PLEASE NOTE THIS SITE IS NEITHER AFFILIATED WITH NOR AUTHORIZED BY CHARLES SIEBERT
Breaking news for 2015:
Breaking news for 2013: The actor/director both directed and performed at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa: Moonlight and Magnolias, director, in February, and Red, in the principle role, in May. In March, Mr. Siebert appeared at the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma in Arthur Miller’s The Price. It’s my understanding that he will be taking the summer off from theatrical activity. Reviews and more pictures from ‘The Price’ and ‘Red’ at bottom of page.
A tantalizing glimpse:For a gallery of photos, see the Cinnabar Arts Organization’s Facebook page. For an interview with Charles Siebert speaking about The Price, see http://www.bohemian.com/northbay/paid-dues/Content?oid=2413181
Publicist Kim Taylor interviews Charles Siebert about his theater career for the Healdsburg Patch, see http://healdsburg.patch.com/blog_posts/noted-actor-of-stage-and-screen-to-star-in-the-price-at-cinnabar-theater-in-petaluma but I dispute that “chances are that you don’t know his name.” Most people I talk to do, in fact, recognize his name.
Scroll to the bottom of the page for Charles Siebert’s latest appearance.
What follows is an incomplete list of Mr. Siebert’s early stage credits, yet I believe it to be the most complete list that you will find in one place on the internet. I have chosen to reconstruct a list based on my ability to find contemporary American reviews (which means that his appearances during his dramatic studies in England are omitted entirely), though I add, in as close to chronological order as possible, performances which I find mentioned, but for which I have not yet found reviews. I didn’t see any of these performances; although I was old enough to do so and lived not so very far from New York City, I wasn’t very adventurous, unfortunately.
Merely to indicate how incomplete this list is, I would love to have seen Mr. Siebert playing the title role in Hamlet, or Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, both at Center Stage in Baltimore in the 60s. Please keep those performances in mind when and if you are viewing Blue Sunshine or Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo on DVD. As the King of Navarre states, in Love’s Labour Lost, “Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives, live register’d upon our brazen tombs…and make us heirs of all eternity.” See my comments on stage v. film in my introduction to the film appreciation.
Mr. Siebert’s many stage credits and the fact that he was so often cast in the opening runs of new plays, including highly anticipated plays, like Neil Simons’ Gingerbread Lady, or the revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, rewritten by Tennessee Williams himself for the occasion, give ample proof of his reputation.
The Internet Broadway Database is a good source for dates of run and number of performances; however, not all of these appeared on Broadway, and not all of Mr. Siebert’s Broadway performances are listed on IBDB. This page is still a work in process, somewhat akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle; Mr. Siebert himself isn’t entirely sure of all his performances and their dates. He did, however, clear up some timeline difficulties (Mr. Siebert to the author, August, 2012). As so often mentioned in his biographies and interviews, the Sieberts returned from England in early Spring of 1964, coming directly to NYC (the deluxe program for 1967’s Jimmy Shine misleadingly states that he “came to New York in 1966 following a season with William Ball’s American Conservatory Theatre”). William Ball moved his ACT from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in September, 1965; before that, Mr. Siebert appeared in roles in Tartuffe (Cleante, with Rene Auberjonois in the title role), King Lear (Albany), Antigone (Haemon) and the lion in Andre Obey’s Noah, as well as appearing in a Beyond the Fringe revue, all in Pittsburgh and presumably between July and September, 1965. (Mr. Siebert supplied the date July 15, 1965 for Tartuffe. I suspect he had some reason to remember that date.)
For details of Mr. Siebert’s stage appearances as a student at Marquette University, please see the Marquette University Players section of this site. Mr. Siebert recently (March, 2013) posted parts of the Ludus Coventriae mystery play and other Marquette productions, 1961, on YouTube.
1965 Oedipus Rex Morris Theater, Morristown, NJ. The title role. Per Mr. Siebert (April 23, 2015): “my very first professional role on the stage, received my Actors Equity card from this job.”
Other roles, and ‘Beyond the Fringe’ Mr. Siebert also reached back into his memory to mention some of his other early roles: “Featured roles in Tartuffe (ACT opening night July 15, 1965), Antigone, King Lear, Noah, The Devil’s Disciple, Beyond the Fringe, and Death Of A Salesman (understudied Happy).”
The program notes for the 1966 ‘View from the Bridge’ note that the actor played “…one of the four madcaps in Beyond The Fringe at the Westport Country Playhouse, the Goodspeed Opera• House, East Haddam, Connecticut, The Ravinia Festival at Chicago and the Pittsburgh, Pa. Playhouse.” Mr. Siebert elaborates: “[Beyond the Fringe] was an ACT production…[the four actors were] a Canadian named Hugh Alexander, [who] had been the understudy to the original cast (Alan Bennett, Peter Cooke, and Jonathan Miller. Dudley Moore required a separate understudy who could play piano) when they arrived in Toronto, an interval between London & arriving on Broadway for the first time… another Canadian named Robin Gammell, Rene Auberjonois & I, fresh from London and brimming with English dialects. Hugh was able to provide us with all the original blocking, business, and ad-libs.
“We played in Pittsburgh for a couple of weeks after which …[w]e became somewhat itinerant, doing three weeks at the U. of Michigan in Ann Arbor, (where we performed “Fringe” at midnight matinees) then landing in New York for a “conservatory” period…I never learned more about being on stage then in Beyond the Fringe. Because we could be so free and antic.” (Charles Siebert to the author, April 23, 2015)
1966 Richard III Delacorte. Mr. Siebert plays Henry, Earl of Richmond, and dispatches Richard in what the contemporary NY Times review calls a “balletic” final act battle scene (8/1/66).
1966 Agamemnon McCarter Theater, Princeton “Charles Siebert adds an effective touch of wry humor to his authoritative, if brief, portrayal of Agamemnon.” 10/9/66 Trenton (NJ) Evening Times
Update, June, 2015: We are grateful to the Princeton University Library for access to their collection of McCarter Theater materials. The images for ‘Agamemnon’ and ‘A View from the Bridge’ are reproduced courtesy of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.
1966 A View From the Bridge McCarter Theater, Princeton. I have not found a review, merely an announcement of the production in the Trenton Times (10/13/66). This Arthur Miller play had just completed a fairly successful off-Broadway run in 1965 and was one of four plays performed in repertory as the McCarter’s season opener; Agamemnon was another of the four. Siebert portrays Eddie Carbone, the lead, in what is (outside of the classics and Shakespeare) the most ethnically Italian role he would ever play, to the best of my knowledge. The character of Carbone has the nasty edge that Siebert has always been so well able to bring out, yet also with the pathos of the classic tragic hero with a fatal flaw.
Just a bit of trivia about these two McCarter Theater productions: artistic director at the McCarter from 1963 to 1972 was Arthur Lithgow, father of actor John Lithgow, with whom Charles Siebert would appear on Broadway in ‘The Changing Room’ (1974).
Mr. Siebert was kind enough to comment (April 27, 2015): “The View from the Bridge shots are rehearsal shots, I’m certain. I did a kind of heavy make-up which actually was awful and I hope no pictures of that survive.”
1966 – 1967, exact dates unknown: Duchess of Malfi (I.A.S.T.A.) Bosola (Mr. Siebert believes this was in March, 1966); I am still working on acquiring more information.
Ah! And I have found more (June, 2013).
1966 Armstrong’s Last Goodnight Theatre Company of Boston A Scottish dialect play by John Arden; “Charles Siebert, as Lindsay, is the only actor in the company able to handle the language and ideas of the play…” (Samuel Hirsch, Boston Herald, 12/2/66 p. 23) Other reviewers commented on the cast’s difficulties with the dialect: “There is a tendency to give the best notices to the performers who could be understood. Charles Siebert, on any count, gives a fine performance…” (Alta Maloney, Boston Traveler, 12/2/66) In a paragraph headed “Best Performance by Charles Siebert”, Elliot Norton (Record American, 12/1/66) writes that the actor “…acts with a quiet, cool suavity…he is unctuous, calm, and…persuasively controlled. He alone among the members of the Theatre Company is able to speak with a reasonable Scottish accent that is at all times clearly comprehensible.” Editorial note: this is probably better than most real Scots do, in my experience.
1967 Soviet Writer’s Trial I was hesitant whether to put this in the filmed or theater section of this appreciation. A filmed play that was shown on Channel 13, NY (public broadcasting). Mr. Siebert plays one of the leads in what the NY Times review calls a “singularly expressive” performance (1/16/67); the Milwaukee Journal described him as ‘eloquent’ (2/6/67).
1967 Galileo Lincoln Center. The Bertold Brecht play; Siebert plays Galileo’s son-in-law. This is listed as Charles Siebert’s Broadway debut. The Milwaukee Journal (4/30/67) celebrated the event with a published interview with the actor; click on image at right to enlarge. (Trivia: right next to this is an interview with Wisconsin native Gary Burghoff, making his off-Broadway debut as Charlie Brown in ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’).
