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When did you first get involved with Classic Stage Company?
I did Arturo in '91. That was the first time I worked there. I have a long relationship [with the group]. I love the stage, always have, and [CSC] reminds me of the Donmar in London. There are not that many spaces like this in New York, and I really love it. The Cherry Orchard is one of my favorite plays, and I'm a huge fan of [fellow lead] Dianne [Wiest].
Classic Stage Company's approach is classic repertory that speaks to modern themes. What are the themes this production is trying to accentuate?
I think it's about time passing and loss and youth and age. It covers all the things you're going to go through in life.
You've spoken about seeing The Cherry Orchard in 1976. Has it influenced your approach to this production?
That was the first Chekhov play I saw. I really loved it—Raul Julia, Meryl Streep, Michael Cristofer, it was a wonderful cast. The play has a lot of relevance as you get older, too. I've only seen one other [production], and I'm glad about that. I read one of my favorite actors played Lopakhin, Charles Laughton, so that's encouraging for me.
Your character, the merchant Lopakhin, tries unsuccessfully to help the family, but winds up buying their house. Do you consider him a villain?
There's a lot of contradiction in the character. He's obviously a powerful guy, but I know it was very important to Chekhov that you saw his gentility and his delicacy. I have a lot of things in common with the character, so it's interesting for me.
I come from a family of workers and I've done very well for myself. His view of work and life and what it means [are similar]. I'm like a middle child who takes care of everybody. A lot of things just speak to me and it's a part I've always wanted to do.
After directing Relatively Speaking on Broadway, is it nice to be acting again?
Absolutely. And it feels like a brand-new play, because [it's] a new translation.
Do you prefer acting onstage?
In a play, you get to work on something for a long time and that's great. [When] you're working with great people and great material, it's a real workout. I try to do plays, as an actor, that challenge me.
Have you seen the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's cherry blossoms?
Oh, yes, many times. I'm a big fan of them. I almost bought a house in Park Slope that had a cherry tree in the backyard. I really love those trees.