Interview: Theatre Life with Jack Koenig

By: Oct. 11, 2017
Jack Koenig

Today's subject Jack Koenig is currently living his theatre life onstage at Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) as part of the company of the double bill of The Lover and The Collection by Harold Pinter. The production runs through October 29th at STC's Lansburgh Theatre.

Jack returns to STC after a thirty two-year hiatus. He last appeared in Mandragola which, like The Lover/The Collection, was also directed by STC'S Founder and Artistic Director Michael Kahn.

Now based in New York, Jack has been seen on and off- Broadway in Oslo, The Lion King, The Pitmen Painters, Accent on Youth, Tabletop (Drama Desk Award), Incident at Vichy, Marco Polo Sings a Solo, The Cocktail Party, The Grand Manner, Big Bill, Everett Beekin, Three Days of Rain, The American Plan, and Not About Heroes.

Select regional credits include Old Globe's A Doll's House; Pioneer Theatre Company's Laughing Stock and A Christmas Story; Westport Country Playhouse's Rough Crossing and Battle of Angels; and Virginia Stage's A Moon for the Misbegotten, Macbeth, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

You might have seen Jack on the big screen in National Treasure or I.Q or in your very own living rooms in the television shows Boardwalk Empire, Gotham, The Blacklist, Madoff, Forever, Unforgettable, Law & Order and Sex and the City.

I encourage you to see Jack Koenig and company in The Lover and The Collection. The acting and production as a whole are top notch, and if it's your first time seeing works by Pinter, these two one acts are a good introduction to one of the theatre's most innovative playwrights.

What was the turning point in your life for you becoming a professional actor?

I think I was in first grade. I was watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E and Dennis the Menace. I was a blonde so I identified with Dennis. The actor playing Dennis did an episode of U.N.C.L.E when he was all grown up and I was very impressed. I could come home for lunch so one day I asked my mom if could I be an actor like on TV - and that was it.

Where did you receive your training?

I went to Columbia University for undergrad. They did not offer a theatre major. I majored in English. Estelle Parsons taught there for a semester. Aaron Frankel taught a scene study class. The best was when Robert Neff Williams taught a Speech for the Stage course one semester. He was really old school. I was very impressed by him. I took his private class after college. He was the best teacher I ever had. I learned so much about acting from him.

Jack Koenig in Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Collection. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Is The Collection your first time performing the work of Harold Pinter?

Yes; it is. I've auditioned for others but this is my first time being cast. It's great to honor that famous Pinter pause.

Patrick Ball and Jack Koenig in Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of The Collection. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Can you please talk about how The Collection and The Lover are connected? Why do you think they work well together as a double bill?

They were both written around the same time period. The same actors play two different couples, one of which is gay. In 1961, you were still hiding that kind of thing so it was very edgy for its time. We never do learn what happened between my character's son and the other guy's wife. Both plays focus on the way relationships work and how they negotiate them.

Some will say Harold Pinter's work is for a certain age bracket. What do you think is the best way to get younger theatre goers interested in his work?

Theatre has that problem all the time. Nobody worries about the 75-year-olds that go snowboarding. The STC staff who represent a younger demographic really were able to clue into it during the dress rehearsal.

You were part of the Broadway company of the Tony Award-winning play Oslo. When you first started rehearsals, was it obvious to you and the cast that the show would take off as it did?

Honestly, I thought it was a terrific play. When we started it, we were in the Newhouse at Lincoln Center Theater (LCT). LCT commissioned it. When it got the acclaim Off-Broadway they remounted it in their Broadway space. First preview ran three hours and forty minutes in three acts. For economic reasons they had to make cuts for Broadway. Director Bartlett Sher is a great dramaturg and, along with the playwright, they made the necessary cuts. When it opened on Broadway then I knew [it would take off]. People were also surprised at how funny it was. I was sure we would get nominated and had a good chance of winning Best Play.

What is next for you after The Lover and The Collection finishes its run?

The actor's life. Back to New York to start auditioning again.

Special thanks to Shakespeare Theatre Company's publicist Amy Hughes for her assistance in coordinating this interview.

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