1967 – In 1967 and 1968, the actor appeared in numerous productions at Baltimore’s Center Stage, then only five years in existence. This November, 1967 photo was taken by Ellis Malashuk for the Sunday Sun Magazine, but I have not yet acquired the accompanying article. I regret to say that these were probably Mr. Siebert’s street clothes (in the NJ suburbs in 1967, such caps were often worn by cute teenage boys with Beatles haircuts; Mr. S. would seem to have been a bit beyond that demographic, but who knows what the artsy New York City theater set were wearing!) (Personal note from the author to Mr. Siebert: no, really, I like the hat. It looks good on you.) Waiting for Godot, which may have been the actor’s first outing at Center Stage, opened on September 29, 1967, and Hamlet opened November 24, 1967, which would have been the day after Thanksgiving; and in the first week of January, 1968, Mr. Siebert was Dick Dudgeon in George Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple. His outing as the Prince of Denmark was particularly ill received by the Baltimore Sun’s critic, though the actor’s choices were blamed on the director, Douglas Seale, also the theater’s artistic director. (For example, the director chose to present the Ghost as an offstage voice; the reviewer noted, “It requires Mr. Siebert, in order to give the scene some semblance of physical movement, to go through a series of contortions and incantations as incredible as they are embarrassing.” However, “…he is extraordinarily good in the play’s quieter moments, where his speeches reflect individuality, color, and conviction.”) After Seale stepped down as artistic director, Peter Culman, executive director of Center Stage at the time, gave a remarkably frank interview: “Hamlet was atrocious. It was pure bamboozlement. We bamboozled that part of our audience that really doesn’t know anything about theater into thinking they were seeing something impressive because they were looking at beautiful costumes. But except for a few of the comic bits, Charles Siebert hadn’t any concept of the part of Hamlet…Waiting for Godot didn’t work…” (Dorsey, 9/15/68). Well, I would like to have seen them anyway.
I have another picture of Mr. Siebert in rehearsals for Waiting for Godot, wearing the same hat. Unfortunately the picture quality does not lend itself to reproduction here.
1968 PhaedraTheatre Company of Boston; Theseus. “Charles Siebert is a powerhouse as Theseus, the king. He is like a bearded Othello in his rages and a Michelangelo statue in his sorrow. His performance gives you some notion of what heights this classic tragedy could reach with a company of actors who know how to play that bigger-than-life magnitude described by MacLeish’s ‘hysteria of statues’.” (Samuel Hirsch review, Boston Herald 4/1/68) “As Theseus…Charles Siebert…has the heroic bearing, the powerful voice, the sharp temper, the thundering rages and the heroic grief of this mythical hero…” (Elliot Norton, Boston Herald 3/30/68)
Mr. Siebert, who is a spellbinding raconteur with hundreds of wonderful stories, as you can imagine, sends us these notes: “[Distinguished poet] Robert Lowell came to see a performance [of Phaedra] one night and invited me out for a beer afterwards. Very kind,very generous and, Jesus, he was Robert Lowell! He was handsome, soft-spoken, low-key, patrician, and after some conversation said in a very oblique way, “I suppose it really does have to be shouted, doesn’t it?” I, being as obtuse as I am said something like, “Oh, yes, I think so,” not realizing he was really saying, “Please, you don’t have to shout the whole damned thing!” I think it took me years to realize what had actually happened. He died about 9 years later  and the mistaken belief [at that time] was that he had committed suicide, though now in researching it I guess he had a heart attack (at age 60!) For a long time I carried it in my head that my performance might have been what moved him to kill himself but I guess not, Whew! So thanks for that.
“One other sidelight; it was during the run of this show, only 3 days after this [Boston Herald] review [quoted above], that Martin Luther King was killed which we heard about backstage at intermission though the audience did not know it. In lieu of a curtain call that night I stepped forward and announced the news to the audience who gasped and then filed out in stunned silent grief. For years afterwards I would periodically run into a woman who would say to me, “I was in the audience the night you announced Dr. King’s murder. I’ll never forget that.”
1968 The Great Fugue Theater Company of Boston; premiere and possibly the only production of this Frederic Kimball play; April. I have found no reviews or any other information. The April 7, 1968 Herald Traveler mentions only that the play will be making its premiere and describes the plot as being about a ‘noisy family’. Update, June 2013: From the Boston Herald review (Samuel Hirsch, 8/19/68) we find that Harry Webster, the lead character, is an only son of unhappily married parents who “has been smothered by his religious mother’s love and alternately bullied and over-educated by his scientist father…Charles Siebert is a nervous, frequently hysterical Harry. He is possibly too powerful and too mature for the weakness and fragility of the character as written, but he brings such a wealth of detail and deeply-felt anguish that he is always interesting to watch.”
Trivia: ‘The Great Fugue’ opened immediately after ‘Phaedra’ closed. The same actress (Carolyn Coates) who played Siebert’s character’s wife in ‘Phaedra’ played his mother in ‘Fugue’.
1968 Love’s Labour Lost American Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, CT. Mr. Siebert portrays the King of Navarre as a “bearded, giggly Maharishi Mahesh” (Vincent Canby review, NY Times 6/28/68). The conceit of the show was to set the play in a sort of hippy commune (hey, it was the 60s), and Mr. Canby notes that some of the performances are excellent once the ‘hippy mannerisms’ are discarded; “…the same is true of Charles Siebert.”
1968 As You Like It American Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, CT. Note that Mr. Siebert is called upon to play the bad brother, Oliver. The actor is mentioned as “…[a] newcomer [to the company], yet to prove [his] merit…” (Glover, AP, 6/28/68)
1969 Jimmy Shine Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Generally reviewed as an inferior play with a star performance by Dustin Hoffman in the lead role. Notable also for featuring the Broadway debuts of Cleavon Little and Rue McClanahan, and music by John Sebastian. Mr. Siebert’s character is the title character’s college friend who has ‘sold out’ on art in favor of making money. I didn’t find any reviews that singled out his performance. The actor’s bio in the Playbill for this production mentions television performances that are not included in his IMDB credit listing, which I had used for the film performance section of this appreciation. Contemporary reports indicate that opening night included pickets and stink bombs; the original director quit a few weeks into the run, according to the 12/11/68 Oregonian p. 31 “Dustin Hoffman heads vulgar Broadway play” (William Glover). Per Mr. Siebert, the original director didn’t so much quit as he was fired (August, 2012). The play opened for three weeks in Baltimore at the Mechanic prior to going to Broadway; R.H. Gardner, the Baltimore Sun reviewer, was in agreement with the New York reviewers about the deficiencies of the play but states that Charles Siebert was “uniformly admirable” and, in contrast to “spotty” performances at the Center Stage, had become “a most persuasive actor” ( R.H. Gardner, 10/29/68). Mr. Siebert tells us (April 23, 2015) that ‘Jimmy Shine’ played at the Forrest Theater in Philadelphia. I have not yet found any Philadelphia reviews, but did find this very brief notice. Helen Hayes was right down the street! Note that ‘Jimy Shine’ was followed by ‘There’s a Girl in My Soup’ with Don Ameche – possibly Kenosha’s most famous actor – and Betsy von Furstenburg, who would perform with Charles Siebert in Neil Simon’s ‘Gingerbread Lady’, 1970.
1969 TartuffeWilliamstown Theatre “As Tartuffe, Charles Siebert defies actual description. From his first slimy entrance to his last screeching exit, he is the perfect ‘well rounded hypocrite’…” 7/24/69 Springfield (MA) Union p. 43 ‘Tartuffe’ winner at Williamstown (J.C. Hitchcock) Mr. Siebert indicates that he agrees with the reviewer’s assessment.
1969 We Bombed in New Haven Williamstown Theatre 8/4/69 Springfield (MA) Union p. 7 In notes submitted to the author of this site, Mr. Siebert tells us he was terrific (August, 2012). In March, 2013, Mr. Siebert says in an interview, “Many years ago I did a play by Joseph Heller called We Bombed in New Haven which was really about the insanity and futility of war (as was his great novel, Catch 22) and I found that profoundly moving in that at the end of the play the central character is responsible for sending his own son out to die in a war. That play has always stayed with me.” (Gonzalez, Rohnert Park-Cotati Patch 3/17/13)
1969 The Cherry Orchard Williamstown Theatre) 8/13/69 Springfield (MA) Union p. 13 Mr. Siebert modestly admits he was not so terrific in this one (August, 2012). “I was too young and I didn’t understand the role.” The reviewer disagrees, stating that the role of Gayev was “excellently played by Charles Siebert.” (Hitchcock, Springfield Union, 8/15/69)
1969 Threepenny Opera Williamstown Theatre Mr. Siebert played MacHeath. 8/20/69 Springfield (MA) Union p.14 (Photo at left, Elinor Ellsworth is Polly Peachum). One of two known roles in which Mr. Siebert sang (apart from his Marquette Players appearances in musicals such as “The King and I” , in which he played the lead – twice). The other is “Tooth of Crime’. Mr. Siebert rates his performance as merely “okay”.
