Jeremy Shamos' Winning Streak – The Dinner With Friends Star on Pulitzer Prize-Winning Plays
By Harry Haun
Tony Award nominee Jeremy Shamos chats with Playbill.com about his streak of acting in Pulitzer Prize-winning plays.
"I generally only do Pulitzer Prize plays," announced Jeremy Shamos airily in mock archness. Of late, he has had quite a run of them, and, if the literary scuttlebutt comes true and Richard Greenberg does win his overdue Pulitzer for The Assembled Parties, that'll make an unprecedented, unbroken run of four Pulitzer Prize opuses-in-a-row for Shamos.
"And then," said the actor, pretending to get giddy on all that reflected glory, "I would actually be able to keep up my streak of only doing Pulitzer Prize plays, and every playwright would want me for their plays so they could win one for themselves."
Pam MacKinnon, who steered him to Pulitzer project one in Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris' 2012 play about block-busting in the Chicago suburbs, also directs Shamos in his latest, Dinner with Friends, Donald Margulies's 2000 play about two couples coming apart as friends, which opened at Roundabout's Laura Pels Theatre February 13. It's a smart, almost logical career move for McKennon after her Tony for refereeing the fractious foursome in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — which won the 1963 Pulitzer, but got overruled by the award's advisory board for its dirty words.
Gabe & Karen & Tom & Beth are, thankfully, not the toxic tag-team match that George & Martha & Nick & Honey were, but a single divorce among them splits them up into four distinctly different directions. Gabe (Shamos) and Karen (Marin Hinkle) feel guilt for matchmaking Tom (Darren Pettie) and Beth (Heather Burns) into marriage and going into happily-ever-aftering with them, spending inseparable summers and dinners together.
"Even though it's a play about marriage, I feel it's more about friendship and what friendships are based on," contended Shamos. "Sometimes, they're based on trying to have the same experience — only people don't have the same experience, so they grow apart.
"I like all the characters here, actually — and I think that's the strength of this play. My guy has a moral center I like. He's not preachy — just very honest about friendship and loyalty."
As half of the couple that stays afloat, Shamos rates his "a good marriage — probably not a great marriage, but a good marriage — and maybe after the play it will get better. Ours is a relatively healthy marriage, the sort people will recognize. We tend not to talk too deeply about things, for fear of upsetting the apple cart. The play brings that up because the other couple has completely upset their apple cart, and it's a question of whether we're going to go in that direction or whether we're just going to stay comfortable with each other."
It's not much of a conundrum, that. There is a decency, an intelligence, that clings like a cardigan to Gabe, as indeed it does to most of the characters that Shamos plays. The actor can't help it. "I think it's the luck of the draw," he dirt-kicked, "but, in general, that's a good approach to a role because most people want to be liked unless they're out to be mean."
Karl Lindner is as mean as Shamos gets, and it's as close as he has gotten to a feature-actor Tony, but even then, even with the character's bigoted, manipulative agenda, he does muster some politeness and civility in trying to talk a Caucasian house-owner out of selling his home to an African-American family. That failing, Lindner — in a play written a half-century before Clybourne Park, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun — calls on his new neighbors and tries to buy back the place for a lot more money, again to no avail.
Immediately after Clybourne Park, he played James Lingk — the exact opposite of Karl Lindner: A gullible chump thrashing around in a shark-tank of greedy real-estate agents trying to close with him on a house he doesn't want — in the second Broadway revival of David Mamet's 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner, Glengarry Glen Ross. Sad, sad.
But the happy thing about these proven or potential Pulitzer plays is the company he keeps with them — Al Pacino and Bobby Cannavale in Glengarry, Jessica Hecht and Judith Light in The Assembled Parties, and every manjack in Clybourne Park who went from Off-Broadway to London to Los Angeles to Broadway over a two-year period. "We worked so long on it we were sort of an organism, breathing together as one big group."
Before Parties ended on Broadway, Woody Allen crooked his finger for a film, "Magic in the Moonlight." "I play a psychotherapist in the '20s. It was a small role, but it was a great summer in the south of France." Then he managed to squeeze in his second Emma Stone movie in a row, "Birdman." "It's the hardest role I've ever played — a bad actor on a movie set with Naomi Watts." Who did he use for a reference? "Myself, in that situation."
Next season on Broadway Shamos will star in Human, a play Chazz Palminteri has been developing with his A Bronx Tale director, Jerry Zaks. "Chazz is a very generous and funny guy and very loyal in wanting to read it with me every time he's worked on it. It's gotten better and better. He's a banker, and I'm a jogger — two very different people who meet in the park. It has a Zoo Story feel to it."
We'll wait and see on the Pulitzer.
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