Playing a political figure on the Vivian Beaumont stage isn’t a novelty for Adam Dannheisser: in The Coast of Utopia, a decade ago, he played Karl Marx. In Oslo, Adam Dannheisser is Yossi Beilin, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, in 1993, and while Beilin may not be as radical as Marx he could never be accused of conservatism.
Or could he? “He was very religious as a young man,” said Dannheisser the other day, in his dressing room between shows. “But after the Yom Kippur War, in 1973, he had a ‘de-conversion.’ He thought: ‘God is gone, God is not going to help us. It’s up to us to make peace.’ Peace became his religion.”
Dannheisser, who grew up in Maryland and has an MFA in acting from New York University, said that when Oslo was in the Mitzi E. Newhouse, last summer, he didn’t fully grasp Beilin’s centrality to the Oslo Accords. “Then I started getting feedback from people who saw the play. An Israeli friend of mine, who helped me with my accent, said, ‘I love Yossi. He tried so hard and was such a good guy.’” Another person described Yossi as ‘the boss of the Jews. You tell everybody what to do and they do it.’” Dannheisser added: “Early on in the run, I was feeling a little middle-management-y. Now, I sense Yossi’s importance more clearly. When you hear that he’s the deputy minister you think that all he does is push papers. But, as we’re learning right now in our country, with the deputy attorney general triggering the Russian-collusion investigation, a deputy can be very influential.”
During the Oslo run, Dannheisser has also learned about Beilin’s complexity. “At first, I thought he was all peace all the time. Toward he end of the play, however, he becomes very cautious. When things get into the hands of other people – Uri Savir, Shimon Peres – Yossi starts to put the brakes on a little bit. I had to work on reconciling these two tendencies.”
Several times during the course of our discussion, Dannheisser talked about ways he “flushes out” his character. “I automatically seem to say ‘flush’ instead of ‘flesh.’ Yossi’s weak stomach has infected my language.”
Dannheisser makes the character’s indigestion richly amusing. Some of the actor’s comedic skill was honed during the more than four years, on and off, that he portrayed, rollickingly, the rock-club owner Dennis Dupree on Broadway in Rock of Ages. “That show,” Dannheisser said, “gave me the opportunity to explore every comic moment possible. So often, you set a show, it opens, and you feel that that’s the show you’re obligated to give. But in Rock of Ages I could play around and really see what was around the corner of every moment.” The gig, Dannheisser added gratefully, “also allowed me to buy a bigger house.” He and his family live in Maplewood, New Jersey, a community brimming with Broadway babies.
As for the show folk in Oslo, Dannheisser said, “I’ve never worked with a more across-the-board talented group. It’s rare you find that EVERY actor is fantastic, and are exploring their roles in such a big way, no matter the size of them.” Dannheisser went on: “I’ve also never worked with so many actors who are around my age, and around the same place in our lives in terms of our children’s ages. It has created a real family feel backstage.”
Could a play like Oslo work well onstage without cohesion backstage? “Professional people can make things work without bonding,” Dannheisser said. “But it’s a bummer if that’s the case, because you don’t know when you get onstage what is personal tension and what is tension between the characters. In those scenarios, you do more thinking than you should have to. We’re lucky with Oslo not to have a lot of that going on. It’s been a tremendous experience.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.