1970 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Williamstown Theater Mr. Siebert plays Guildenstern; article notes that due to demand, an extra performance has been added. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead (J. Gordon Bullitt) 7/23/70 Springfield (MA) Union p.6 Actors Sam Waterston and Charles Siebert have been switching roles in rehearsal, notes the 7/20/70 Springfield (MA) Union p.14
Ring Round the Moon 1969 Williamstown Theater. Mr. Siebert played the twins in this Christopher Fry adaptation of a French satire. “To make it unusual, the roles of the twin brothers, the bad Hugo and the good Frederick, are taken by the same actor…it is easy and entertaining to watch and hear Charles Siebert, as bad Hugo, gruffly order Isabelle to perform the stint for which he has hired her, then, after no more than 10 seconds, to see him come back onstage as the gentle, diffident Frederick. Mr. Siebert does it very well, indeed, and with commendable subtlety. As Hugo, he is forceful, arrogant – yet charming. In the alternate role of Frederick, his manner is mild, his smile apologetic – yet charming….And so in the performance of the attractive and very gifted Mr. Siebert, does the audience [distinguish between the two characters]…” Elliot Norton, Record American (Boston) 7/8/69, pg 30 “…Charles Siebert…played it with style enough for Broadway…” Elliot Norton, Record American (Boston) 7/30/69, pg 23
Mr. Siebert spoke at some length (August 2012) about how much he enjoyed his work with the Williamstown Theater: “Interesting, good stuff and good actors,” as he recalls it. According to the actor, each play was rehearsed for two weeks and performed for one week.
1970 Colette Mr. Siebert portrays Colette’s first husband, ‘Willy’ (Henri Gauthier-Villars). A look at the famous portrait of this historical figure (quite an interesting guy, even apart from the connection with Colette) should indicate why Siebert was cast; although I couldn’t find any publicity shots, it’s pretty easy to imagine him in the role. I would imagine that he was made up with an imperial a la the portrait. [Update, May, 2015: I have found a picture; see below. Not clear why Mr. Siebert wasn’t made up with Willy’s iconic upturned mustachios.] The real Willy wasn’t much taller than Colette (an image search on the couple will bring up contemporary photos illustrating this), but Mr. Siebert would have towered over the dainty Zoe Caldwell, in the role of Colette. NY Times critic Walter Kerr (5/17/70) notes this, referring to Ms. Caldwell’s ability to project her lines despite being hidden behind a “giant oak”, aka Mr. Siebert. The same characteristic also struck the Boston Herald’s New York critic, Samuel Hirsch: “Charles Siebert, a broad-shouldered hedonist and charlatan, is sure-footed and cunning as [Colette’s] first husband.” I believe the adjectives following ‘broad-shouldered’ refer to the character, and not to Mr. Siebert himself.
Henri Gauthier-Villars, portrait by Boldini (left). Charles Siebert (right) as Gauthier-Villars (‘Willy’); the real-life Willy was nearly twenty years older than Colette. Zoe Caldwell is five years older than Charles Siebert, and he looked quite youthful in the role, judging by the production photos.
It’s interesting to note that several contemporary soap opera fan columns contain queries from ladies asking if Mr. Siebert’s appearance in ‘Colette’ would interfere with his continuing role on ‘Search for Tomorrow’.
May, 2015: Charles Siebert pointed us toward the New York Public Library for more material on ‘Colette’, and kindly provided the following anecdote: “Colette’s daughter, also called Colette (de Juvenal)… came to the dress rehearsal and it was rather a magical moment. At the end of the run-through, Zoe came to the foot of the stage; Colette standing in the orchestra. Zoe knelt down and they held hands while Colette said ‘I feel that I have my mother again.’ After the opening Colette (the daughter, obviously) wrote each of the cast a lovely note. I still have mine. With great Gallic charm she said to me ‘I never knew what my mother saw in
Willy until now…'”
1970 The Gingerbread Lady Plymouth Theater. The Neil Simon play. If I understand the plot, Mr. Siebert plays an abusive boyfriend of the lead character, Maureen Stapleton in this production. In the Playbill, Ms. Stapleton is billed above the playwright and the title; below the title, three of the supporting cast are billed across one line, including Mr. Siebert. Mr. Siebert’s bio is the fourth listed, in the same order as his billing; the bio mentions numerous stage performances not included in the very incomplete listing I give here, and also mentions his appearance on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow and Channel 13’s Actor’s Company productions (see Macbeth, 1968, in the film appreciation section). Life Magazine sent reporter Richard Meryman to follow the play through rehearsals to the opening; this very interesting article, which gives much detail about the process of preparing a play, can be found at http://books.google.ca/books?id=LUAEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA75&dq=%22neil%20simon%22%20%22Gingerbread%20lady%22%20life&pg=PA59-IA4#v=twopage&q&f=true
Mr. Siebert tells us that more than half of his character’s part was cut from this play between the out-of-town opening and Broadway, to the point that “the character didn’t even need to be in the play anymore.” Although the play, Simon’s first attempt at serious drama, was not the success it was expected to be, Siebert praises Maureen Stapleton’s performance. He also mentioned her nervousness when performing, and this is also referred to in the Life article. Richard Meryman notes that Stapleton is so anxious that her dresser “half-carried” her to a spot where she could survey the opening night audience. “One of the actors, Charles Siebert, began rubbing Maureen’s back while she began clearing her throat…”
Meryman also remarks that the show is “…cast to type – as in most Broadway shows – the actors, to a degree, are Evy and Lou…” Being assumed to be Lou Tanner (another slimy role) is more of a compliment to Mr. Siebert’s acting chops than it is to his personal qualities. Peter Bellamy, entertainment editor for the Plain Dealer, describes Siebert as “…the brutal guitar-playing stud…an admirably hateful indication… of how low [Stapleton’s character] will stoop for sexual satisfaction.” (3/21/71).
Samuel Hirsch reviewed the Boston production, before Mr. Siebert’s part was cut (Boston Herald, 11/10/70): “Charles Siebert plays Lou, the brutal lover, with the kind of compassion that keeps his villainy this side of menace.”
1971 Sticks and Bones Playwright David Rabe followed his highly regarded Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel with this rather grim play, which doesn’t appear to ever have been revived. Variety states that Mr. Siebert, in the role of the priest, gives “an especially noteworthy portrayal” (Variety, 12/8/71).
1972 Uncle Vanya Williamstown Theatre Siebert plays Dr. Astrov 8/1/72 Springfield (MA) Union p.18
1972 Wilde! Theatre de Lys. Frederick Gaines is better known for writing plays for production in elementary and secondary schools. This play has the interesting conceit of illustrating Oscar Wilde’s inner life by splitting him into four personalities, played by four actors, who also doubled in other roles. In addition to playing one portion of Wilde, NY Times reviewer Mel Gussow wrote, “Charles Siebert has the most distinct changes of character – as Frank Harris, an extortionist, and a scrubwoman – and performs notably.” (12/5/72)
1973 Detective Story Shubert, Philadelphia. The reviewer didn’t seem to enjoy this piece very much, ending the review with the words “Spare us, oh lord” (Sunday Times Advertiser, 3/18/73) and notes that for the most part, the actors’ accents didn’t “sound as if they’d been closer to New York City than the Proctor and Gamble plant in Cincinnati.” Great line! I have no idea what part Mr. Siebert played, and he is only mentioned as one of a list of actors in the play. (Mr. Siebert informs us that he played “Tami Giacopetti, a tin-horn hood…” and evidently another of Mr. Siebert’s slimy characters.) This was described as a ‘pre-Broadway revival’ I assume it didn’t make it to Broadway, fortunately leaving Mr. Siebert free for:
1973 The Changing Room Morosco Theater. The David Storey slice-of-life locker room tour de force, often revived (though in its most recent incarnation, a year or so ago, reviews pointed out that it’s become a bit of a period piece.) Remarkable in its time for the amount of nudity onstage. This play won the 1973 NY Drama Critic’s Award as Best Play. Walter Kerr, like many other contemporary reviewers, notes that the play is such an ensemble piece, that one can hardly single out individual performers (though, with a cast of 23 men, perhaps it was difficult to tell who was who – I had difficulty keeping them straight while reading the play). Charles Siebert replaced Tom Atkins, who originated the role of Walsh in the American run; this is noted in the NY Times on August 5, 1973. My copy of the Playbill is dated July 1973 and lists Mr. Siebert in the cast. Though the NY Times article notes that Mr. Siebert joins his brother, Ron Siebert, in the production, the biographical notes in Playbill are more coy, noting that Ron Siebert hails from Kenosha, WI but omitting Charles Siebert’s hometown and Marquette University affiliation. As the bios read in alphabetical order, playgoers were left to wonder about the coincidence of the two Sieberts, I suppose. The publicity picture below was graciously provided by Mr. Siebert, who is seated to the viewer’s left of NYC Mayor John Lindsay, at center holding the football.
Just as a bit of trivia: Charles Siebert would later (1996) direct Tom Atkins, who played the father of ‘Xena, Warrior Princess’ (Season 1, episode 20). Also, interestingly, half of the 22-actor cast were Williamstown Theatre alumni, and the entire production played at Williamstown for one week at the end of August, 1973 (Springfield Union, 8/21/73).
