act by director Leigh Silverman, took eight days to mount, and the rethinking continues. "We're digging deeper," admits Henry. "Jeanine doesn't want a song just for the sake of a song. She's questioning everything, making sure every song is learned, and, if it's not, she's the first to say, 'Let's get it out of there.' It's crazy to hear a composer say that out loud."

In a sense, Tesori made her own miracle. An artistic director of the 2013 Encores! Off-Center series at City Center, she tapped Violet for a one-night-only revival. "She was reluctant to do that," says Foster. "Violet was her first heartbreak. When it opened at Playwrights Horizons, there was this momentum and hope it'd go to Broadway, but it didn't transfer. I think she was nervous to poke at it again.

"But this turns out to be a great time to bring it back, especially in an age when people have such an obsession for physical beauty, when people can go and change their looks whenever they want. For thousands of dollars, they can be who they want to be. Violet has a song where she describes Judy Garland's chin and Grace Kelly's nose and Rita Hayworth's skin. In this day and age, you can buy all that!"

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