Six Degrees of Separation is one of the best-known plays ever to premiere at LCT’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. For one of the cast members of The Babylon Line, which has its first preview tomorrow night in the same space, one particular degree of separation is infinitely closer. Frank Wood, the Tony-award-winning actor who portrays Jack Hassenpflug in the drama, is the brother of Maggie Hassan, the current governor of New Hampshire.
Governor Hassan is also the U.S. Senator-elect from New Hampshire. On Wednesday afternoon, she was certified the winner against incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte by 1,023 votes. On the evening of the election, during a break from a Babylon technical rehearsal, I sat down with Wood.
“I come from a political family,” he said. “My dad” – Robert Coldwell Wood – “was a political scientist who taught at Harvard and MIT.” Robert Wood wrote a speech on urban politics for JFK, which propelled him into the Johnson administration, in which he served as the first Under Secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and, briefly, as the department’s acting secretary. “I was born in Lincoln, Massachusetts,” Wood said, “and we moved back there when my father had finished his time in Washington.”
“There were a lot of interesting people in my house while I was growing up,” Wood remembered – a childhood spent not only in Boston and D.C. but in the Rhode Island summer home associated with the family of his mother, Margaret Byers Wood. “There were people who worked for my dad, or knew my dad, either from MIT or from the University of Massachusetts, where he was president for many years in the 1970s.” Wood added: “Mostly, I remember listening to all these people, but we were also encouraged to talk and, whether we knew it or not, develop our speaking skills.”
For Wood, that training led to acting, which he pursued at Wesleyan University as an undergraduate and at NYU as a graduate student in theater. “My father taught for a decade at Wesleyan,” Wood said. “He began during my senior year and was there for a decade. He said that he loved teaching at Wesleyan because the student-professor exchanges were less pressured than at Harvard or MIT.”
Public speaking and education also played a big role in the life of Frank’s sister Maggie. (They also have an older sister, Frannie.) “She started her career as a lawyer, and her husband” -- Thomas Hassan – “retired as headmaster of Phillips Exeter Academy in 2014.” Maggie was elected to the New Hampshire Senate in 2004, served three two-year terms, and was elected Governor, twice, starting in 2012.
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Wood has kept in touch with his sister. “She didn’t tell us much about the inside politics of the campaign, but I heard the details about her debates with Senator Ayotte. My father died in 2005, but my mother is still alive, and is extremely proud of all the good work that Maggie has done.”
Wood was in New Hampshire for his sister’s gubernatorial victory celebrations, but the rehearsals and imminent performances of The Babylon Line have kept him away from any party that might result from the Senate win. When I contacted Wood on Wednesday morning, he said, “I can do no reliable political analysis. Maggie is a bright light in any legislative body or in any elective office. She likes people and listens to them, conservative and liberal. And if she wins…she will make the Senate a better place. Lots of love to Maggie and her team."
Let me end by saying that Wood was gracious in answering so many questions about his family’s political history rather than countless queries about his own fine career. He won that Tony award for his terrific performance in as Best Featured Actor in a Play for Side Man. And he was widely praised for his work in the sensational off-Broadway revival, in 2010, of Angels in America.
And whom did he play in that Kushner play? “I was Roy Cohn,” he replied. “I didn’t know until I researched Cohn that he was the mentor to Donald Trump.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.