RBG, an appreciation

At the LOC. Moot Appeal Court for Shylock. I was Shylock. She was a Justice. And a friend.

“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” ~ W. Shakespeare

She was a giant.

Borrowing from what was said at Lincoln’s passing,”Now, [s]he belongs to the ages.”

Along with her victories for women and equality, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be remembered as a great supporter of the arts, particularly Opera and the theater. She was a regular patron to Washington stages, and officiated at the weddings of both Michael Kahn and Molly Smith.

I first met Justice Ginsburg in 1996, when she joined other Justices to play cameos in productions at The Shakespeare Theater Company. This particular year we were giving our Henry VI. Justice Ginsburg appeared as a small part in the Cade Rebellion scene and with that schoolmarm voice said the immortal words, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” She brought down the house, and as the applause was waning, she ad libbed, “And after that, all of the reporters.” She had performance chops.After my character the Duke of York was killed off, I retreated to the greenroom at the Lansburgh, and there she was, all alone at the table, while actors were lounging around in typical varying stages of undress attempting to behave normally. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chat. I had read in the Post that there had been some last minute stay of execution by the Supreme Court that week, so I approached the Justice and said, “Excuse me, Justice Ginsburg, I hope I am not disturbing you, but what is the procedure for these kinds of stays of execution I read about this week? You don’t convene at night to consider these requests, do you?” I suppose I appealed to the professor in her. She said, “No, we do it by fax,” and then launched into a conversation about the Court schedule and other behind the scenes insights, with all of the actors now gathered around (and at her feet) in a private seminar. It was an astonishing moment.

I met her again, (this time at the Supreme Court) after having lunched in chambers with Justice Scalia for the first time, as I prepared for The Originalist. I reminded her of our first meeting during Henry VI, and asked if she remembered what she said, “Of course I do!” She repeated both the Shakespeare and the Ginsburg jokes without dropping a beat. She then walked over to her bookshelf of photographs of her with Mandela, Maya Angelou, Bill Clinton, and she showed me the picture of her curtain call, with me next to her, holding her hand and lifting her arm, presenting her to the audience. It had remained on her shelf for those intervening 20 years. That event had meant as much to her as it did to all of us. I was humbled.

She came to see The Originalist four times. The first was during the premiere run. She sent me a lovely note saying that I had “captured the spirit of her dear colleague perfectly,” and looked forward to seeing me on the stage often. Fan mail from a patriot!

Then, a few months later, Justice Scalia died. She and I encountered each other at his funeral at the end of the service. The Supreme Court Justices followed the casket of their fallen colleague out of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She wasn’t expecting to see me on the aisle, and if I thought I did not resemble her dear colleague Nino, when she saw me and gasped, as if she had seen a ghost, I wept with certainty. We shared a real moment of vulnerability. We took a step towards each other in what felt like an impulse to comfort one another, then she stopped short. She took a breath, pulled herself together. We nodded to each other, and she continued on.

Two years later, she came again, this time to do the first of two post-show interviews on the stage. This was at the Arena during our Encore run, the second in NYC during the Off-Broadway run. One that first occasion she said, “I love this play and the idea behind it that people with very different views on important things can genuinely like each other.” She yearned for a more civil discourse. In New York, she came the fourth and final time, and again spoke with Molly Smith on the 59E59 Stage. It was during that brief interval after Justice Kennedy had retired and before the confirmation hearings for Kavanaugh began. When the subject of her own eventual retirement came up, she cited the example of Justice John Paul Stevens. “He stepped down when he was 90,” she said, “so I think I have about, at least five more years.”

That was two years ago.


It was a privilege to know her and to be known by her.

“O woe is me, T’ have seen what I have seen, see what I see!” ~W. Shakespeare

A Day in the Fields

Well what does one do in the midst of a global pandemic, when the baseball season ins on jeopardy, I have created over 20 shows of Cooking with Eddie: La Mia Cucina, and it is so hot out you can barely breath? Get out early to see some sunflowers in bloom and think of Italy, that’s what. And that is just what Marijke and I did this morning. It was heaven. A nice break from the grind.

May 22, 2020: An Arena Stage Docudrama

Theaters are shuttered in Washington, DC, and across the country. Nothing is being produced on Broadway. Most productions are not even being considered to open until 2021 at the earliest. The so-called gig economy is dead. So how are institutions and artists surviving? Will they be able to make it through 12 months of no business? Will audiences be confident enough to return to the theaters? The arts are in a crisis, like all of the world economy. It is a precarious time.

Many theaters I know are doing “salons.” Free programming via Zoom or other similar platforms, with interviews of artists discussing various topics, sometimes providing reruns of previous productions, all designed to keep brands alive and to to retain audiences. Other theaters are providing Zoom readings of plays. Most are benefits for a variety of charities, which mean artists are working for free to help save institutions.How long can artists donate their time for the sake of an institution? It’s a tough row to hoe. Zoom fatigue is setting in, and requests for donations are everywhere. What are theaters to do?

Molly Smith, Artistic Director of Arena Stage came up with something different. She though of the idea to produce an artistic snapshot of the DC region in the midst of a global pandemic. What if, she thought, she sent 10 playwrights out into the region to interview a cross section of Washingtonians on the same day, then write a 3-5 minute monologue of each interviewee, invite 10 Washington actors to perform the monologues with 2 hours of rehearsal, shoot it all on one day, outside, in one continuous shot, and pay the artists for their work! Well that is precisely what she did. The result is a 55 minute docudrama called May 22, 2020, a kind of synthesis of theater skill meeting film. It premiered last week and is available to stream live to anyone who cares to watch. Below is a clip of my piece about a Washington beekeeper.

