BWW Interview: Darren Pettie Chews the Fat About DINNER WITH FRIENDS
Darren Pettie is an actor who can say more with a monosyllable than others can do with pages of text. Several seasons ago he shared the stage with Olympia Dukakis in the Roundabout Theater's production of Tennessee Williams' THE MILK TRAIN DOESN'T STOP HERE ANYMORE at the Laura Pels Theater. As Christopher Flanders, he conjured up the crashing of the sea against the rocky Amalfi Coast with an effectively uttered "Boom". He also managed to imply a sense of storminess and doom in that one, tiny word.
Now, on that very same stage, the actor is appearing in David Margulis' Pulitzer Prize winning play, Dinner with Friends. In the first act of the play, he speaks the line "My wife makes me feel like shit", dropping his clear baritone voice a full octave on the word "wife". There's no doubt how he feels about this woman or the prospects of reconciliation between Tom and his spouse. Pettie once again demonstrates how skilled he is as an actor and is contributing a performance filled with richness and nuance.
The Alabama native became interested in acting in high school and after a stint in the military he enrolled in the Julliard School of Acting. Upon graduation, he became a staple on New York stages and in 2005 he made his Broadway debut in BUTLEY opposite Nathan Lane. His most recent New York appearance was in the acclaimed production of DETROIT in which he shared the stage with David Schwimmer, Amy Ryan and John Cullum. He also has a recurring tole on the television show MAD MEN. He also starred in a production of STRANGE INTERLUDE in London's famous National Theatre. Without a doubt, he is an actor who is constantly in demand.
"London audiences aren't all that different from those in New York. You have your good nights and your bad nights but their very appreciative," Pettie says. "There may be a few different union rules but it's a very nice. Their breaks are different, though. Actually, I liked the way they do it there. We'd get a big break in the morning and then a tea break in the afternoon. We'd gather around the kettle and it was all very social. We'd work for a good 2 or 2 1/2 hours straight. Here it's every hour and a half. It was always an eight hour day. We did have a longer time to rehearse but we only previewed for a week. All the press comes to review the show on one night. I was struck with how similar some of it was-especially the way actors live in London. It was very much like what we have in New York except that all their film, theater and TV is in one place. Here in the States it's spread out over the coasts. I really, really enjoyed it and I was never one of those guys who was dying to go to London to work. When it did happen I felt very fortunate I'd go back in a heartbeat."
Darren Pettie was talking in a lounge tucked away in the Roundabout's Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center In person he's even better looking than he appears on stage. The virile ruggedness he embodies in the play seems a bit younger and gentler when he's sitting only a few feet away. His brown eyes are friendly and he's willing to talk freely as he folds his 6' frame into one of the large sofas in the room.
As with most stage actors, Darren Pettie truly enjoys the rehearsal process. "I love the focus of rehearsal," he says. "I hate dealing with real life so when I'm in rehearsal I put everything on the back burner and just focus on the play-the role I'm playing and the people I'm working with. It gives me an excuse not to deal with the business-with-life sort of stuff. When you get into the run of the show you can still do that but you've got more time for the real world to creep in. That's not the only thing, though. I love building the world of the play; I love getting into the text and really learning it. Performance is obviously a part of it, that's where it really starts coming to life. I truly love the rehearsal process. I think most actors do; there's less pressure and it's 'play time' that's when you really have the opportunity to explore and see what happens."
"Now the preview period is where things can get tough," the actor continues. "This is because you're rehearsing during the day and doing the show at night. Sometimes that gets difficult. With this show Pam [MacKinnon, the play's director] stopped calling us in after a week. With other shows you can be rehearsing every day right up to opening. That's a lot of hours. I like the preview period because that's where you really find much of what you're looking for. You can also find things that you didn't know what you were looking for because you're doing the show for an audience and they can tell you a lot. This is a period when you can feel that you're still in rehearsal but on the other hand, you don't feel like you're in rehearsal anymore because you're performing in front of a paying audience."
Pettie continues: "The audiences for this play have been pretty sensitive. Some nights they're a bit quieter than others. Older audiences seem to really respond to things in the play that talk about getting older and their laughs are laughs of either recognition or identification or understanding. Younger crowds will laugh at some of comments about relationships that seems more current to them. When they laugh, it's more of a laugh of 'I don't want that to happen to me' while the older crowds laugh because they've already gone through it. Reaction to the play does seem to change with the over-all age of the crowd. Everyone seems to appreciate this play at their own levels. It's current where they are in their lives."
DINNER WITH FRIENDS concerns itself with two couples, one of which is divorcing. Each character has its won complexities, but Pettie's character (Tom) seems to be the most ambiguous of the four. "I don't think I've made any deliberate choice to play him as ambiguous. I think our relationships are always like that," Pettie explains. "You never know who's full of shit and who isn't. I don't think people themselves know. I've been in relationships that have gone bad. I saw it the way I saw it and it was very different for the person I was in the relationship with. In Tom's case, he feels like he has done the best he can and I'm sure for him that is completely true. I'm sure that Beth she feels she's done the best she's capable of and for her that's the truth. I don't intentionally play him as being ambiguous but I don't think anyone knows where the truth lies when you're talking about a relationship between two people.