Jeff Perry (Cyrus on 'Scandal') directs 'A Steady Rain' at Alliance 9/18-10/11

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Like almost every character on "Scandal," Jeff Perry's White House Chief of Staff character Cyrus Beene is the embodiment of intensity and drama. Cyrus spits out his words. He yells. He gesticulates. He appears as if he has the weight of the civilized world on his shoulders all the time.

The actor Jeff Perry? Not so much. He was the picture of relaxation at the Center for Civil and Human Rights this past weekend, where he was promoting a play he's directing for the Alliance Theatre called "A Steady Rain." Even when he made a request for coffee, Perry sounded vaguely apologetic for even asking.

" 'Scandal' is like crack TV," Perry said of the show which returns Sept. 24 for its fifth season on ABC. "I didn't know someone could ram that much story into any given 42 minutes." (He's referencing Shonda Himes, of course.)

"A Steady Rain," which will be at the smaller Hertz Theatre from September 18 through October 11, has a "Scandal" element to it but in a very different set up. (Buy tickets here.) On the surface, it's a simple two-man play focused on two Chicago cops grappling with a catastrophic event, morality and their own demons. Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman starred in a Broadway production in 2009 and Perry became fascinated with the play.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Perry said he has only directed a few times and is not by any means an expert.

"I have a sentimentality for the aesthetic of small spaces," said Perry, a Chicago native who co-founded Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company with fellow actor Gary Sinise more than 40 years ago. "And in this case, I don't need to act. I simply want to help tell the story. I like this play because it really explores the limits of male friendship. It also explores how our vantage points are destined to be solitary to an extent."

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

And Perry found this particular play fascinating because he said it breaks the cardinal rule of theater: show, don't tell: "These characters are retelling events that happened in the past and sometimes they put creative spin and justifications on history. It's a word-drenched script. It's almost more like an audio book experience."

He pitched the play to Alliance artistic director Susan Booth, also a former Chicago denizen. But although their years in Chicago did overlap, Perry said they never worked together until now. And one of the actors in the play, Thomas Vincent Kelly, had worked with Booth for a play at the Alliance in 2013.

Booth said she was familiar with the playwright Keith Huff from her Chicago days and the decision to do the play was a no brainer:

"It's a big fat gift to two actors," she wrote in an email today, "and when one of our generation's consummate actors wants to direct that piece -- that's beyond appealing. This is pure actor mastery; there's no bells and whistles to hide behind; the whole weight of the evening falls to the actors' capacity to trap you in their stories."

She said although she hadn't worked with Perry before, "I've seen him on stage countless times and am a big fat fan of the company [Steppenwolf] he dreamed into being."

Her take on Perry vs. Cyrus: " 'Wicked ruthless' applies ONLY to Cyrus. Jeff is, in so many ways, the character's emotional opposite."

"Scandal," in the meantime returns next week and character Cyrus is in a bind. The last we saw him in the season four finale, he had just been ousted from the White House as chief of staff by president Fitz Grant over a perceived betrayal, replaced by an avowed enemy.

"Fitz got fed up being lied to, " Perry said. "I try to tell him I only lie when it's necessary I'm protecting you. It's for the good of the republic." (Isn't that what Cyrus always says?")

Perry can't give away much of what is going to happen but he agrees that it's doubtful Cyrus will be collecting too many unemployment checks or sitting at home watching "Judge Judy" all day.

"Cyrus will move heaven and earth to get back into the White House," Perry said. "Being at home is not going to work. Cyrus at home? I can't picture it."

He said his character went from being in lust with Michael, his new husband, to being betrayed by him, to wanting to murder to very slowly accepting him. Cyrus (gasp!) actually felt empathy for the guy when he saw how much his parents hated the fact he was gay.

Perry hopes, despite his busy "Scandal" schedule, to be in town this week in preparation for the show's bow Sept. 18. Otherwise, he will certainly be here on the weekends.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

PLAY PREVIEW

"A Steady Rain"

September 18 to October 11, varying dates and times

$20-$39, depending on the day

Hertz Stage at the Alliance

1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlatna

Explorewww.alliancetheatre.org

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