Does Jake Robards Look Like a Skanky Politician?

Jake Robards in Promising. Production photos by Michael Cinquino.

Hold onto yourself, you’re about to be hit with an idea out of left field. Something so implausible, so beyond the realm of human imagination, you’ll need two or 25 whiffs of smelling salts just to overcome your shock.

There’s a play running right now about — don’t faint! — a corrupt politician! It’s called Promising. We’ll stop here so the smelling salts can be administered. Breathe.

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Michelle Elliott’s play is directed by Terry Berliner and presented by InProximity Theatre Company at the Beckett Theatre (410 W. 42nd St.) from Nov. 18 to Dec. 5. Think of it like this: you have enough time to pick a performance, see the play, feel utterly dirty, take a long shower, and tell all your friends about the show.

The pernicious pol in this play is named David Carver, and, in the grand tradition of political plays, his rise has been meteoric. Equally out of that same tradition, a figure appears with a whopper of an accusation against Carver, followed by the expected media circus just outside his door. You can practically bet on the rest of the set-up, especially Carver, crouched on the defensive, huddling with his henchmen (and women), looking for the easiest way out of the labyrinth of lame electoral losers.

Then there comes a twist, a clean break with cliché, and that’s where the real drama of Promising lies.

Actor Jake Robards — youngest son of two-time Oscar-winner Jason Robards and a highly accomplished stage and screen actor in his own right — stars as the pol with the potentially plummeting poll numbers. The cast also includes Zachary Clark, Jolie Curtsinger and Kim Wong. For 20% off tickets to Promising, click here or call 212-947-8844 — and use code TRPROMCF.

And now, 5 questions Jake Robards has never been asked:

With Jolie Curtsinger.
With Jolie Curtsinger.

What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?
Many times someone can illuminate something that you don’t even know you’re doing. Or, find something in the play that you didn’t know was there. I love it when it happens…usually. I had a friend see a show (I won’t say which). and he asked, “I don’t really understand this play, do you?” After a moment or two of thought, I suddenly realized I had no good answer for him!

What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?
I’ll bet most actors will say the most idiotic is, “How do you remember all those lines?” — and it’s truly the most frequent. Another one occurred when I was doing show called Next Year In Jerusalem, in which my character had an Israeli accent. During the talkback after the show I had someone ask casually, “Where did you learn your accent from?” I had gotten good reviews on the part and the accent specifically, so I felt confident: my Israeli friend had taught me, and I used a dialect coach. The person’s response was “It’s not good, not good at all.” Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself!

What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?
After describing Promising to a friend who hasn’t seen the show, he asked, “Are you a good guy or a bad guy? You’re a good guy, right?” Did he really want to know? A better answer may have been: doesn’t everyone think they’re a good guy?

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Curtsinger, Robards, Kim Wong and Zachary Clark.
Curtsinger, Robards, Kim Wong, Zachary Clark.

There’s a long list of plays, films and TV shows about politicians — in dramatic and comedic genres. Where does Promising fit in this spectrum? How do ensure that your character feels plausible and realistic and relatable — if he does?
Michelle Elliott, the playwright of Promising, has done a brilliant job interspersing comedy into the drama of the play. Politics in general tends to be serious, and because of the subject matter — sexual assault — we couldn’t possibly dwell there for the entire length of the play. Sometimes at our darkest moments there is humor. I think this services the play extremely well; it makes our job as actors much easier and challenging at the same time. How do we make sure the meat of the drama, which comes at the end, doesn’t get overshadowed by the humor of the piece? Or vice versa. It’s something we just learned about the play in our first preview – how to walk that tightrope and keep the right balance. I’ve heard it compared to Scandal on TV but with more humor. (I have to admit I’ve never seen the show, though.)

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Trying to keep the character realistic and inside of this political world is a challenge as well. But this is where one relies on the director. They’re the sounding board for all you do! Trust is the key to any good relationship and one has to believe that what the director is doing is the right thing.

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Your character has “caught the eye of the heavy political hitters” in New York City. How much are you personally familiar or intimate with the New York City political in NYC? What do you like about it? What do you loathe about it?
I have a dear friend who I went to college with who was a two-term member of City Council. I got to witness firsthand how challenging the job is and the dedication it requires. I never envisioned politics as a selfless venture, but I believe in the case of the City Council, it is. She spent 15 or more hours a day and 360 days a year trying to make our city better. I admire that about her and many politicians in general — politicians are human beings, too! I think the word “politician” has become almost a curse word in today’s society, like socialist and liberal. I think everyone loathes “politics/politicians,” especially on the national scale, because there is so much compromise of personal ideals. And campaigning, by its nature, is loathsome. I think for politicians and the public alike.

Bonus question:

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Jake Robards
Jake Robards

Name three living politicians you’d love to have dinner with. And three dead politicians you’d love to have a beer with. And why.
Living politicians: Barack Obama. Hope is a central theme to this play and obviously the central theme to the Obama presidency. I’d love to hear how he feels he made out. Aung San Suu Kyi might just become President of Myanmar after spending almost two decades under house arrest. I would love to have a peek into the mind of someone for whom love of country trumps all (no pun to the 2016 Presidential race in America intended. And Kim Jung Un, or any of the absolute monarchs left in the world, would be interesting to have a meal with. I‘ve always been fascinated by Plato’s idea of the benevolent dictator as being the perfect from of government, and I studied that in college. I’m sure that, on the inside, North Korea’s Supreme Leader thinks he’s doing well for his nation and his people. We know or think otherwise. It’s really a matter of perspective. Who is the good guy and who is the bad guy?

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Dead politicians: It’s gotta be Alexander Hamilton now! I need to know more to help me understand perspective on the origins of our nation. Winston Churchill: we’re talking about a beer, right? The man’s love of the drink is well-documented and he also has a cigar named after him. And Nelson Mandela: I am in awe of how one man could endure such personal suffering and still have hope. And then, at such an advanced age, have courage and fortitude enough to hold office for the good of his nation.