BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month - PICNIC's Chris Perfetti

Chris Perfetti is currently making his Broadway debut in the role of 'Bomber' in Roundabout Theatre Company's production of William Inge's PICNIC. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play is helmed by acclaimed director Sam Gold (Roundabout's Look Back in Anger, Seminar) and stars Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn and Emmy Award winner Mare Winningham. The story follows a handsome young drifter named Hal who arrives in a small town on a balmy Labor Day morning. His combination of uncouth manners and titillating charm sends the women reeling, especially the beautiful Madge. When Hal is forced out of town, Madge must decide whether their fleeting encounter is worth changing the course of her life.

Perfetti's stage credits include Roundabout's off-Broadway production of Sons of the Prophet. Regionally, he has performed at the Geva Theatre Center and the Hangar Theatre. The talented, young actor recently spoke with BWW about his Broadway debut experience which he calls, "nothing short of an extreme pleasure."

Your path to professional theater took a rather quick turn when you were cast in Roundabout's "Sons of the Prophet" just months after graduating college.

Yeah, it's been kind of an amazing year. And Roundabout really has been such a big part of it. It's been two of my jobs but it's also been such a major influence. Doing 'Sons of the Prophet' two falls ago was kind of like a dream job at any point in your career, but to have it at the beginning, it was really kind of the greatest way to be welcomed into the theater community and to New York.

How did that come about so quickly?

I became attached to the play that Roundabout was doing in the black box which was called 'Suicide Incorporated' and that was going on at the same time as 'Sons of the Prophet.' And I had auditioned for Roundabout's casting director Carrie Gardner a couple of times for 'Suicide Incorporated' and just loved her and loved the play and I will always prize working on a new play above all else, so it was really fun to be doing that. And then I went in for 'Sons of the Prophet' around the same time and it was just a really good fit.

The play had been done in Boston and they were bringing it to New York and our writer Stephen Karam, who is so amazing, did all this fantastic work in between the two shows. They asked me, kind of as a call back, to come in and do this reading for all of the Roundabout literary staff and producers and casting to kind of hear the new version of the play. And I was so nervous. I was the only one there that had not already been signed on to do the show in the fall and so I was kind of auditioning with the whole production, which was pretty amazing but kind of scary. So that's how that came about.

I'm learning more and more that timing is just really the answer to everything. The part was originally written for a good friend of mine who was doing a movie at the time and couldn't do the show and that's the only reason that I got to do it. It kind of makes functioning in this business a little less stressful, just knowing that there's kind of a higher power!

True, but I think that talent has a bit to do with it as well! Were you familiar with William Inge's play before you were cast?

I was. I read it in school at conservatory and I don't know if it was because I was in love with so many other writers at the time, but I didn't really think twice about it. I thought it was a beautiful play, I thought it was a simple story, but it's only been working on it with Sam [Gold] and all these amazing actors that its depth and its nuances and its heart has really been revealed to me.

You mentioned the cast, which includes such theater legends as Ellen Burstyn. What has that experience been like and what have you learned?

It's very difficult to articulate it. It's been nothing short of an extreme pleasure. Something that I'm so grateful for. It's been so fulfilling, personally and artistically. Of all of the shows to have a very small part in, this has been something that I will never ever forget. It's been a real joy and that's because of all these actors. Ellen just brings so much into the room as a person, as an actor, so it's been really nice to be around her. She's such a great storyteller, it's a total gift. And she's such a good person and I think that really good people do some of the best work.

What do you think it is about 'Picnic' that still makes it relevant today?

It's so funny because I ask that question to my family and friends. Not because I don't know, but because I'm interested in what people have to say about it. I want to know what resonates for them. I think especially now, politically there's a cool sort of grasping the American dream where this country is now. I think there's something about taking charge of your life, if you really want something you can have it. I think a lot of people in this play think that way, especially Hal.

And I think what it brings up in terms of physical beauty and what's really important in life, I think that is huge. And functioning in society and equality and passing judgement on people. Hal and Madge don't have a good time of it in this town and it's because of all of that moral upbringing and that sexual suppression, and while we are certainly not living in the 1950's now, it's still there. There will always be a ceiling to butt up against. And I think it's really interesting that this play has preserved what that was like back then.

What was it like to make your Broadway debut?

It was just incredible. We were working really hard so it just kind of happened, but I will never forget walking into the theater from rehearsal for the first time. Moving into the space and seeing that incredible set that Andrew Lieberman has designed. Just being in a house that big and that beautiful, the American Airlines theater is such a beautiful theater. It's emotional, but it's so fantastic. This play and this company of people have really made it extra special.

PICNIC runs from December 14, 2012 to February 24, 2013 at the American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street). This will be a limited engagement through February 24, 2013.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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