‘Travesties’ Is Challenge Of A Lifetime For Richard Kind

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Monday was Richard Kind’s day off. And the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

He could have gone for a walk. He could have explored his old Broadway stomping grounds—where the actor starred in, for starters, “The Big Knife” and “The Producers.” Or, he could have caught up with friends over a couple slices from his favorite Manhattan pizzeria.

But instead, he was willingly inside a rehearsal studio on 42nd Street, alone for the better part of the day, running lines—specifically, his gargantuan opening monologue to “Travesties,” the 1976 Tony Award-winning play buzzing with song-and-dance, pie-fights, burlesque and intellect staging at the newly named Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts starting Tuesday, June 24.

The 19-member cast and crew, under the direction of Gregory Boyd, has just 2½ weeks to rehearse, Mr. Kind explained during a telephone interview, leaving the studio. And they need at least six.

“That’s the honest to God truth,” he said. “This is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. And I’ve done a lot of difficult things. Without Greg Boyd, I wouldn’t know the first thing to do in this play. He is much smarter than I. Stoppard is much smarter than all of us put together.”

Set in circa-1917 Switzerland, “Travesties” is Tom Stoppard’s play within a play that fantasizes about how British consul Henry Carr would interact with famous characters of the 20th century through an amateur production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde.

It was first produced on June 10, 1974, in London before transitioning in 1975 to Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, where Mr. Kind saw it for the first time as a late teen.

In awe, he watched lead actor John Wood sauntering through themes of art and revolution with a masterful style. It was as if Henry Carr were written for him.

And, as a matter of fact, he was.

“There are some roles I say, ‘Oh my God, I would love to do that role,’” Mr. Kind said. “I didn’t want to do this role—Henry Carr. That’s what I said when I came out of the theater. I wanted to be John Wood, not the role.”

After decades of retrospection, his tune has changed.

“An actor likes to stretch himself, usually, even at my age,” the 57-year-old said. “A lot of people want to keep acting, but do what comes easy. I really wanted something that was hard. A lot of times, in TV and in movies, I get things that are ‘in my wheelhouse.’ This, right here, is not a no-brainer.”

A New Jersey native best known for his comedic roles on “Spin City” and “Mad About You,” Mr. Kind first started performing in high school, he said, and strove to be a star.

It wasn’t until 10 years later that he realized he wanted to be a serious actor.

“Acting is fun. And there’s a glamour to it,” he said. “People come up and say, while they were in the hospital, I brought them many laughs. Or, I made them happier in their darkest days. I wish I could say that’s why I did it. It’s not. But I’m glad it happened.”

Mr. Kind has three big reasons for agreeing to star in “Travesties.” First, he wanted to return to Bay Street after his 2011 run in “Enter Laughing: The Musical.” Second, he wanted to fulfill his childhood fantasy—sort of—and gain a sense of closure.

“The play was written for John Wood. He’s one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor, but I didn’t understand the play,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on, but I was fascinated by it.”

Since then, he has figured it out, he said. The challenge that comes with the play is keeping his mind sharp—his third reason, he said—from the opening lines that dissolve into a 25-minute monologue of poetry and stream of consciousness.

This production is exactly what Mr. Kind was looking for, after a recent stream of realistic, down-to-earth projects. And the seasoned actor is now sacrificing every one of his days off for it, until opening night.

“This is beyond anything. I’m living this man’s life in 2½ hours,” Mr. Kind said. “It’s concentrated. It’s like shampoo. You put a dime-sized dollop in your hands and, all of a sudden, you have bubbles all over. That’s what acting is on stage. It’s 2½ hours, but you have bubbles and bubbles everywhere.”

“Travesties” will make its premiere on Tuesday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at Bay Street Theater and Sag Harbor Center for the Arts. Performances will continue Wednesdays to Sundays, through July 20, at 8 p.m., each night, with additional stagings on Sundays and Wednesdays at 2 p.m., and Tuesdays at 7 p.m. No show Mondays. Tickets start at $53.75. For more information, call 725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.

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