Teresa Rebeck’s play "The Scene" takes a sharp look at the party-scene folk who populate the show biz world. Opening at a posh penthouse party, two guys meet a sexy young thing just arrived from Ohio, who sets in motion the relationship dance that according to pop culture is de rigueur in chic society, especially when theatrical types are involved.
Though Rebeck made her Broadway debut this season with her play "Mauritius," it was this play, "The Scene," in an early 2007 Off Broadway production, that made Simon Saltzman’s U.S. 1 "Best of the Year List" (January 2, 2008) as an honorable mention. Saltzman describes the plot as "the rise of a scheming femme fatale and the fall of a gullible actor within the oeuvre of successful media types." George Street Playhouse mounts a new production of "The Scene," now in previews. Opening night is Friday, February 29, and the production runs through Sunday, March 23.
Matthew Arkin plays Charlie, a perennially out-of-work actor, who is currently supported by his wife, a "talent booker" for a popular television talk show. Relationships slip and slide in more ways than one.
As you may have guessed, Arkin is the son of actor Alan Arkin, who won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "Little Miss Sunshine," and who received his first Academy Award nomination for his very first film, "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" in 1966. This was followed by an impressive list of movie credits for the elder Arkin. Broadway audiences saw him in "Enter Laughing" (1963), for which he won the Tony Award.
Not surprisingly, all three of Alan Arkin’s sons (Matthew the middle son, Adam the oldest, and youngest Anthony) have joined "the family business." There is a strong resemblance between all of them, so let’s try to sort them out. Matthew is the one who appeared in New York in the Pulitzer Prize play, "Dinner with Friends." He was at George Street once before playing one of the lobby guards of a high-rise building in "Sheer Boredom," in November, 1993.
When I ask him to tell me something identifying about his recurring role in the A&E television show "100 Center Street," he is quick to answer, "the legal aid attorney who sleeps with another legal aid attorney who has a cocaine habit." If you’ve seen that series, you will recognize him. No stranger to such hanky panky on screen, he appeared in three episodes of the soap opera "All My Children," as Dr. Norton in 2007 that were subtitled, "The Summer of Seduction."
I remember Adam Arkin especially from one of my all-time TV favorites "Northern Exposure." He was also Dr. Shutt on "Chicago Hope." None of baby brother Anthony’s credits ring any bells here, but he did appear once on "100 Centre Street" with Matthew. All three sons joined their dad and one of his ex-wives, Barbara Dana, in the movie "Raising Flag," recently released on DVD. Matthew Arkin remembers, "There they were a couple of years after their divorce, playing a married couple in the same bed together, with me playing their son."
Arkin admits that "The Scene’s" subject matter is very relevant for him personally, "Sadly I’m in the middle of a divorce right now, and I’m unfortunately too familiar with the stresses that this brings about." He is not sure he should have been so forthcoming about his personal life, but goes on to reveal his own parents divorced when he was three months old. He lived with his remarried mother, Jeremy Yaffe (now Jeremy Wakefield and a retired nurse), until he was seven years old. "I remember the fights. After they divorced, she remarried again. There’s been more than enough divorce to go around in my past." Father Alan has been married three times.
Arkin has a philosophical view of their family dynamics. "One of the things I’m particularly proud of with my completely crazy mixed up family is that in spite of all the turmoil each of us has a pretty good relationship with each other." The secret to this, at least for him, is to remember that life is both short and very long. He explains: "It is short, so do what you need and want to do because, it’s fleeting. And it’s very long; I’ve had many things happen within my family, and I’ve thought this will never heal, the pain will never go away, the relationship will never be all right – and every time I’ve been wrong and I’ve come through."
Lest we forget that "The Scene" is not a docudrama, he reminds me, "It’s a comedy in which a lot of horrible things happen. And you say, `I’m so glad it’s happening to him and not me.’ It’s going to be a lot of fun in the sense that a really good car crash is a lot of fun to watch." I saw the play in New York and that’s not exactly how I remember it. Mostly, I recall crisp and funny dialogue. I also saw Arkin in "Dinner with Friends," another modern-day comedy about a couple’s breakup and its effect on their closest friends, back in 2000. Arkin says that the big difference for him in "The Scene" is "I’m playing the bad boy for a change." When I tell him that I also saw him in the fall of 2006, in the colossal flop at Manhattan Theatre Club, "Losing Louis," he replies, "I’m sorry."
Arkin, citing divorce statistics, also notes that "personally there is still a stigma, which is one of the things this play explores, along with mid-life reassessment." With people living longer, he says that life goals are met at a midpoint rather than near the end of a life. "You grew up, went to school, learned a trade, got married, and had children." He implies that at that point, with years still ahead of them, couples have to decide where to go from there. "The play deals with this."
Arkin didn’t start out to join the "family business," though he had taken acting lessons since he was a teen growing up in Greenwich Village, and then later in Westchester. After graduating from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, with a degree in English and government, he went to law school, receiving a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 1985. He even practiced law for five years before succumbing to the siren song of show business. "It’s difficult to swallow the office routine after seeing people living the artistic life, facing new challenges, learning new skills in every role, and also learning more about yourself. It makes you very alive."
His sojourn as a lawyer has helped him get roles as doctors and lawyers on television. "When I go into an audition, I have a professional look, like I could be the guy who uses a lot of long words and technical jargon. I’m pretty good at having that come out of my mouth and have it sound like I know what I’m talking about and most of the time I do."
Though Arkin loves working in the theater, he is always on the lookout for television and film work. "I’d love to have enough film work so that working in regional theater was just fun and not a time when you have to be worrying about money while you’re doing it. Because of the economics of how theater works, it’s not a place where you make a great living, but it’s a great life."
Arkin also teaches classes in for voice-over technique and public speaking.
Arkin tells me the family "legend" in which his father, Alan, at age five said, "Let’s play circus; I’ll play everything." Arkin also recalls the celebration when his father won the Academy Award last year. As they watched the televised event, his children, a boy who’ll be 10 in March and a daughter who recently turned 4, exploded with glee, screaming, "Grandpa won the Oscar! Grandpa won the Oscar!"
"The Scene," through Sunday, March 23, George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick. Drama by Theresa Rebeck shows show business behind-the-scenes. $28 to $62. Opening night is Friday, February 29. For mature audiences due to sexual situations and profanity. 732-246-7717.