Ted Deasy, who currently stars in the Alfred Hitchcock-inspired THE 39 STEPS at the Warner Theatre, graciously granted me an interview to share his views on theatre, food and the arts. The two-time Tony and Drama Desk award-winning play will run till March 28th. The following are some earlier reviews. It is scheduled to open Off-Broadway later this month.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times, called the production, “Absurdly enjoyable! This gleefully theatrical riff on Hitchcock’s film is fast and frothy, performed by a cast of four that seems like a cast of thousands. The actors themselves seem to be having a helluva good time. As does the audience.”Clive Barnes, of the New York Post, pronounced THE 39 STEPS “Inventively astonishing, riotous & marvelous.”
Joe Dziemianowicz, of the New York Daily News, exclaimed, “Hitchcock probably never imagined his thriller had the makings of a hilarious comedy, but this show is a dizzy delight and an ingenious spoof, inventively directed by Maria Aitken. A fast-paced fun ride!”
It continues to play to sold-out houses in London’s West End.
Jordan Wright – I apologize that I haven’t seen the show as of yet. I’ll be seeing it next week.
Ted Deasy – It’s fairly common to hear that unless you’ve seen it in New York. It’s a gem of a show that most people haven’t yet heard of. It just didn’t get that much attention. But it’s like the little engine that could.
Its success is mostly word-of-mouth. People say, “Ya hafta see it!” It’s an irreverent and fun send-up of Hitchcock. It’s music hall and vaudeville…pure theatricality.
For me it’s a joy to be in a show like this because it’s enjoyable for all generations. It’s an evening full of actors playing multiple roles with a script directly from the 1935 film. It has a great sense of decorum and tongue-in-cheek for the adults as well as kids and teens.
JW – I understand there is a great deal of slapstick and physical comedy?
TD – Our director pulled from everything you can imagine – from vaudeville, from comedia, from slapstick. Also any of the old theatrical styles, like Shakespearean asides. The physical part is done super-fast. In order to create that sense of excitement it moves incredibly quickly and with great style. It captures that sort of breathlessness.
JW – I understand that there are only four actors but dozens of roles. How does that work?
TD – The roles are divided up. I play one role and I’m on stage throughout, but Claire, the classic Hitchcock blonde, plays four different roles. The other two actors play between 130 – 150 different roles, some “roles” are actually inanimate objects. Some of the actors are instantaneously changing characters over and over, often playing three characters simultaneously.
JW – Had you done physical comedy before?
TD – Sure. One of the great treats doing this show was that the casting agents were looking for actors that had had careers doing classical work. I’ve done Moliere and outdoor Shakespeare, as have Eric and Claire, but this was nothing like I’ve done before.
It looked effortless when I first saw the show. But it took a lot of rehearsal to make it look that way. It was a great challenge to make this crazy, mayhem, funny, show look fast and effortless.
JW – I discovered you had a coffee shop and bakery in Jackson Heights, very near Astoria, where actors, Christopher and Glenn Walken grew up and where I met them when they were in their twenties. Their parents owned Walken’s Bakery, where Lydia Bastianich once worked. I wondered if you knew that Queens was an incubator for Hollywood actors and gourmands!
TD – That’s extraordinary! I didn’t know that. My partner, Gina and I started baking for casts and they loved it and we loved doing it. People kept asking us to do more. When we moved to NY we worked for a farm cooperative. We were just doing this on the side.
Three years ago we opened the bakery and coffee shop and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it work – to find the right balance. The store is on hiatus right now since we are both under contract in different parts of the country.
JW – Recently one of the country’s top chefs, Jose Andres, was given an award in the arts by The Vilcek Foundation who included the culinary arts in their definition of the arts. As an actor who is involved in the food arts how do you see the relationship between the two?
TD – That’s great to hear that! I listen to so many people and their issues with food and I think about why we eat and how we eat. And I hope for people to experience, especially if they’re in the arts, sitting down to a meal and thinking of it as if it were an art event. It incorporates all of your senses.You need to look at what’s in front of you and see the preparation visually and then experience it orally. Then you feel afterwards, like with a play, or an art opening, a dance piece or the opera, that you might have the same satisfaction. You can ask, “How did this happen, why did this happen, where did this come from and where are we going with this?”
I think the best dietary experience that people can have is to not talk about restricting or denying [themselves], but to actually think about, “What this is, how is it made, what is the preparation and why do I want it?”
People just don’t take the time to examine these things. I do think that the theatre and the culinary arts are intrinsically tied together.
JW – Will you reopen your bakery again?
TD – We plan to be back in New York in July and, although we’re not sure what we will do with the bakery, Gina, who is now out West, was experimenting with a new cupcake recipe yesterday. It was a chocolate Guinness cupcake with a milk chocolate malted buttercream icing.
So although we don’t yet know if we’ll continue with baking it’s like Tom Stoppard said [in Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern], “You can’t unstir the jam!”