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Dylan Baker: His Stamp on Stage

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Dylan Baker returns to Manhattan Theatre Club in Mauritius, a new play by Theresa Rebeck currently in previews, opening October 4.  Recognizable from the Spider-Man movie series and the independent film Happiness, Baker has a plethora of stage experience including his Tony Award-nominated performance in La Bete (1991) and over a dozen Off-Broadway turns.  In Mauritius Baker stars as stamp-collector Phillip, opposite such seasoned Broadway actors as Allison Pill and Katie Finneran

BroadwayWorld.com's own News Desk Editor, Eugene Lovendusky, had the opportunity to speak briefly with Baker about originating a role on Broadway, his interpretation of an actor's work and the value of straight plays in New York theatre…

Eugene Lovendusky: Congratulations with your return to Broadway. Other than "two sisters and a stamp collection" – without giving away too much of the plot – what can you tell us about the show?

Dylan Baker: [laughs] Two sisters are very important of course, but I like to think it's about a man and his stamp store! [laughs] I plan this fabulous guy, Phillip, who has a stamp store that this young girl wanders into, and that sort of sparks the whole tale. But the great thing about the play – and I do think people are going to come to this show thinking "Oh god! It's about a stamp store?" But when people do get excited about different things in their lives – it could be a lottery card, it could be a new Mercedes coming out, it could be the house of your dreams – when people get really really crazy about something, Mauritius is about that. Finding people at their raw, what they want, what they value. There's some pretty desperate people in this play who will do anything to get what they want. That's why it's funny and striking a chord with people who are watching it.

Eugene: This is not your first time with Manhattan Theatre Club. You starred in Eastern Standard which earned you a Theatre World Award, and in Wolfman. Why do you like working with MTC?

Dylan: I must admit that when I first came to New York, I had a friend, Lucinda Jenny, who I'd worked with out of town.  She had just gotten off the phone and said: "I was just on the phone with the Manhattan Theatre Club" and she couldn't have been more excited and she talked about this company. And I thought to myself: "Well, that's someone I want to work with some day!" My three times with them so far have been just great; Eastern Standard and Wolfman.  I got to work with one of my oldest friends in the business, Patricia Clarkson, it was just such a join to be able to do plays with her.

Eugene: And you share the stage with some pretty impressive people this time around too! F. Murray Abraham, Katie Finneran, Allison Pill, Bobby Cannavale… Tell me what it's like working with them in Mauritius?

Dylan: I had already known Bobby, Katie and Allison – each of them I had worked with on different projects and was overjoyed to work with them again in a play.  F. Murray Abraham I didn't know at all; I had seen his work and enjoyed his work.  But I wasn't prepared for this guy who puts up a pretty mean-front but actually, I think he's having the most fun out of all of us! He is just having a ball.

Eugene: This makes playwright Theresa Rebeck's Broadway premiere.  What do you enjoy most about working with original material?

Dylan: You certainly get to put your stamp on a role…

Eugene: No pun intended!

Dylan: You kind of feel like you're the first one to really show how it's gonna go, or at least give a guideline. But the other thing is, I have seen several of Theresa's plays, and I've known her over the years in different social settings; but this is the first time that we we've actually gotten to work together and she's great. She's also incredibly helpful and listens to what we say: "Let's try this. Let's do that."  What little changes we feel necessary in the script, she certainly has stepped to the plate for those. Mostly the play was pretty much done, in a finalized position by the time we got to it.

Eugene: Mauritius is described as a sinister comedy, and you've played dark comedic (almost offensively humorous) characters in the past.  The one I'm thinking of is your award-nominated and unforgettable performance in Happiness. Where do the challenges lie in playing flawed or controversial roles?

Dylan: [laughs] One of the big things that if you've got a guy who is doing things that other people could view as evil or bad, then you've got to find the silver lining, you've got to find the thing that makes this guy a good guy. Like in a role like Happiness I decided to concentrate on that he loved his family. As his obsessions got bigger and bigger, he tried to push them down saying: "If I just keep them in this little cubby-hole corner of my life, they won't affect everything else." Of course, as we can see from Senator Craig and some of the other people who have problems with putting things in the corners of their life, they do tend to rear their ugly head, and obsession becomes practice.  It's interesting you bring that up (it certainly doesn't have a whole lot to do in Mauritius) but in terms of the character, I wasn't interested in finding someone who was a stamp dealer and sort of jaded, rather I'm more interested in talking to people who have a great love of stamps. He sees himself as somebody who really loves stamps, but perhaps he has experienced so many people that don't come up to his level of desire and respect for stamps, that he tends to categorize people not quite up to his standards. He might be just a bit snobbish.  When approaching something like that, you can't go for the bad parts; you've got to try to find the good parts.

Eugene: This season, there are twelve or more new or revived straight plays hitting Broadway. Houses that would usually be hosting musical theatre are showing plays. Why do you think it's important for tourists, young people especially, to go see a play?

Dylan: That's interesting… when I came to town in the mid-80s, there was often a time when there wasn't a straight play running on Broadway and there were many houses that were open. Nowadays it's really turned around.  We were surprised to hear from Barry Grove (Executive Producer) that when we started previews, we had broken a short-streak when there was no play open, once Frost/Nixon, there were no straight play open on Broadway.  Barry said: "I can't even remember back when that was, when there wasn't a straight play running on Broadway." And I thought: "I can remember!" [laughs] I'm just glad that Broadway public has supported them. I think the thing with Broadway, in terms of tourists, is they do go see musicals and they love the spectacles and everything. There's something wonderful about once you get their toe in the door, once you get them watching something or experiencing a Broadway show that's big and flashy, that they just might take a look over and think: "I've heard that this other thing is really interesting." Sometimes people walk into plays by accident, they don't even know what they're looking at; they just think to give it a chance. That can be the beginning of a long friendship. People can get very excited about a straight play. There's a whole world out there beyond the big-belters and the sopranos.

Eugene: I agree with you 100% about plays. In fact I stopped a couple outside the Biltmore Theatre after the crowd was coming out from Opening Preview, and asked what they thought and they talked to me for a good deal about it! I can't wait to see it. Congratulations and break a leg for Opening Night.  Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to BroadwayWorld!

Dylan: Thank you Eugene, I sure do appreciate it.

Mauritius, by Pulitzer Prize finalist Theresa Rebeck, is currently in previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club Biltmore Theatre (261 West 47th); Opening Night is October 4.  Tickets ($26.50-$91.50) are available at Telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200. For more information visit www.mtc-ny.org

Photos: Dylan Baker (headshot courtesy); Dylan Baker as Phillip in Mauritius (photo by Joan Marcus);Dylan Baker at TheatreWorld Awards 2005 (by Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.)


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From This Author Eugene Lovendusky

Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF (read more...)