I’ve just read John Lithgow’s autobiography, ‘Drama: An actor’s education’. Mr. Lithgow gives a fascinating account of the whys and hows of acting, including a colorful description of the cast’s preparation for this play. He mentions that the director made use of the testosterone and natural inclination toward competition among the all-male cast. This couldn’t have been an easy situation for an actor coming into the production two months later. (Mr. Siebert mentioned the very particular stage directions that had to be timed with the dialog; for example, a line might need to be said while a bootlace was being tied. -to the author, 6/2/12) Perhaps Mr. Siebert will write a book some day. I’m sure he has many interesting stories to tell; particularly the one about how he managed to flood the stage…
Mr. Siebert was kind enough to discuss his experience with The Changing Room at length (August, 2012). This was the only time he ever replaced a cast member in an ongoing production, an experience he described as “like going to a party where everyone else is already drunk.” Lithgow, in his book, describes how the intense preparation caused the cast to bond closely, and Siebert describes himself as having felt like “a stranger in a strange land.” He recalls that he had no more than two weeks of rehearsal with the stage manager, and one or two run-throughs with the cast for this complicated ensemble piece. He neither had, nor felt he needed, any dialect coaching. I was fortunate to have more than one opportunity to speak to Mr. Siebert about his acting career; he told me that he never had trouble learning lines, and I definitely got the impression that he hasn’t spent too much of his time being nervous or anxious. However, he used the expression “no fun” several times in talking about The Changing Room.
A major and remarkable feature of the play was the on-stage use of plunge baths, which were a feature of the British changing room of the time, rather than the showers one would find in an American locker room. Mr. Siebert tells us that he found the water too warm, and complained about this, but was told that one of the other actors (not Lithgow; I redacted the actor’s name from Mr. Siebert’s story) liked it warm. Per Mr. Siebert, his reaction was, “Oh, he does, does he?” and he promptly got a hose and began adding cold water to the tank, perhaps, he reflects, to say “Hey, I’m here too.” Unfortunately, he went to his dressing room and forgot about the hose. Later, the stage manager knocked on his door, “a-trembling” to ask if he was the one who had just flooded the stage. The curtain had to be held for twenty minutes while they mopped up. Mr. Siebert said that his brother, who was in the cast, said that “I’d never work again.” However, for whatever reason, there were no ramifications, and his theater career continued uninterrupted until he moved to the West Coast.
I regret that I am not able to retell this story as colorfully as its protagonist did!
1974 Tooth of Crime Goodman Theater Center, Art Institute of Chicago. Stock. A Sam Shepard play that I would have thought would be too dated to ever be revived, but evidently this original version was revived in 2006 and was favorably reviewed (Shepard’s revision, with new music by T-Bone Burnett, had a fair amount of play in the 80s and 90s). Mr. Siebert plays a somewhat Elvis-like character in a generational debate of a plot that is too complicated to explain here. Mr. Siebert received top billing, and the role as written would have allowed him to demonstrate his considerable range. “Charles Siebert dominates the first act as Hoss…” (Leonard, Chicago Tribune). It’s worth noting that the Evanston, Il. reviewer wondered what the ‘Chicago dailies’ saw in the play; he walked out during the first act (Siegel, Daily Northwestern, 1/24/74). The play is a ‘drama with music’ and Mr. Siebert says he sang with a rock band backing him up, though the review only lists one musician. This opened on January 8, 1974 and I find it difficult to comprehend how the actor could also be appearing in Stratford, CT in January of 1974 in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (This mystery was cleared up for me by the great man himself, who, incidentally, I have found, sings very well. He appeared in Tooth of Crime immediately before Cat; both plays shared the same director, Michael Kahn. Mr. Siebert also praised the play itself and Robert LuPone, who is, I assumed everyone would already know, Patti LuPone’s brother.)
There is certainly quite a contrast between Shepard and Tennessee Williams, and this juxtaposition of plays illustrates the versatility that I find so admirable in Mr. Siebert’s stage and screen careers. As another example, Siebert probably filmed the cynical cop role in Deadly Hero almost simultaneously with the sedate aristocrat, Charles Francis Adams, he portrayed in The Adams Chronicles. If I had the opportunity to interview the actor, I’d like to ask if he ever turned a role down. He generally seemed to be game for anything. (Mr. Siebert tells us that he doesn’t remember ever turning a role down, because he “loved the work” and “had a family to support.” The actor, well-known for his range, seems to have felt plenty of confidence in his abilities. He also tells a very interesting story about auditioning for the 1968 play, The Boys in the Band. He showed himself able to play any of the roles in this ensemble drama, which unfortunately cost him the job as he didn’t fit strongly enough into one of the ‘types’.)
I encourage you to click on the thumbnail to view the full-size image of the publicity photo. The picture is so crisp and clear, if you zoom in, you can see the tears in the actor’s eyes.
1974 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ANTA. Tennessee Williams personally worked with the cast and allowed them access to his original notes on the play; cut scenes and lines were restored. Elizabeth Ashley, as Maggie the Cat, received rave reviews (trivia: both Charles Siebert and Elizabeth Ashley appeared in Coma, though with no scenes together). Siebert plays the conniving brother-in-law, Gooper. Mel Gussow says that the actor keeps his role from caricature (NY Times, 7/22/74), but Clive Barnes considers that the supporting cast is “comparatively shallow” (NY Times, 9/26/74) Another review, 9/2/74 Plain Dealer (Ohio) p.157 “Cat not so hot today” (William Glover) gives an amusingly negative review of the revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at ANTA. “Minor roles get the kind of attention called competent from Charles Siebert…” The production also played at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC; the Evenining Star reviewer (2/13/75, p. 28) called Siebert ‘appropriately obnoxious’ in his role.
In a March, 2012 interview on KRCB radio, Sonoma Valley, Mr. Siebert discusses his experience (in response to the question of what it was like working with Tennessee Williams): “It was very exciting that he was there, it was electric that he was there. He loved the cast, he liked Maggie very, very much, who was Elizabeth Ashley, by the way, who was brilliant… he was very enthusiastic, so certainly we got his approbation, and that was very exciting, was very encouraging. And really, it fed us, it helped us to make a very good production. There have been now, I think, four or five revivals on Broadway, and ours was the longest running.”
Update, January 2013: The New York Times published an interesting article about the 1974 ‘Cat’ from the perspective of one of the child actors; it includes a great cast photo, including Charles Siebert, who visually oozes the Gooper qualities of expedient deviousness and hypocrisy. Read it at http://theater.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/theater/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof-was-my-introduction-to-acting.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=13586842
1975 Rubbers (American Place Theatre)
Jonathan Reynolds political satire, directed by Allan Arkin. The American legislative process as an ‘old boys club’? Nah! Couldn’t be! The review in Educational Theatre Journal, the only one I was able to find, indicates that the play was full of comic touches and stage business. The reviewer describes a “meticulous ensemble” with larger-than-life but consistently effective acting.
Charles Siebert relocated his family to California in 1976 to begin his very successful prime time television career, which brought his East Coast theatrical career to an end.
1989 An Evening With Clarence Darrow
(Farthing Auditorium, Appalachian University, Boone, NC)
1989 The Deal (Back Alley Theater, Los Angeles) Matthew Witten’s play, ‘The Deal’, a political thriller. Matt Witten is today perhaps better known as a staff writer for TV dramas such as ‘Law and Order’ and ‘House’. Los Angeles Times theater critic Dan Sullivan wrote in August, 1989, “Never mind how, but Witten gives us a clever scene that shows how a real operator–Tommy [Charles Siebert]–operates. Meanwhile actor Siebert is making an equally important point: Tommy adores being an operator. For him, beating the system is a game. That’s why he’s so good at it.” This very early work of Mr. Witten’s was produced several more times over the next decade, but never with such a glowing review.
Sorry, we have been unable to unearth any photos.
1994 Macbeth (Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, Boulder)
Mr. Siebert in the title role in a production described as a “thumping success”.
1994 Antony and Cleopatra (Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, Boulder)
Mr. Siebert in the title role (Antony, of course.) In the photo below, Lynnda Ferguson as Cleopatra (she also appeared as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth). Mr. Siebert informs us that this is one of his favorite roles…so far.
November, 2011: A gracious evening at the Tallahassee Little Theater and in Tennessee Williams’ ‘Decadent South’
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Tallahassee (Florida) Little Theater on Friday, November 4, with Charles Siebert in the role of Big Daddy. Mr. Siebert had played the role of Gooper in the twentieth anniversary revival of the piece in 1974, which was one of the highlights of the Broadway season that year.
The 273-seat Tallahassee Little Theater is a charming venue in this college town, and the set design for this production was striking. The theater itself has an intimate feel, and the atmosphere was enhanced by drapery hanging from the flies suggesting Spanish moss. Background noise of soft music and crickets put the audience in the mood for the drama to come. (It was a bit nippy in Tallahassee at 8PM, so I assume the crickets were on a recording. Then again, some verisimilitude was added as I watched a few moths and mosquitoes flying through – probably not part of the set design!) Many thanks to the Little Theater for providing me with set pictures and cast pictures.
I attended the second performance (the play opened on November 3), and was told that there were 129 attending. Perhaps I misunderstood, because the house looked about three-quarters full to me. The audience was a pleasingly responsive group, which always enhances the experience of watching any type of performance.
