For over a year, Bryce Pinkham was planning to kill on a nightly basis. As the leading man of Broadway’s musical comedy A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, he plotted (with success) against eight members of the affluent D’Ysquith family in order to become heir to their riches. The role launched him to Broadway stardom and earned him his first Tony nomination. Pinkham is currently on leave from the production and has traded in his devious ways for a white lab coat in Wendy Wasserstein’s Broadway revival of The Heidi Chronicles where he portrays Peter Patrone, a gay pediatrician and Heidi’s (Elisabeth Moss) best friend.
Before a recent performance, Pinkham sat down in his backstage dressing room with Manhattan Digest to discuss his current role, the potency of Wasserstein’s work, and two non-profit groups which are close to his heart.
When Opportunity Knocks…
Rarely are theater actors just handed a part. But casting directors for The Heidi Chronicles had Pinkham in mind for the role of Patrone. He recalls how it happened. “I got a call saying that they were interested in me. They asked if I’d be interested in leaving Gentleman’s Guide to do it. I told them that it would have to be the right timing. Since I had put so much work into it, I wanted to enjoy the benefits of a long run, which doesn’t always happen. I knew I wanted to stay there, but I was also excited about the part. Ultimately, the timing turned out to be right so here we are.” He continued, “This is the first time that someone has just called me to be in a show. It was both terrifying and exhilarating to feel as though there is enough proof in the world that somebody believes I can do it. Therefore, it may be a good thing to do!”
…You’ll Have Big Shoes to Fill
Pinkham is stepping into a role that has preceded him by great theater actors. In the original production, Boyd Gaines earned his first Tony award for the part. Later in the run, David Hyde Pierce replaced him. Both of these actors have provided Pinkham with a great deal of inspiration, but his take on the part has left him with complex emotions. “I have looked up to both of these gentlemen. As an actor, I like to think about what actor I’d like to be when I grow up and pick those roles which lead me to the career of those people whom I admire. Those are two men who satisfy that.” He added, “I was intimidated and encouraged, but was also hopeful that their performances are a distant enough memory that my interpretation will feel like an homage to the originals, but also an original in and of itself.” He then joked, “Which you can tell me tonight!” While I didn’t get a chance to tell him personally– by way of this article– I can now tell him (and readers) that he is completely genuine and earnest in his performance.
The Fight is Far From Over
The Heidi Chronicles charts eight different characters on their journey through adolescence to adulthood while they join the feminist movement, battle the AIDS crisis, and gain a deeper knowledge of themselves and their collective community. The play ends in 1989, the same year it debuted on Broadway. In it, Peter tells Heidi that he has lost a friend a month for the past year from AIDS. “It’s hard to imagine that today,” said Pinkham. “Thinking about that being staged when so many were losing their lives from that disease is actually quite moving to me. It must have been very powerful.” Sadly, many individuals of a younger generation tend to think of AIDS in the past tense. “It’s boiled down to a ribbon, a GAP ad, and something that is happening in Africa, but something which we’ve contained here in the United States.” He hopes that the show will give people a memory of that time and also give people who were not there an understanding of how critical the problem was—and remains—today.
And the Beat Goes On
Feminism and female identity is a major theme of the show. Every night the cast hear from women and men about how their experience of watching Heidi develop through the decades resonated with their own stories. “That’s what Wasserstein did so brilliantly,” Pinkham said with gusto. “She distilled an entire generation of women’s experiences and produced lines that you hear the audience reacting to.” A few weeks ago, his mother came to see the play and was swept away with emotion. “She wasn’t familiar with the plot and wasn’t prepared to be as emotionally moved by Heidi’s experience as she was,” he said. “That was always the hope; that the play would still have this relevance.” He then recalled a recent conversation he had with a skeptical male theatergoer who asked him why men should see the play. Pinkham responded, “Let me ask you a question: Should women go to see Death of a Salesman?” He continued, “Nobody ever asks if that play is still relevant. Great writers take a moment in history and make it timeless and universal, just as Wendy did. This just happens to be about a female. The fact that we are now having conversations about equality that our grandparents did not have feels like progress, and I feel as though Wendy (who passed away in 2006) would be happy that those conversations are happening.”
Bryce the Benevolent
One might think that Pinkham’s schedule is too jam-packed for extracurricular interests. Yet, he has devoted much of his free time to two non-profit organizations, one of which he co-founded called Zara Aina, a Malagasy expression which means “share life”. In 2012, his close friend was in Madagascar. “I took him to the airport and picked him up and I noticed when he came back that he was a completely different person. I wanted some of what he had.” They both began to set the wheels in motion and talked about how to take American artists there to work with kids. They had no money, but somehow made it work. “The point is that we privileged action as opposed to preparation. We now have 30 kids and we fund their tuition, their basic medical needs, and food and clothing for an entire year,” he said. The experience has been transformative for him. “Nothing will change your perspective like going to a third world country. And nothing will make you prouder of what you do, especially when you are giving a performance that has more meaning than just entertainment, but also as a tool for empowerment.” The organization holds a variety of fundraisers and more information can be found at http://zaraaina.org/
Outside the Wire is another group in which Pinkham is involved. They do performances of Greek and American plays for military members and their families. “I went to Guantanamo Bay, Japan, Kuwait, and Qatar. It was so humbling to see how your art form can affect a certain group of people,” Pinkham stated. He also did scenes from Conor McPherson’s one man show Rum & Vodka about a young Irish alcoholic. Alcoholism is understandably a huge problem for many soldiers and Pinkham’s goal is that the works will forge a conversation and potential change. To learn more , check out http://www.outsidethewirellc.com/
Pinkham will continue to don his physician’s garb in the lauded new production, starring alongside Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs, through August 9th at the Music Box Theatre. After that, he’ll hopefully return to his role as Monty Navarro in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.
For tickets and information to The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway, visit: http://www.theheidichroniclesonbroadway.com.