Donald Corren is one of the fortunate few. As a perpetually employed actor, he has graced the Broadway stage, making his 1983 debut in Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. He earned praise from critics who declared his leading performance as Arnold Beckoff “brilliant” and “breathtaking”, and went on to assume the role in the National tour. In 2005, he returned to the Great White Way alongside Judy Kaye in Souvenir. The intimate show about eccentric personality Florence Foster Jenkins was short lived at New York’s Lyceum theatre, but found extended life in theaters all across the country.
Corren’s acting credits extend far beyond the Broadway stage however and he’s appeared on televison’s Law and Order, Rescue Me, and currently in the Zombie themed, SyFy Channel favorite, Z Nation. Here, he is a doctor both infected with and in search of a cure for the zombie virus. (A link to the clip can be viewed below **WARNING**: It is quite graphic and unsettling). He’s also narrated a slew of audio books and stars in his own solo show.
This past September, the chameleon actor released a children’s book, Away in a Hollow narrated by the late, Tony award winning Marian Seldes. Now, one of his long time wishes is coming true as he helms the Jolly Roger, a sailing vessel in the classic Peter Pan musical. Corren, who plays Captain Hook, is swashbuckling through January 3rd at the Syracuse Stage Company.
With his one good hand (to hold the phone), Corren recently chatted with Manhattan Digest about his vast and varied career
How is everything in Syracuse?
Oh! It’s wonderful. You should come on up! I just came from a 10:30 matinee for students, which was fun. This is a co-production with Syracuse University Theater department, so the cast is mostly comprised of kids. They are well trained students. I was just bowled over by how good they are. There are three professional adult actors in this production, including me, but the rest are very talented students.
This is the first time you’ve played Captain Hook, right?
Yes. I’ve wanted to play him all my life. I grew up on the Mary Martin version, so I knew Cyril Ritchard’s portrayal of Captain Hook.
Have you modeled your performance after previous or have you completely reinvented this?
I’ve dropped some of the “Cyril Ritchard”-isms I knew from the movie. I think that by the time I finish the run, it will be much more me. My own stamp is emerging.
Let’s talk about your role on Z Nation. I watched this rather graphic clip as I was eating my lunch. I wish that someone had warned me!
(Laughs) Well, that was at the end of the first season. But that was very creepy. I play a doctor who accidentally spreads the zombie virus and is working to make it right by discovering a cure to the zombie apocalypse. Now he’s disfigured due to an explosion. I’ve never played villains before and suddenly I have these two really juicy villains.
You probably spend an enormous amount of time in the make-up chair?
Yes. I spend 90 minutes going in and about 45 minutes coming out.
Where is the show taped?
The show films in Spokane Washington, and I must say they really have a cracker-jack crew!
Tell me about your children’s book, Away in a Hollow that’s just been released? Do you have kids of your own?
No, but I wrote it when I was a kid, actually. I wrote it in my twenties when I lived in San Francisco in the 70s. It was a very “me” generation and people were trying to evolve as fast as they could. The culture was very zen. I thought that it would be an interesting idea to explore a caterpillar who, instead of enjoying life on the forest floor, can do nothing else but think of becoming a butterfly. So much so that he buys books on how to fly and prepares for flight. So the basic message of the story is to just relax and let nature take you where you want to go. It came from the world I was living in at the time.
And the late Marian Seldes narrated it, right? Was she your first choice?
Yes. She was my acting teacher and I knew her voice well. Halfway through writing I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! This is Marian’. Years later, I asked her if she would record it and she obliged.
How does the preparation for reading an audio book differ from stage and screen prep?
A book is so many words and is just so long. I actually read them “cool”- I skim the book to learn the tone and the arc and characters. For me, it’s a fresher read when if I’m encountering it at the same time I’m reading it aloud. In a play, you pour over the words and I just keep going back to the text. You’re dealing with a much more microcosmic world there. I got into audio book reading because I drive a lot and do home improvement repairs and decorating. They are great for doing mindless tasks.
You also have a solo play, Judgement Day. Tell me about that.
That is a one man show, written for me a few years ago that I did at the Fringe festival. It supposes that the end of the world hysteria has hit the zeitgeist and takes a look at different characters and what they are doing at the hour countdown to the end of the world. Some are funny, some are more serious. I want to do it again in New York at some point,.but it’s an 85 minute monologue and I have to ramp up.
Between Captain Hook, Z Nation, and your new book, I’d say you have quite a full plate!
Yes! Knock wood.