‘A Quick 5′ with Andy Brownstein

Andy Brownstein

Andy Brownstein is currently playing Michel Novak in God of Carnage at Signature Theatre. He has also appeared at Signature in Kiss of the Spider Woman and Assassins (2007 Helen Hayes Award). DC area credits include, The Second Shepherds’ Play at Folger Theatre, One Flea Spare at Forum Theatre, Quotidian Theatre’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, and Behold! at Rorschach. Having just seen Andy in God of Carnage I can tell you he gives a great performance and is a very sincere person.

What was your first professional performing job?

If professional is defined as being paid, I got paid $50 to do a summer run of a locally-written musical at a dilapidated dinner theater in New Hope, PA, the summer after my junior year in high school. I believe I played a character named “Moose.” It wasn’t until 20 years later in Signature Theatre’s Assassins, also directed by Joe Calarco that I worked in an equity house.

Growing up were you always interested in performing?

Yes, but like a lot of things in life, the route was circuitous. As a kid, I was painfully shy. I still am in a lot of ways. In high school in suburban Philly, I saw a production of Fiddler on the Roof that blew me away. There’s no way the production could have been as good as it exists in my memory, but at the time, what I saw those actors doing seemed like magic. It was a world I desperately wanted to be part of, and I am thankful that I had mentors at the time who pushed me bodily to audition.

I went to college unsure if I wanted to go into theater or journalism. I remember being in a class devoted to improvisation. The professor was kind of a hippie. She wore a beret. One day, she had Ravel’s “Bolero” playing in the background as students worked on breathing and movement. She called on us to do spot improvisations, as in “You’re a flight attendant…You’re the President of the United States,” and, I’ll never forget this, she called on me, 6”4, 240 lbs., and said, “You’re a pregnant dwarf.”

I just froze. I like to think that I’m far less timid now than I was 20 years ago, but at the time the whole thing seemed preposterous. And, the very next day, I got a job at the school newspaper. It was one of those strange circumstances that seriously affected the course of my adult life.

My career as a newspaper journalist didn’t leave me much time for other pursuits. After I moved to Washington, I had a kind of early midlife crisis. I wound up literally walking out on a job that felt deadly and for which I was profoundly unsuited. I started thinking about my long-ago choice regarding theater, and asking, “What if?” I took some courses at the Theatre Lab, and began auditioning. And, from there, I guess, here I am. It took a pretty long time for things to develop from interest to serious pursuit.

Andy Brownstein stars as Michael Novak in "God of Carnage" at Virginia’s Signature Theatre through June 24, 2012. www.signature-theatre.org. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Can you tell us a little about God of Carnage and the character you play in the show?

God of Carnage is a play by Yasmina Reza and, like much of her work, (including Art), it deals with pretenses, in this case, the often wide gulf between what we claim to believe and how we actually live our lives. It’s a comedy, albeit a dark one, and something of a farce.

Before the curtain rises, our son Henry has had two of his teeth knocked out in a playground fight. My wife (played by Naomi Jacobson) invites the parents (Paul Morella and Vanessa Lock) of the boy who caused the injury over to settle things amicably. It starts with the best of intentions, but quickly degenerates. Few things test our illusions to high-mindedness so much as how we feel about our children.

I play Michael Novak. He’s a self-made man, who owns a wholesale business. It’s clear that he’s from a lower social class than the other three characters in the play. He’s a fixer and conciliator, but, without giving too much away, the circumstances of the play put those attributes to the test. The play is also very much about breaking points — what we do when our ideals undergo a trial. It’s kind of a train wreck.

What are your favorite kinds of roles to play?

I don’t know that I have a favorite type of role. This is obvious, but it’s always a joy to sink your teeth into the kind of meaty writing and challenging character journey that a play like God of Carnage offers up. I have a friend, a journalist, who likes to say, “At the end of life, whoever has the most stories wins.” As an actor and a writer, I like to tell stories. If it takes me to an extreme and unexplored part of myself, it maybe scares me a little, so much the better.

After God of Carnage at Signature Theatre, where will you be performing next?

Is it wrong to say, “I have no idea”? Well there, I said it. I have nothing lined up. That’s not all that surprising. Given the demands of my other life, I tend to do about a show or two a year. And after doing God of Carnage 8 shows a week for the next several months, I’ll need to spend some time getting reacquainted with friends and loved ones.

God of Carnage plays at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA through June 24, 2012.  For tickets, call the box office at 703-820-9771 or purchase them online.