"Golden Boy" rises and falls every night on the strength of every member of its hard-working ensemble. And yet as we approach the end of the run I would feel I had been remiss if I had not said a word or two about Tony Shalhoub. As Mr. Bonaparte, the father of the main character, Joe, Shalhoub dissolves so self-effacingly into the actors' backstage life that you might be surprised to discover that outside the theater every night there is a crowd of people clamoring to see him. Some of them are fans of his movie work -- "Spy Kids," "Men in Black," "Cars" -- but most of them know him from the TV show "Monk." On that program, Shalhoub played Adrian Monk, a detective. The series, which ran from 2002 to 2009, was massively popular: its final episode was the most-watched scripted drama episode in cable television history.
At a Platform Talk held this week in the lobby of the Vivian Beaumont I chatted with a few of those "Monk"-ies. But the audience questions lobbed at Shalhoub -- Seth Numrich, who plays, Joe, also spoke, and the moderator was LCT's dramaturg, Anne Cattaneo -- had to do primarily with "Golden Boy."
One of the questioners wanted to know whether the actors find themselves resembling offstage the characters they are playing onstage. "I don't become the character," Shalhoub answered. "I think about my character a lot offstage. As I walk down the street I will constantly try different line readings." Another way to put it, Shalhoub continued, is that "plays infect us in a way."
Shalhoub also spoke about the way his character, an Italian immigrant, speaks. "Some of his lines are like a peasant living in a mud hut but other lines are loftier. The problem with the part that Odets wrote is that he wrote it in a specific accent. Some of the lines are stereotypical." Working with the production's dialogue coach, Deb Hecht, and the director, Bartlett Sher, Shalhoub explored different ways to convey the character's background. "There is no Italian in Odets' original text," Shalhoub said. "We found places where it made sense to lay it in."
To further sharpen his preparation, Shalhoub said that he took Italian. He continues his study most nights backstage: before the show he listens to Italian-language tapes. After Numrich revealed that his nightly preparation involves listening to classical music and hitting the punching bag that is outside the theater in the stage-door alleyway, Shalhoub revealed that he does something else to get ready: "While Seth is working out, I shave. I use an old-fashioned mug-and-brush set." He offered no clue, though, whether he will continue such vintage grooming once "Golden Boy"'s run ends on January 20th.
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.