I was at a bit of a disadvantage as a reviewer as I was seated in Row A. I expected Row A to be in the front, but I didn’t anticipate just how ‘front’. As the small theater (well, they didn’t name it the ‘Little’ Theater for nothin’, folks) has neither footlights nor pit, my knees were against the apron of the stage at the corner of the ottoman seen above. (More on this ill-starred ottoman and the delights of live theater to follow.) I was at a disadvantage, seated this close to center stage, because it was difficult to keep my eye on all the actors. The actor playing Brick, for example, spent much of the play upstage house right or in the gallery beyond the open French doors house right; it was difficult to watch his reactions while also watching the performance of the other actor in the scene. I also missed the Big Daddy/Big Momma exit in the third act because an actor was standing immediately in front of me, blocking my view of the stage. I was sorry I wasn’t able to stay in Tallahassee for another day, to see the production from a different seat.
Another disadvantage to a front row seat is being visible in the light spill from the stage. I was concerned that my note-taking might be distracting to the cast. A front row seat, when much action takes place downstage less than a yard away, also places one in an awkwardly liminal situation in which the comfort of being a spectator at an entertainment begins to give way to the uneasy feeling that one is actually staring, rudely, at another human being. This speaks to the realism of the performances, of course. It was particularly noticeable when an actor, seated in the upholstered chair and sometimes looking thoughtfully into the middle distance, happened to make direct eye contact with the person seated in Row A, seat 103. As a sociology teacher, the reasons for my discomfort (a slight violation of a social norm, and the breaking of the usual convention of being a spectator) were instructive and mildly humorous. (As a teacher, I know that when I am scanning my “audience” of students, I am not generally “seeing” them, and I would assume this is the same for an actor. On the other hand, my students are rarely staring at me. Most of them are too busy texting).
I was very happy to see that the actors were not miked, a trend that is a curse upon the live stage, in my opinion. None of the actors had any difficulty making themselves heard, nor should they have, in a theater of this size.
Act I consists largely of the familiar scene between Maggie ‘the cat’ and her husband Brick. This suffers quite a bit from its familiarity, particularly from the film version. The role of Brick, a character physically constrained by cast and crutch and emotionally constrained by an internal struggle, requires an actor with the rare ability to mesmerize an audience while being still and almost speechless through most of the first act. It’s no insult to the actor (Adam Braun) to say that such a quality is rarely to be found in regional theater. Act I belonged to Maggie (Laura Johnson), in this case. Her appearance, performance, and styling invited comparison to the better-known actress in the famous film version of the play, but once that hurdle was gotten over, the audience was able to appreciate her elegant physicality in the role. I particularly liked a moment when she sat stroking the chaise lounge on which Brick was lying, subtly indicating her desire.
The first act also brought the welcome arrival of the vibrant Jorgene Duke Hayden in the role of Big Mamma, and the production definitely warmed up at that point. We also were treated to the first of two accomplished stage falls by the crippled Brick. In this instance, he deftly prevented the ottoman from flying over the edge of the stage and into the lap of the woman seated to my left. The broken ottoman sat in place at a rather conspicuous tilt for the rest of the act, and I was impressed. Breakaway furniture in regional theater! Since the ottoman wasn’t fixed or removed during the intermission, I assumed the effect was intentional. Here is one of the delights of live theater: Maggie, entering for Act II, retrieved the ottoman and moved it to a stage area where no action was blocked to occur. Only a momentary expression on the actor’s face, visible perhaps only to Row A, suggested that she, and not her character, was coping with the dilemma. This is what it means to be an actor in the theater. There’s no calling “Cut!” (Mr. Siebert states that he commented to the actress afterward, “Where in the stage directions does it say that you meet me at the door with an armload of lumber?” – to the author, 6/2/12)
Act II, of course, brings the anticipated appearance of Big Daddy. I’ve written quite a bit about Mr. Siebert’s performances, but this was my first and most likely only opportunity to see him on stage. There were no surprises in the actor’s portrayal, nor any surprises in the quality of his performance. More acclaimed reviewers than I have praised Mr. Siebert’s enunciation. Not a word of any line was lost, and despite my prior criticism of the actor’s use of dialect, I found him quite consistent here, with only a word here or there falling into flatter western tones. All of Big Daddy’s asides and throw-away lines were heard, and responded to. Mr.Siebert elicited a laugh on every line that called for one.
Mr. Siebert notes in the program that it took him “all of five seconds” to agree to play the role of Big Daddy. And Big Daddy is a plum role, colorful and dynamic. Mr. Siebert, who is obviously in good health and looks a bit younger than his 73 years, approaches the strenuous role with vigor and enthusiasm. I would say he was having a grand old time in the role. His Big Daddy is, as expected, loud, coarse and ribald, but lacking in the undercurrent of malevolence sometimes seen in the role.
Though the regional actors in this production were good, and there are many regional actors who’ve done a fine job as Big Daddy, there’s no comparison to the acting of a man with such an extensive background of education in the art and performance history on stage both on and off Broadway. Mr. Siebert clearly has no problem with vocal production. He is plenty loud and boisterous as a man who believes he has a new lease on life. Yet, in the touching and crucial moment when Big Daddy lets his son Brick know how tenderly he loves him, we hear a nuance, a quiet moment that we might almost think we’re not supposed to be hearing. It’s one of those pieces of stage magic, in that the actor, seeming to be speaking more to himself than to the other actor or the audience, is actually still speaking just as loudly and can be heard in every seat of the theater. And this, my friends, is what we lose when stage actors wear microphones.
Siebert’s Big Daddy is styled in the traditional “Burl Ives” suit, and Mr. Siebert had what appears to be his own beard trimmed in the expected style. In styling the characters and blocking the action, the Little Theater production doesn’t depart from meeting audience expectations; this is a wise choice in an area with little access to live theater.
I noted that the experienced stage actor had a nice little trick of stepping into a spotlight downstage house left, where the lighting was particularly effective, for some of his soliloquies (the “can’t buy your life” speech alone was well worth my trip to Tallahassee.) He also engages in the stage business that I have so often commented on; while the other actors are speaking, and without impinging on their moment, he continues acting, performing some business with a cigar and lighter and a pocket handkerchief. His sour expressions in response to the “no neck monster” children and to Big Momma drew plenty of audience response. (The child actors were, I would say, a weak spot in this production, but the audience seemed very forgiving.)
The large and imposing Mr. Siebert, who towered over the rest of the cast, has some energetic physical scenes in Act II. He chases Big Momma off the stage, making a truly startling charge at her, to which she responds with terrified squeals; however, his raised, open hand suggested to me more of a playful slap or the rounding up of cattle, than a real threat. He also gives the actor playing Brick the opportunity to take a second stage fall. No furniture was broken this time, however. Finally, the scene in which Big Daddy realizes that his family has lied to him about his health was a bravura performance, not merely histrionic, but mixed with subtlety and nuance as he questions his son, and reality dawns.
Thinking about the play afterward, my only criticism of the second act is that something didn’t quite ring true to me in the scene where Big Daddy shows himself to be canny and knowledgeable about the working of men’s hearts, and specifically, his son’s heart. This seemed to come out of left field. It may have been the lack of connection on the part of the actor playing Brick, or it could be laid upon the direction, or perhaps upon Mr. Siebert himself for playing the character’s vulgarity with too much brio.
Act III presents a beautifully staged ensemble, and I must mention the work by Krystof Kage as Gooper, a role that doesn’t usually attract any kudos for an actor – a defect in the play itself. Mr. Kage really appears to be Big Daddy’s son (one gets the impression that Big Daddy and Big Momma are reaping what they have sown). Charles Siebert, as noted, had played this role on Broadway, with the New York Times review noting that he had kept the character from being a caricature. Mr. Kage does the same, and I felt some compassion for poor Gooper. (Kage emotes subtly while Big Momma fawns on Brick.) Sue Woodka Jordan is effective as the sourly saccharine Mae, particularly in this act when she lets her true colors show fully. One of the few flat spots in the production was Brick breaking into drunken song during this scene. I would also wish that the poignancy of Big Momma’s situation had been brought forth more strongly, and that she was less a figure of ridicule.
It was interesting that both Mae and Maggie were costumed in styles reminiscent of the late fifties or early sixties (Mae’s maternity top was particularly dated, while Maggie’s cocktail dresses could have come off the rack today); otherwise, no effort appears to have been made to set the piece in a particular time period, nor did it seem necessary to do so.
The cast received a standing ovation at the end of the show. I was charmed by the positively beatific expression on Mr. Siebert’s face. The man clearly enjoys acting.
It is, of course, bad form and unacceptable to take photos during a live performance. I could, perhaps, have taken a picture during the curtain call. But I preferred to keep my hands free for applauding.
Update, August, 2012: This production of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ won the Tallahassee Little Theatre’s 2011-2012 season “Most Enjoyed”; Mr. Siebert won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Big Daddy. The production also won best director, best set design and best lighting design. http://tallahasseelittletheatre.org/2011-2012-award-winners/
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa, CA – March 2012
No, I won’t be flying to Santa Rosa – wish I could! But for those on the left coast who would like to see Mr. Siebert, I assure you, you won’t be disappointed. Information is at http://www.6thstreetplayhouse.com/index.php?id=920
Promotional photos are available at http://animoto.com/play/jxMIBxvtObX031LY82Yg4Q
Reviewer Barry Willis, (member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle) posts on 6th Street Playhouse’s Facebook page describing the “stunning performances” by both Mr. Siebert and Kate Brickley, and adds, “Both actors embody their roles so fully that it’s easy to forget the many previous productions you’ve seen of this show.” (http://www.facebook.com/?sk=welcome#!/pages/6th-Street-Playhouse/69576559720, March 14, 2012). Another SFBATCC member, Cari Pace, reviews the play at http://caripaceforallevents.blogspot.com/. She describes the actor’s effect as one of “brusque control”.
