stage dive

Stage Dive: Alec Baldwin Must Return to Broadway, But in What?

Baldwin with Anne Heche in 2004’s Twentieth Century.

I woke up this morning thinking fondly of Alec Baldwin. As I often do. (This and so many other things set me apart from Kim Basinger and Roger Ailes.) He just did an Equus in the Hamptons, in blatant violation of all theatrical rules and regs: He barged in hot on the heels of a popular, Harry Potter–powered revival, he played a part recently vacated by no less a Brit eminence than Richard Griffiths … and he did theater on Long Island. (Well, that’s never bothered him.) The Thane of Massapequa truly loves the boards and finds his way back to them with startling frequency for a guy who can probably get quick film work (and maybe even pick up another Supporting Actor nod or two) with a flick of those baby blues. Baldwin’s a little busy these days, sure; there’s nothing like a labor-intensive single-camera sitcom to keep you confined to Silvercup for eight months out of the year. But maybe, just maybe, if we all believe in Baldwins (the fun ones, at least), we can collectively Tinkerbell the big guy back to Broadway for a late-season treat.

Because New York theater needs him. His most recent Broadway outing, Twentieth Century, was six years ago; four years have elapsed since he essayed the oleaginous closet case Ed in the Roundabout’s Off Broadway Entertaining Mr. Sloane. And it’s been three years since the proto–30 Rock live episode (presented off air as a special WGA benefit at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, during the writers’ strike), in which Baldwin memorably mimed rear-entry sex with writer Paula Pell, standing in for Edie Falco.

About a year ago (when I interviewed Baldwin for another publication), he spoke reverently of the stage, calling it a form of artistic detox after years of mostly disappointing film work: “From ’92 to ’98 I made films. And then I said, this is really killing me, spiritually. I did Macbeth at the Public.” That performance (opposite Angela Bassett’s Lady M and Liev Schreiber’s Banquo) met with mixed reviews, but Baldwin’s no stranger to those. For a man whose lifelong flirtation with pomposity is his calling card, he’s surprisingly thick-skinned — and just plain surprising. You never know where he’ll turn up next: Co-cineaste-ing on TMC with Robert Osborne? Hosting a Philharmonic broadcast on WQXR?

Here’s what’s verifiable: Baldwin’s a bankable, boldfaced star with actual theater skills and credentials. For war wounds, he can’t be beat: The guy’s actually suffered for his art. Remember, the producers of the Jack Ryan franchise used his post–Red October decision to play Stanley Kowalski in a 1991 Broadway revival of Streetcar as an excuse to can him and bring in Harrison Ford. (All bogus, Baldwin claims; studio politics, not scheduling conflicts, torpedoed his run as Ryan.) But playing Stanley (which landed him a Tony nomination) irrevocably altered the course of his career, Clancy sequels aside: He got darker, he got stranger, he became infinitely more interesting than what Hollywood (and, doubtless, his agent) wanted him to be, which had been Warren Beatty: Nassau County Edition. He unleashed the full force of his gift: a rampaging ego restrained and underlined by irony, tempered with bitter self-knowledge. “[The film version of] Glengarry, Streetcar, and Malice were the triptych of projects I worked on all in the immediate aftermath of having been shown the door on [the Jack Ryan franchise],” he told me last fall. “So you can imagine … the life experiences that were informing my performance. I do Streetcar, and I play Stanley, who says, ‘I’ve been onto you from the beginning.’ Betrayals, gamesmanship, all of that. Stanley has a heart, but he’s ripped it out his chest and buried in the backyard. In a box. A metal box.”

A metal box. I remember Baldwin pronouncing it. He’s a voice man, as is obvious, a great savorer of the spoken word. “I always pick plays where I’m enormously fond of the language,” he told me. “Because if you give me a play, and I’m like, I kinda get this, okay — six weeks in, I’m done. There’s nothing else I can do to fluff it up. I pick plays where I know it’s going to take me a while to get tired of saying those words, because they’re so … nougat-y.” Nougat-y. Another memorable bit of pronunciation.

It’s a pleasure hearing him talk, for listener and speaker alike. So let’s keep the man declaiming (and somewhere in the 212 area code, please — or, at least, no further out than Bushwick). What should Alec Baldwin’s next great stage role be? No Shakespeare, please: too obvious, too easy. Maybe he could return to Loot, his Broadway debut, this time in the role of Truscott? I could see him as the womanizing theater critic Birdboot in The Real Inspector Hound. There’s a lot of Kushner in the air these days, and I find myself wanting to see Baldwin in the Soviet burlesque Slavs! He’s ursine and shambolic enough to play a frowsy half-pickled apparatchik lingering in the limbo between dashed idealism and imminent embolism. Long as I’m dreaming, maybe Annie Baker (who’s got a light touch with men of a certain age) could write him a Lost in Translation–style personal odyssey? But enough of my fantasizing: What would you sic the Baldwin on, theater-wise?

Stage Dive: Alec Baldwin Must Return to Broadway, But in What?