From May 22, 2020

Molly is deeply committed to the community and looks for ways to keep the artists connected to the Arena audience through the actual work. It was a pleasure to work with her on the film. We rehearsed twice on the same day, a Thursday, and the piece was shot on the following Sunday. It was a whirlwind, but I think the results are really fine. The film is a great artistic snapshot of what we are all going through with the covid-19 pandemic. Then, a few days later, the world changed again with the shooting of George Floyd and the demonstrations against racial injustice that continue weeks later.

This is an extraordinary time to be alive. Challenging, anxiety making, hopeful, all at once. It is not often that a world confronts its own weaknesses and issues of the health of the body, the body politic, the economy, and that of the entire social structure. We move forward one day at a time, reflecting, listening, making art, demonstrating, voting, hoping to find ways to make the world better, more just, more perfect.



Isolating at home: March

In response to the Covid-19 spread, we decided to hunker down at home on the 13th of March. It has been 16 days now, and we were apparently clear of exposure, so far. We are doing our best to keep chins up: we are doing mindfulness practice and yoga a few times a week, I am out weeding and tending to the garden, about to plant some lettuce and arugula so we have some fresh produce in the coming weeks, and we are ever grateful for our dog, Demi, who gives us unconditional love and emotional support. We pray for the health and strength of our family and friends, our relatives in Italy, and all over the world.

My profession is taking a huge hit, both on an institutional level and personal. Work is shuttered. Much Ado About Nothing was postponed until next season, and the new Theresa Rebeck play Enlightenment which I was scheduled to rehearse in August has been pushed back a full year. Can theaters in Washington survive? When I first came here there were 5 theaters, now somewhere around 80. I expect many of the smaller theaters, and perhaps some of the larger institutions will be damaged, if not silenced forever. It is a very sad time everywhere.

However, we as artists continue to express ourselves via the net. My dear old friend and colleague, Michael Gaston, (who was in a production of Fuente Ovejuna with me in the early 90’s at the Shakesepeare Theatre at the Folger) started a hashtag #readasonnet. It’s fantastic. Folks are getting up, recording and posting a piece. Patrick Stewart started reading Shakespeare on Twitter as well. It’ a thing. Check it out. Here is my contribution.

Sonnet 91 #readasonnet

I believe, like the monks of the Middle Ages who gathered and conserved the great books of culture and held them in safe-keeping, we as artists have a responsibilit to bring our culture and values forward through our art. There will be an end to this, there will be a Renaissance, and we will flock to the arts, to meet, collect, reflect, exhult, exhalt, and celebrate our humanity in theatres and concerts halls, opera houses, and art museums and galleries across the world.

Until then,

Be safe.

Much Ado About Nothing POSTPONED

Like many other shows around the country effected by the mitigation effort for the oncoming Covid-19 emergency, Simon Godwin and team at Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) have decided to postpone the production of Much Ado About Nothing rescheduling it as part of the 2020-21 season. I am looking forward to playing Leonato under Simon’s direction, getting to know him, his process, and how he is shaping STC in his mew leadership role. We have met several times and have developed a correspondence. Having been a part of that organization since 1984 to the present, covering a few years leading up to and through the entire duration of the Michael Kahn era, I remain committed to being a part of the new Godwin chapter. However, I certainly am relieved to know that the safety of the artists and patrons is the primary impetus for the decision.

I know this crisis will effect the so-called “gig’ economy, of which we “working stiffs” are a part, for many months. I certainly wish everyone health and safety in the trying days before, and pray for strength. patience, and caring for each other. How will we be different? All I know is that life is precious. Peace. And God speed.

Beginning again

Because of what I felt to be a very successful and satisfying experience of journaling the artistic process with my first blog “The Making of RED,” I wanted to do the same when I began the process of portraying Justice Antonin Scalia with Molly Smith and John Strand on his new play The Originalist. Although it has been almost 6 years since that process began, the idea of the blog was deferred at the time, as the script was embargoed until the opening of the world premiere. That made good sense. Besides, the process was well chronicled in the media. But then in it’s second incarnation and first revival, it seemed appropriate to return as the play was about to begin rehearsals in 2016 at Asolo Rep in Sarasota, Florida, after its very successful world premiere run at Arena Stage from March through June 2014.  I was pleased to return to this script and role, as it had major and long lasting personal significance having spent so much time with the Justice himself in his last full term on the Supreme Court. That is the subject of another endeavor, perhaps with a working title, “My Year with Nino.”  Unfortunately, I did not write that blog. I don’t know. Perhaps because the Justice had passed away, or that there was a new administration. It is a bit if a regret, as the play opened on inauguration day 2017 and had a life span of 18 months, traveling across the country from Florida to California, back to Washington, DC, then Chicago, and on to New York, all the while measuring the temperature of the body politic and the decay of civil discourse that the play was attempting to forestall. Nonetheless, I return here, finally setting up a webpage of my own, to chronicle what I am calling The Working-Stiff Actor, a blog of the day to day ins and outs, ups and downs of a working life in the theatre. I hope you come back from time to time, read, and comment. Enjoy!