Kim Murphey, in her “Reviews and Opinions” blog, states that Mr. Siebert “is perfect for the role, with his commanding voice and dominating presence.” (http://kimmurphey.com/2012/03/12/review-cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof/). Susanne Angeo opines, “Siebert seems born to the role, taking charge of everything in sight. From the moment he ambles onstage, he brings the story into focus, becoming the force to be reckoned with.” (http://suzanneangeoforallevents.blogspot.com/2012/03/cat-on-hot-tin-roof-by-tennessee.html)
Thank you, 6th Street Playhouse and staff for all your assistance in providing information for this site, including some especially attractive production photos (the photographer, Eric Chazankin, deserves a round of applause himself, and I encourage you to click on the thumbnail to see the full-sized version in all its glory). Who would not want to see this scene in person?
Clint Campbell as Brick; Charles Siebert as Big Daddy. Obviously.
(Charles Siebert is a member of Actor’s Equity and has given permission for this photo to be displayed herein, forsooth.)
KSRO 1350 AM, Sonoma Valley, CA
‘Center Stage’ hosts Curtiss Kim and David Wesley Page interview Charles Siebert and Kate Brickley
or via the 6th Street Playhouse’s facebook page:
[One of the hosts gives a description of the production and mentions the many stage productions and the famous film; actor Kate Brickley describes her character, Big Mama, and makes some comments on the play.]
Host: Talk a little bit about your role, Charles. Who is this guy, Big Daddy?
CS: Big Daddy is a southern plantation owner who started out as a field hand, and who worked his way up; he’s a bit of a redneck in his heart and in his soul, but he became a very, very wealthy man who’s got [in Big Daddy’s drawl] “28,000 acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile” is what he says in the play. And so he’s a real rich guy.
I want you to know, and I don’t know if you do know, that I have a long history with this play. I was in the Broadway revival of this play in 1974; it was the first Broadway revival, it was the twentieth anniversary after it opened on Broadway in 1955.
And we had as Maggie, Elizabeth Ashley, a fabulous actress, she was terrific. And Tennessee Williams, he was alive, he was involved in the production. He did some rewriting in fact which created the script we are now working from, and became the definitive form of the script of this play.. Big Daddy was played by Fred Gwynne …[cross talk and exclamations]…the Munsters, Car 54…he was wonderful , absolutely wonderful. He was a great comedian and everyone knows him from all that comedic work he did on television, but he was a terrific serious actor, and a wonderful guy as well. So we did that in 1974 and to this date it’s the longest running Broadway revival of the play. And now I’m doing Big Daddy, and I don’t know if anybody else has ever done that: played one of the sons, which I played in ’74, played Gooper, and now playing Big Daddy. So I’ve got a very real proprietary feeling about this play, I love it. I actually did Big Daddy a couple of months ago down in Florida, I did it down there in a production that a friend directed, and now I’m very, very happy…
Host: So, your legacy is what it is?
CS: It’s becoming, all of a sudden, yeah, and I’m happy to carry it.
Host: You know, the play is about a dysfunctional family, but it resonates with a lot of people. Maybe a lot of people are dysfunctional in their own families…
CS: Well, I heard a comedian once say, Does anybody know a functional family? All the world’s great drama, almost all the world’s great drama and literature is about family, if you think about it.
Host: Nobody writes about functional families…
CS: Exactly. It’s about how we love one another , hate one another, kill one another, and eat one another alive. And that’s what this is. It’s full, it’s just full of the intensity of those relationships.
[the two actors perform a three-minute scene from the play. Mr. Siebert warns the reviewer that he is “editing on the fly” to remove “salty language” and laughingly hopes they have a delay.]
KRCB 91 FM, Sonoma Valley, CA
Host Charles Sepos interviews Charles Siebert and Jenifer Cote (the segment appears 27 minutes into the program). As well as discussing the play itself and its history, and enacting a couple of short scenes, Mr. Siebert talks about his work as an actor, including what sounds like a somewhat unwelcome foray into his television career:
Host: …We know you, even if we don’t know that we know you, because you’ve played some significant roles on television.
CS: I’ve been around a lo-ong time [laughs] Almost no matter what your age, you may have seen me on television.
Host: Yeah, but like what roles would we have seen you…
CS: Well, the thing I’m most well known for on TV was the series called Trapper John MD in the 80s, well, through much of the 80s, which was a kind of a spin-off from M*A*S*H, it took the character of Trapper John from M*A*S*H and brought him 30 years on as he was the chief of surgery at a fictional hospital called San Francisco General. I played Dr. Stanley Riverside in that, who I always called the ‘resident jerk’ and he was a lot of fun. I did that, I did a lot of other television, some movies, lot of stage work in New York before that, Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theater all around the country. Been at it for a long time, and I’m still lovin’ it.
Host: So how do you go from one thing to another? If you’re starting in theater, how do you get to TV, or if you’re starting in movies, how do you get to TV, or how if you’re starting in TV how do you get to theater, how did your career get going that way?
CS: Well, you just keep at it, you just keep hammering away. I started out, I had some very good education in the theater from a wonderful inspirational teacher when I was in college at Marquette University in Milwaukee; from there I went, I decided I wanted to try the classical theater and I hadn’t had too much training in that so I went to London, went to drama school in London for a couple of years, and came back and started working in the regional theaters around the country, which were just beginning to form. I’m talking mid-60s. So I worked at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Connecticut; unhappily, that no longer exists. Shakespeare in the Park, Joe Papp’s place downtown, Astor Place Theater, regional theaters in Baltimore and Boston and Chicago, and Princeton, and other places in Massachusetts. You get to be a working actor if you’re lucky, you get known and people, eventually if you’re lucky they call you instead of you calling them, and then at a certain time, because if you’re a professional actor, you want to test yourself in both arenas, you head to California and see what you can do there. We have a strange situation in this country, which is that our theater and our film centers are separated by a continent, and in most places, in England it’s London, and in France it’s Paris, it’s all centered there, the theater, the television, the film, it’s all in one place so people can work in theater, they can work in movies all at one time. Here you have to kind of make a commitment to one place or the other. It’s New York or LA, for a period of time; once you get well enough known , you may not have to be on the spot in either case, but if you’re just a working actor, which is really what I consider myself to be and have been, you have to make a choice, and you have to be in one or the other place. And so I came to California in the mid 70s and started working in films a little bit, mostly in television.
[Mr. Siebert talks about the character, Big Daddy]: …this is a fabulous character to be able to play for an actor my age, when you get up in years a little bit, there aren’t all that many wonderful characters; this is one.
[editorial comment: perhaps this is supposed to be a state secret, but I would say that Mr. Siebert is giving himself a very nice birthday present on opening night in Santa Rosa. All best wishes and many happy returns, sir.]
You can also find a print interview with Mr. Siebert at http://707.pressdemocrat.com/2012-03-09/section/arts/charles-siebert-in-6th-streets-tin-roof and a radio/podcast interview at http://www.radiosausalito.org/podcast/B235278620/C1152733075/E20120319153605/index.html
Charles Siebert live in concert at the Jarvis Conservatory, June 2, 2012
Many thanks to Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Lasusky who attended this event and provided photos. I was able to acquire more information about Mr. Siebert’s fascinating theatrical career and have made a number of additions and corrections accordingly.
Mr. Siebert performed two musical numbers. Though people will not be lining up to hear him perform grand opera any time soon, the actor demonstrated that he has a strong, accurate, and pleasing singing voice, accompanied by an amusing and dramatic presentation of the songs. Clearly Mr. Siebert would be highly enjoyable in a musical comedy, and I dearly hope he has the opportunity. He also looked like he was having a blast! And the audience enjoyed it just as much.
June and July, 2012: Charles Siebert taught master classes in acting at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa this summer. Oh, to be a fly on the wall! Perhaps one of the students will contact me.
September – November, 2012: Mr. Siebert taught a ten-week class in scene study at the 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa.
And you might want to keep an eye on the upcoming season at the 6th Street Playhouse, during which Mr. Siebert will be both directing and performing. The actor discusses his plans in a brief interview, in which he also summarizes his career and talks about one of his sons, musician Chris Siebert, before giving the history of and reciting Clement Moore’s Christmas classic, The Night Before Christmas (KSRO, 12/20/12) http://www.ksro.com/Archives.aspx
January – February, 2013: Aspiring actors in the San Francisco region are fortunate as Mr. Siebert continues teaching master classes at the 6th Street Playhouse. Also in February, Siebert directs ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ at 6th Street. He talks about the play with wit and erudition on KRCB’s ‘Curtain Call’ with Charles Sepos, http://krcb.org/featured-radio-shows/curtain-call, starting from about 33 minutes into the podcast. He discusses the art of both acting and directing with a great deal of zest. (Though this site focuses on Charles Siebert’s acting, we must add an appreciation of his directing career, as well.)
