|Photo | James Haskins
Oscar-nominated actor David Strathairn
has a firm grip on the role of VilÃ©m Rieger in Vaclav Havel
's first new play in 20 years
, which makes its U.S. premiÃ¨re tonight at the Wilma
. But how did he get here? Strathairn talks about the trappings of Temptation
, the last Havel piece on which the actor collaborated with both the former Czech president and veteran director Jiri Zizka
You first worked with Jiri Zizka on another Havel scripted work, Temptation
. What did you think about Havel's language and ideology and Jiri's take on it that first go-round? How did that change with Leaving
I had not been acquainted with Havel's writings before Temptation
, no. It was extraordinary to read a piece as fantastical and imagined as Temptation
, coming as it did from a head of state. As Jiri imagined it, Temptation was quite an Orwellian kind of Faustian exploration
into what happens to those characters much in the same way as Leaving
has an intriguing cross-pollination of politics and fantastic personal reality at its heart.
I saw Temptation
. Would you agree that Leaving
has a lighter, more loving center than Temptation
Well, it's certainly not as intense as Temptation
Nor as absurd.
, as we're developing it, has all the trappings of Temptation
, only they're not presented with the same sort of explosiveness
. We're not pushing the boundaries of reality, though the set is quite evocative and metaphysical. ... It has as wild a blend as Temptation
but it's just a bit gentler.
This isn't your first time working with this director. What attracts you to Jiri's work?
He chooses potent material. The four times I worked with him Cherry Docs
and Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
included are vital and important stories and pieces of theater. They're tough to ask people to sit through. Cherry Docs
in particular he really lifted it off the paper. Every Good Boy
at the Kimmel that was quite daring to put all of us in the hands of an orchestra. His approach, at least those shows I've done him, he's well informed, there's a context for every bit of his vision. And he's detailed. He's a very complex thinker and wants to bring out as much as possible from the script and enhance it in a very theatrical manner. He's brave and conscientious
and respectful of the material.
Is that true of the Rieger character in Leaving
It was a challenge; all those references that Havel put in there and how to honor those references and make that person real as well as be respectful as to how Jiri wanted it what tone he wanted to hear in a variety of potential tones. That character could go from very clownish to very serious. He's got quite a range for me to choose from.
Leaving runs May 26-June 20, $36-$55, Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad St., 215-546-7824, wilmatheater.org.