Richard Dreyfuss Retired from Acting?
By Ellis Nassour
Can it be true that the last time we’ll see Richard Dreyfuss onstage will be Culture Project’s concert reading of Colin Greer’s Imagining Heschel?
The Brooklyn native, absent from Bway since the short-lived revival of Larry Gelbart’s Sly Fox and not seen Off Bway since he participated in Christopher Trumbo’s powerful play about his screenwriter father, Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted, and in C.P.’s The Exonerated, says that though he never made an official announcement, "because I don’t like to make absolute statements, I’ve retired as an actor.
"They say never say never," he continues, "but I stopped being actorcentric. People say, ‘I’ve seen you in this and this,’ true. But what you haven’t seen is me acting on any type of regular basis. Film and stage is no longer the center of my life. It’s only happens when I need to.
"When he used the word "need"and when it comes to the stage, Dreyfuss isn’t necessarily speaking of money. "When powerful things with fascinating ideas arise, like Imagining Heschel, or Culture Project’s The Exonerated, I may be interested."He’s now very hands-on involved "in the revival and enhancement of practical political power with special programs in civics" from grammar school through graduation in schools across the nation. In addition, he visits religious and ethical organizations and business groups.
"In 2004, I did something I felt I had to do before I died," Dreyfuss relates, "I made a major choice to walk away and for four years went to Oxford. I wanted to learn what civics was, both as a subject and as a curriculum – and how to teach it. I found that if you shaped the exercises of the intellect based on reason, logic, clarity of thought, and critical analysis that they were applicable to all subjects at all levels.
" Since Imagining Herschel may be the last or one of the last time to catch the Oscar winning [The Goodbye Girl] film vet onstage, rush to the Cherry Lane, where the play will run through November 28.
Dreyfuss, who’s just 63, even though he plays much older in Imagining Heschel where he’s actually supposed to be in his 60s, portrays Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel opposite respected writer, opera composer, and director Rinde Eckert as Italian Augustin Cardinal Bea, a confidant to Pope John XXIII.
The work is set against private meetings here and in Vatican City [with Bea and the Pope] between 1962 and 1973 when XXIII was exploring a formal declaration to exonerate Jews for the death of Christ, which many believe to be a great source of anti-Semitism. What brought him out of "retirement" was the fact that the play "is thick with ideas that would hardly be appropriate for venues like film or TV and it’s a work where you can wrap you head around some interesting and ideas."
In 1994, after Rabbi Heschel, who in the end could not bring himself to participate in helping Pope John XXIII craft a formal declaration, had died and XXIII had initiated sweeping changes in the Church – including the exonerating declaration, Dreyfuss, who is Jewish, read excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish performed for Pope John Paul II in the first official Vatican commemoration of the Holocaust.
"It was an incredible day," he recalls. "I went with a friend who’s Catholic but who had some political arguments with Pope John Paul. However, she told me that when he put his hand on her check, it was like an electric current shooting through her and she knew him to be a saintly man. Though it was a historic moment, long in coming, not being Catholic, I felt no such mystery, no jolt."
Maybe, Dreyfuss is only semi-retired from acting. He’s been quite busy on big and little screen. He’s just come off of a much-acclaimed and fun role in the thriller comedy Red as billionaire villain Alexander Dunning. He has a recurring role in Showtime’s Weeds, opposite Mary Louise Parker.
There are three movies in the can or in production: Lone Star Trixie, an indie directed, written, and co-starring Laura Cayouette; the screen adaptation of the TV western The Big Valley, which co-stars Lee Majors [who co-starred in the series opposite Barbara Stanwyck and Linda Evans], Jessica Lange, Sara Paxton, and Stephen Moyer as the Barkleys and features Bruce Dern, Aidan Quinn, and John Savage; and Different Kind of Love, of which little is known except it appears to be an indie and Dreyfuss’ co-star will be beautiful Selma Blair [Hellboy; Homeland Security; TV’s Kath & Kim].
Regarding, Imagining Heschel, it’s an intriguing premise, but comes off more like a series of monologues than a "play." The fact, that for whatever reasons, it’s a reading with the actors holding scripts the majority of the time, doesn’t help. Two rumors are circulating: Dreyfuss couldn’t commit to extensive rehearsal time; Dreyfuss, it’s reported, has memory loss problems as a result of drug probs 30 years ago. That said, thanks to performances by Dreyfuss and Eckert, there are many poignant moments.