Charles Siebert responds to the interviewer’s question about the amount of research he had obviously done on the play’s subject. “You want to get it right. You want to know as much as you can about a play before you take it on. Whatever education I have, which is slim, really comes from my work. Whenever I do a play, I have to research it, I have to find out the historical facts, the biographical facts, the geographical facts, everything about it, either in acting or directing a play or a film or a television show, any of that. And so, that’s enormous fun, that’s fun to learn all of this and then be able to come here and talk to you about it.”
In response to a series of questions about the play and about directing, the actor neatly sums up his own personal philosophy, I think: “[directing is] about passion and it’s about commitment to what you’re doing…It has to do with love for the piece, love for the people you’re working with…there’s a spiritual component to it, where things pass between [director, actors and audience]…In the end [‘Moonlight and Magnolias’] is the story of a passionate man, a man who is dedicated to what he does, who is obsessive about what he does, and who is determined to … achieve his vision.”
After listening to Mr. Siebert’s impassioned discussion of directing ‘Moonlight and Magnolias’ it comes as no surprise that the play was held over for additional performances at 6th Street Playhouse.
March 2013 ‘The Price’ Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma, CA
Arthur Miller’s rarely-produced 1968 play, The Price, is a family drama, written to be performed without an intermission, taking place in one continuous scene in real time, on one set, rather like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Two brothers, Victor and Walter, who have followed radically different paths in life, meet after being estranged for sixteen years to handle selling the family furniture before the building that houses it is torn down. Victor’s wife, Esther, and the furniture dealer, Gregory Solomon, are the only other characters. The play’s theme is concentrated and the exchanges between and among the characters are often intense. Clive Barnes, writing in the New York Times about the original production of the play, describes the character of Solomon: “…along comes Solomon, an incredibly aged, incredibly wise antiques dealer, who has come, almost out of retirement (“You must have looked up my name in a very old telephone book”), to give a price for the furniture. From then on Solomon weaves through the play, part comic relief, part dramatic contrast, always amusing, always apt.” (2/8/1968; http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/11/12/specials/miller-price.html)
The production that I saw at the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma on March 23, 2013 (the second night of the show) inserted an intermission, which was a good choice and quite welcome to most of the audience, I think. The stage design and lighting – particularly for the closing scene – were excellent, and the acting was at a high level, though regional actors are at quite a disadvantage when their performances are contrasted with that of an actor of Mr. Siebert’s caliber.
Charles Siebert discusses the play (in an interview with David Templeton, The Bohemian):
“It’s deeply moving, to me…Like almost all good dramas, like Death of a Salesman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, this play is about family, and what we do to one another as family. It’s about how we love one another and hate one another and drive each other crazy. It’s deeply, deeply touching… In The Price, a lot of the theatricality springs from that family dynamic I was talking about, and also from this character Solomon. He’s a little bit of comic relief, but there’s so much to him. That part is a gift to an actor. It’s so clever and so interesting a part, taken in the context of the rest of the play.”
Miller, Siebert believes, is a highly judgmental writer. “You know how he feels about this characters,” he explains. “You know which ones are right and which ones are wrong. But in this play, he doesn’t judge these people. He just lets them struggle to understand themselves, to understand each other.”
“I think that’s one of the satisfactions of art,” Siebert muses. “Art has to have a form and a shape, a destination of some sort, whereas life is aimless and crazy and never resolves anything to complete satisfaction. That’s one of the interesting things about The Price. It doesn’t exactly resolve. And yet, you’re right, that is what we want from art. We want resolution. So will people leave this play devastated? I certainly hope so. “Because then they will have had a real experience. They will have gotten something extraordinary out of it.” (The Bohemian, Templeton, 3/13/13)
Miller’s dialog gives plenty of stage direction for the rich and plummy role of Gregory Solomon, furniture appraiser. “Fantastic!” (in the sense of unbelievable), the other characters call him. “You make everyone fall in love with you,” Victor says, contrasting Solomon’s success with his own perceived failure in life. Charles Siebert accomplishes it perfectly, making the audience fall in love with his Solomon, his enigmatic, wise, irascible and comic Solomon. Miller gives the actor a wonderful, colorful role, and I can’t imagine how anyone could have made more of it than Mr. Siebert did on the night I saw the play.
The part is a comical one, and as I noted about the actor when he played Big Daddy in Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in Tallahassee, he lets no humorous line go without its due laugh. The audience laughed, and laughed heartily, as well as breaking into applause numerous times, at Mr. Siebert’s rendition of some truly hilarious dialog, illustrated with the use of gesture and stage business that anyone who has studied his performances would expect.
Mr. Siebert, who, off-stage after the show, looks youthful and vigorous, played the 90-year old character who no one can believe is 90 like a man quite a bit older than himself, but in no way frail; he indicated Solomon’s age with his gait and use of a cane. (Frankly, despite his usual self-deprecating comments about his age, Siebert has a long way to go before he can play ‘frail’.) When flirting with Esther, the only woman in the cast, Siebert can best be described as absolutely adorable. One could physically feel the audience lapping it up. In the play, Solomon wavers over whether to buy the furniture or not; when he suddenly decided to do it, Siebert’s sudden, youthful, animated semi-leap into the air and vigorous affirmative was startling and wonderful to behold. His dialect was spot-on and never wavered for a moment. (Madeline Asche, the actor portraying Esther, said afterward that Siebert had the whole cast picking up his Russian-Yiddish-New York accent.) What a treat! An appreciative audience (the house was packed, and I overheard someone connected with Cinnabar say that the run is nearly sold out) rewarded the actors with a standing ovation.
I thought it was interesting to listen to some of Solomon’s lines about getting back to the work he loves in light of Charles Siebert’s return to the stage. It is long overdue. Just two words for the actor, if I may: East coast. East coast. Please, sir, we want some more!
Kim Murphey reviews The Price on her blog, http://kimmurphey.com/tag/the-price/ :”Charles Siebert plays Gregory Solomon, who is an old antiques dealer. He gets unintentionally stuck in the middle of a family feud by being randomly picked out of the phone book to give a price on the furniture to be sold. He provides the humor with his Russian accent and many distracting side stories as he drags out the “deal” on the furniture… I wished Mr. Siebert had a bigger role as his presence lit up the stage.”
On Southern Sonoma Country Living (3/25/13 Cinnabar Theater’s Compelling Production of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Price’ (unattributed) http://www.southernsonomacountrylife.com/blogs/2013/03/cinnabar-theaters-compelling-production-of-arthur-millers-the-price-.html): “Director Sheri Lee Miller has dished up a slice of classy New York pie for Sonoma County playgoers with her deft production of Arthur Miller’s The Price. …Broadway actor Charles Siebert gives a bravo performance as Gregory Solomon, a resurrected relic of a charismatic antiques dealer whom Miller positioned as the central weight in a see-saw of fraternal emotion. ”
‘Art Hound’ blogger Geneva Anderson, 3/29/13: “Renowned actor, Charles Siebert… literally steals the show—he shines as an old, sentimental and very wise antiques dealer, Gregory Solomon…” http://genevaanderson.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/review-arthur-millers-quiet-classic-the-price-is-brought-to-life-by-charles-siebert-at-cinnabar-theatre-through-april-7-2013/
Katie Watts, in the Argus-Courier, 3/29/13: “The fourth member of the acting quartet, Charles Siebert, as the jovial, understanding and philosophical used furniture dealer Gregory Solomon, steals the proverbial show — you don’t want to watch anyone else when he’s on stage. ” (Editorial comment – truer words were never spoken!) http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20130329/COMMUNITY/130329448/1042/opinion?Title=-8216-The-Price-8217-reveals-choices-faced-by-all-
Susan and Greg Angeo, 3/31/13: ” The wisdom of this Solomon is laced with wit. A noted Broadway, TV and film veteran, Siebert effectively makes Solomon the story’s catalyst and center of gravity, bringing his considerable experience to this, his first outing on the Cinnabar stage. Siebert presents Solomon as a multi-dimensional but reassuring and steady presence: richly endearing, comedic and dramatic. ” http://forallevents.info/reviews/the-price-by-arthur-miller-cinnabar-theater-petaluma-ca/ This review, like the others, is also highly appreciative of the rest of the cast, the set and the director.
Charles Siebert says, “I knew two of the original Broadway cast, Kate Reid, who plays the wife of one of the brothers, played Big Mama in the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that I did on Broadway, when I played Gooper. And Pat Hingle, who played the cop in The Price, was the original Gooper in Cat. When I did [Cat], he came backstage and we talked. After that, we worked together a few times in L.A. He guested on Trapper John. He was a wonderful guy.” (The Bohemian, Templeton, 3/13/13)
May, 2013 ‘Red’ at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa
‘Red’, John Logan’s two-hander about artist Mark Rothko, opened at 6th Street Playhouse with Charles Siebert as Rothko and Ryan Schabach as Ken. Logan’s play won the 2010 Tony as best play, which it well deserved. Logan has taken many of Rothko’s actual pronouncements on art and worked them into a tight, one-act, five-scene drama that may be about the nature of art, or about sons/students breaking free from the gravitational pull of the father/teacher, or about passing the baton from one generation to another. To me, though, the play is always about life and death, the red and the black; Logan poignantly foreshadows Rothko’s suicide, in his studio, the arterial red giving way to the black.
