Randy Harrison in Ghosts at the BTF

August, 16th 2009

By: Larry Murray
Edited by: Marcy
Last night at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, the much anticipated new adaptation of Ibsen's Ghosts opened and it is a a roaring success. The play will be running through August 29 and a full review will appear tomorrow in Berkshire Fine Arts. This article is not so much a review as a continuation of the conversation I recently had with Randy Harrison, who plays Oswald (Osvald) in the play. But first some buzz.

There was a first nighters after-party following last night's show and a rare chance to meet and mingle with the players. Randy's fans were out in force, since many of them have become regular ticket buyers and subscribers to the BTF. Some traveled great distances to be there.

I was digging into the munchies when I noticed a whirlwind of activity approaching. Cameras were flashing, people were getting excited.. Many guests dropped what they were doing and soon were circling their target like gnats around a lightbulb, though they were so thick you couldn't see the object of their attention. I knew immediately it had to be Randy. He does cause quite a commotion when he gets recognized. In fact it is one reason he often wears a hat and nondescript garb when he is out in public.

Randy Harrison came to the fore through his role as Justin in the Showtime series Queer as Folk which ran for five seasons and was its highest rated show. Although the last episode was telecast in 2005, it went on to be rebroadcast on the Logo network, was released on DVDs and was re-edited last year for Canadian broadcast, all of which have continued to spread his name and image. Showtime's early marketing of the show was primarily targeted at gay male (and to some extent, lesbian) audiences, yet a sizeable segment of the viewership turned out to be heterosexual women. That's who were the bulk of his fans last evening.

Harrison, meanwhile, has made great efforts to not let the series typecast him, and to return to his real roots, which are grounded in live theatre. He has acted since an early age. Indeed, it may be the only thing he can reliably do to earn a living. "I have been fired from every job besides acting that I have had. I got fired from waiting tables, being a bag boy, temping at a bunch of different companies, and being a caterer. I can't do anything else but act," he has said.

Last night's performance proves that it is a wise choice, and we are all the beneficiaries. On stage with older and more seasoned actors such as David Adkins, Jonathan Epstein and Mia Dillon, he more than held his own. It is interesting that Mia Dillon's husband Keir Dullea was in attendance as well. He has had a career path similar to Harrison's. He started as a bit of a heartthrob in the films Hoodlum Priest and David and Lisa, went on to play David Bowman ("Please close the pod bay doors HAL,") in 2001 A Space Odyssey. Today he is past the 70 year old mark, but still working, and still a handsome devil.

Still, the crowd wasn't circling Keir, but rather Randy. Once again, they had witnessed a breathtaking performance of great depth from the actor, and even been rewarded with a scene in which he was partially undressed by his mother. But don't get too excited. It revealed far less than the famed Showtime series.

When we met to talk, we spoke about his role in developing new audiences for the theater. Many of his loyal fans in evidence last night are proof that his early fame has helped his theatre career. He probably signed a hundred programs last night, and many more photographs, tee-shirts and the like from his fans who were in the audience simply because he was on stage. And in this, he is not alone. At the Berkshire Theatre Festival, this process has a long tradition. In fact, Kate Maguire, Artistic Director, tells how the actor, Richard Chamberlain, has played a similar role in developing audiences for the theatre, and talks to him often hoping to have him back as early as next season. He played the title role of Dr. Kildare in a TV series from 1961-66 and recently has been seen on Desperate Housewives, Nip/Tuck and is also remembered for the series The Thorn Birds.

Harrison, who just turned 30, is happy about the event, "and I look forward to my 40's and 50's too. There's a lot of good roles coming up. The fact that I have worked on Shaw, Ibsen, and Beckett here is amazing. I do want to play Uncle Vanya when I am an older man, but it isn't something I will play anytime soon. So where do I see myself? I am more artistically satisfied now with the work I have been doing over the past five years than I've ever been. So I intend to keep it up, to make enough money to pay my mortgage and act."

I wondered if his approach to his career, somewhat serendipitous, but constantly moving forward has been calculated and deliberate. "Well, yes, it has, though slowly. It hasn't been a particularly intellectual planned career, masterminding ideas. It's more like acknowledging that I have different passions and interests and trying to pursue them all. Slowly but surely it seems I am becoming more active, more satisfied and more mature. I enjoy doing projects with friends, and I have been spending more time doing music, too, though no more karaoke in the Berkshires, even though it was fun while it lasted. "

When I interviewed Randy in 2008, he said at the time that he didn't have much interest in pursuing musical theatre. This was a surprise, since he has had considerable training and experience in the form. (He was in the Broadway production of Wicked). The conversation turned to Matt McGrath whom I interviewed for Caroline in Jersey and the ongoing development of a musical version of Armisead Maupin's Tales of the City, presented last month in a staged workshop version at Connecticut's O'Neill Center. "You know I do miss music now. I have been away from it long enough, and I have done lots of other kinds of work that I wanted to try. I would feel confident going into another musical at some point."

The thought of Randy Harrison in a new musical, especially one based on such a famous book, is something to contemplate, but frankly, I will be happy just as long as we get to see him trying out a new role each summer at the Berkshire Theatre Festival.