6th Street’s intimate 90-seat Studio theater, with seating arranged arena-style around three sides, was perfect for this drama. The set was nicely dressed as an artist’s studio, with buckets of paint, canvases, faux Rothkos (which didn’t do much credit to the artist), the paraphernalia relevant to the scenes in which Ken and Rothko prepare the stretchers and canvas, etc. There was a working sink, as well, which was used to great effect from where I was sitting (knowing the play, I chose to sit on that side of the theater).
Logan’s play is dialog-heavy, and it’s heavy, heady, intellectual dialog, presenting a challenge to the actors, particularly the actor playing Rothko. Some disservice was done to this by the poor acoustics in the space, but this was alleviated to some extent when Craig Miller, the director, went down during the performance and turned off some noisy fans. One hopes they’ll get some quieter fans, as some audience members complained of the heat afterward and Mr. Siebert was drenched with sweat by the end of the play. On opening night, the actors were all but word-perfect, though Schabach’s haste in some of his lines on a couple of occasions left them unintelligible; I’m sure this will resolve in future performances.
The actors present a nice physical contrast, with Siebert’s Rothko looming largely over Schabach’s slight young Ken. Ken, a young artist hired to help Rothko prepare his paints and canvases, exhibits the most change and is primarily responsible for illustrating the passage of time in the play, and Schabach handles this well, progressing from anxious young idealist to confident artist in the course of the play. He certainly shone in the final two scenes; as Ken holds his own against the overpowering Rothko, Schabach holds his own against the magnificent acting of Charles Siebert.
I love Rothko’s dialog throughout the play, and Mr. Siebert deserves all kudos in preparing his dialog in the short interval between this play and his appearance in ‘The Price’. I watched David Hyde Pierce struggle with a single intense monolog during the preview of Christopher Durang’s Tony-nominated “Vanya and Sonya and Mascha and Spike”. Rothko has at least four monologs of similar length and intensity, and on opening night, we heard them with only the slightest bobble (well, you try saying “over-eager undergraduate” five times fast). Siebert does due justice to the marvelous language (much of it Rothko’s own) and illuminates it with his always excellent stage business and body language. Logan gives him plenty to work with, as the stage directions call for the throwing of objects large and small, among other actions. Rothko’s smoking and drinking are well illustrated and Siebert pulls off some sleight of hand with the electronic cigarettes that were used, giving the illusion that they had been ‘smoked’ without actually tying himself to carrying one around with him. As Rothko speaks of the movement and flow of art, we appreciate the movement and flow Siebert gives to each line and gesture. The ‘Caravaggio’ speech, one of my favorites, was as fully invested with meaning, yet without being pedantic, as it could possibly be. Siebert and Schabach are perfect in the ‘red’ scene, in which the characters joust over what the meaning of ‘red’ is. The scene is funny, and the audience laughed, yet it also introduces the darkness in Rothko; red is blood, arterial blood, his own blood which Rothko will ultimately choose to drain away. In the ‘red and the black’ speech, Siebert speaks softly, yet audibly, almost throwing the lines away, but they hit their mark all the more.
Mr. Siebert, I should mention, appears clean-shaven and there is no reason for the audience to question his portrayal of a man twenty years younger than his own age. (It was nice to see the actor’s familiar face again and recognize some of his characteristic facial expressions that his usual beard obscures.)
In the course of the play, Siebert has two complete costume changes, nicely managed in the brief moments between scenes. Both actors use their costuming to illustrate the action; we see Ken go from buttoned up to open-shirted, not only showing the change in Ken’s attitude but also assisting the illusion of two years of greater maturity.
In the scene in which Rothko becomes violently angry, Siebert is frighteningly and impressively explosive; I’m sure it’s a scene that audience members will be talking about afterward. Siebert is also vigorously active in the painting scene, and in the last scene in which he manhandles the other actor somewhat. But it is in the quiet scenes, where Rothko listens to Ken, that we see how masterful Siebert is as an actor. He has never required dialog to perform, and the naturalness and subtlety of his posture and gesture are admirable. (Schabach, who was really excellent in the final two scenes, could learn something from his partner; Scene 1 was a bit awkward as the actor did everything but stand pigeon-toed to get the point across that Ken is overawed by Rothko.) My notes, at one point, say simply “powerful powerful powerful” and it’s notable that at the end of the fourth scene, the audience sat stunned for nearly a minute before breaking into the applause that they had been giving at the end of each act. In the final scene, Siebert’s performance is riveting and heartbreaking as he mourns over his paintings; the scene touches anyone who has mourned in the letting go of anything, and that would be all of us, I believe. He did, in my opinion, sweeten the ending a bit, making it a bit safer and more satisfying for the likely audience. Having studied the actor’s professional history, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his personal choice.
If I could make any criticism at all, and perhaps this is only due to my personal preference for eros/thanatos symbolism as a major theme of the play, Rothko’s denial to Ken (‘You said, when I commit suicide.” “No, I didn’t”) was thrown away. I would like to have seen it emphasized a bit more so it wouldn’t escape notice, particularly as the program notes didn’t mention that Rothko was a suicide.
Transitions between the scenes were handled nicely with lighting and with the actors moving the necessary props on the dimly-lit stage. The only awkwardness was the transition into the third scene, in which Ken is in the middle of a phone call. Stage directions in the play as written do call for Ken to bring in his painting and place it in the studio. Somehow, it seemed odd to see the actor do this and then pick up a phone and start a conversation in the middle. I wonder, too, if the audience quite ‘got’ that Ken had brought a painting but lacked courage to show it to Rothko. Schabach deserves commendation for holding the audience in rapt attention in the transition to scene four; he’s working on a stretcher, but actually he’s giving Siebert time for a costume change. The play was really kept moving, and the director (Craig Miller) and the set and lighting designers should all be congratulated. I should also say that the sound design is integral to the play, and was well-done and well-implemented.
Obviously a great deal of loving preparation went into this play, and unfortunately there were only 54 people in the audience (possibly the previous night’s preview drained some attendance). I hope that word of mouth fills the house for ‘Red’s very short three-week run. (I also hope Mr. Siebert survives those weekends with a matinee performance – he’s doing a lot of hard labor in the course of the performance.)
6th Street Playhouse’s Facebook page ran this quote from Barry Willis, president of the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle, but without a citation, and I was unable to find it (possibly it hasn’t been published yet): “This depiction of painter Mark Rothko wrestling with his soul is actually better than last year’s very good Berkeley Rep production. Veteran actor Charles Siebert gives a much more nuanced interpretation of the autocratic artist, and Ryan Schabach brings real life to the part of the studio assistant. 6th Street’s intimate studio theater is a more appropriate venue for this production than the cavernous space where it was done at Berkeley Rep.”
Siebert tells us that he became interested in Rothko’s art in the 1960s, while living in New York, and that he often spent time with the Rothkos at the Museum of Modern Art at that time. He had also seen many of the Seagram panels, which are the crux of the play, in London, and visited the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Not long after the play’s Broadway run, the actor and a group of friends did a private reading, and he decided at that time that he wanted to play the role “before my artistic license expires.” It’s a great role for any actor, performed amazingly by Charles Siebert, and anyone who saw it should feel privileged.
Addendum: The Playhouse apparently was conducting an experiment to see how word of mouth advertising would work at filling their theater for this show, using no publicity and scarcely even a mention on their own website and Facebook page until after the play opened. I’d say they proved the null hypothesis. There were only thirty people in the theater at the Saturday matinee of the last weekend; despite the fact that it was a somewhat dead audience, the actors gave the same fantastic performances (and Schabach had corrected his very slight deficiencies from opening night). I felt sad, not for the actors; certainly not for Mr. Siebert, who is a professional and, I’m sure, handles such matters philosophically, but for all the people who missed seeing this great play performed at the highest possible level. I cannot imagine any actor doing a better job with Rothko, and my roving correspondents (thanks again, Doc and Pat) were quite impressed.
The actor seems to have held up quite well under such a strenuous role. I hope he has a chance to appear in ‘Red’ again, in a venue where the work will have more opportunities to be appreciated.
November – December 2015, ‘A Christmas Carol’ at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa
“With a strong, adaptable cast, an inventive script by Michael Wilson, sprightly, emotion-focused direction from Craig Miller and a delightfully steam-punk production design, this incarnation of the classic also makes maximum use of actor Charles Siebert as Ebenezer Scrooge.
Siebert rarely performs on local stages, and his North Bay appearances are always occasions to celebrate. As Scrooge, Siebert is fancifully mesmerizing and terrifically, touchingly real.” – Charles Templeton, Bohemian.com, 12/2/15.
“Nearly everything about this show has a bright twist of originality. References to clocks, gears and the passage of time are built into the set and stage effects, alluding to Scrooge’s ghostly temporal visitors and the brevity of life itself…Noted stage and TV veteran Charles Siebert plays Scrooge as a slightly more sympathetic character than the typical unredeemingly greedy creep. Even before the visit from the first ghost, we can almost understand why he is the way he is. This makes his final repentance all the more believable, and as satisfying as Christmas pudding. Siebert’s Scrooge is better than just about any in recent memory.” -Greg and Suzanne Angeo, Sonoma County Gazette, 12/9/15.