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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 28 - Volume 42 Issue 48
Peter Frechette: Doing it for the country
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Peter Frechette: Doing it for the country

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

ALL THE WAY
SEATTLE REPERTOIRE THEATRE
Through January 4


Peter Frechette has appeared in every social medium possible. He's worked on the television shows 'The Fact of Life' and 'thirtysomething' - earning an Emmy nomination for what was considered a controversial homosexual scene. His stage work won him the Obie Award for his Off-Broadway work, and he has been nominated twice for the Tony Award for his performances on Broadway. But it is probably his work in the cult classic Grease 2 that gains him the most recognition. Currently, Mr. Frechette's work brings him to the Seattle Repertory Theatre for the 2014 Tony Award winning and acclaimed play about President Lyndon Johnson, All the Way, in the role of Hubert Humphrey.

Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer? Peter

Frechette: When I was really young I both loved watching TV and going to the movies. I also loved listening to music on the radio or records, and watching performers on TV. It didn't register that that was what people did for a living. I thought they were just born doing it, or were from another planet. I remember the craziness and intense teamwork of Jack Klugman and Tony Randall from 'The Odd Couple.' I also remember Karen and Richard Carpenter; they were practically kids, and yet there was something weirdly polished about them. I remember Lily Tomlin and Richard Pryor. Later on in life, when I was living in NYC, I saw Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd with standing room tickets, at least every couple of months when I could afford it. I remember Donna McKechnie and Kelly Bishop in A Chorus Line.

Andrews-Katz: At what age were you bitten by the 'Theater Bug' and by what performance?

Frechette: When I was in third grade, I was in the Christmas play. I was a line of trees and stood there with others, as someone came by and decorated us. I thought it was the friggin' coolest thing in the world! In the 8th grade I was cast in a play. I had a little part in it and for some reason I got bumped to playing the lead. I remember being shocked that I was having a lot of fun. That was the biting of the bug. I didn't do theater after that as I thought I was going to be a rock and roll singer. I majored in theater as a freshman in college, and it's hard to account for what I thought I was going to do back then. I was kind of a blank slate and that's a good thing.

Andrews-Katz: The film Grease 2 was your first major film role. How did you come up for the part and what can you recall of the audition process?

Frechette: It was the first big, large scaled thing I had auditioned for in any arena. I had been in New York for about two years by then. I had done a few Off-Broadway shows without being signed to any agent, and a zillion Off-Off-Broadway shows. Somehow, I don't recall how, I was freelancing with an agent and he submitted me for the part. I didn't think anything of it except that it was a paying job. I had tremendous fun with the audition. It involved improvisation, something I'm good with, and I didn't have time to think about it and get nervous with any ego. It was just fun. I hadn't read the script yet, so I just played along and made things up. I guess it was my time of being a young actor not afraid because you don't know enough to be afraid. After several weeks of them saying, 'we are interested,' I was flown out to L.A. for one final round and then I was offered the job.

Andrews-Katz: In 1989 you were nominated for Broadway's Tony Award for being in Richard Greenberg's play Eastern Standard. Do you prefer stage work or being on either big or small screens?

Frechette: I've done five of his [Greenberg's] plays, in eight or nine different productions. The answer differs. Right now I will tell you that I prefer being on stage. I love working on camera, but I haven't been around it for a few years. When I am, I love it. A lot of actors will tell you that stage or screen is really the same, but it isn't. The camera sees and listens to you in a different way than an audience does by sitting in the seats and being present at the moment. They are both amazing and require different muscles to be exerted. Right now, I prefer being on stage. I feel like I'm right where I ought to be, and doing just what I should be doing. I'm fortunate enough to have this job and working with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Andrews-Katz: Can you tell us about some of the 1989 controversy that erupted when your character, from television's 'thirtysomething,' was shown in bed with another man? (The joke is on them, you were nominated for the Emmy Award!)

Frechette: I was amused and bemused by it at the same time. I didn't see it coming, weirdly enough, because I was too busy to see it at the time. I wasn't thinking indefinitely about it. That was the first of a few (four) episodes that I did on that show. I loved getting into bed with David Grant, both of us without our shirts. We were close friends and it was fun. We even lit up a cigarette after and you could NEVER do that now. Back then it implied a certain post-coital sexiness. It was not in my mind that this was rare for television (unprecedented, in fact) or that people were thinking it was wrong or crossing a line. I was back in New York in previews for a play I was in when it aired so I didn't see it when it first aired. Then there were requests to talk to people in the press and talk about the controversy of it all. The advertisers were pulling ads and ABC said it would never air that episode again. I was really shocked at the time thinking that such a situation would exist. I thought it was extreme. Then I thought, 'Well, I guess we don't see a lot of men in bed with no clothes on, smoking...' I was slightly removed from it.

Andrews-Katz: How did you get involved with the show 'All The Way'?

Frechette: It was in my fourth season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was 2011 and early in that season, the next season was announced. That's when cast members start thinking of where they want to be next year and what they want to be doing. All the Way was part of the next season and I was always interested in that slice of Americana. I remember it. I had read an early version of the play and it had interested me. I thought I was wrong for the part at the time, because I remembered very well who Hubert Humphrey really was!

Andrews-Katz: Do you find it easier or more difficult to play a real-life character like Hubert Humphrey?

Frechette: I read a lot about him, much more than watching or listening to shows. That way I could approach a little bit of how he moved or sounded, but still could put my own ideas into it. I didn't want to paste in an idea of who Humphrey was, so I started to read. I even read things he wrote about himself which were very telling. They were not the most believable and they didn't always jive with the facts that are known about him.

I think it's more difficult to play a real life character. The exception would be a real character from several decades before. Humphrey was prominent a few years ago and the people in the seats remember him as it only happened 50 years ago. I remember what Humphrey looked and sounded like.

Andrews-Katz: As Vice-President, Humphrey created controversy by being vocally and completely faithful to LBJ's policies and stands as President. Was there more ambition to Humphrey or was he simply a type of 'Yes-Man'?

Frechette: He wasn't always completely in consent to the official hard line administration policies of the time. After the 1965 inauguration, and things began to escalate in Vietnam, Humphrey was very much outspoken against our involvement in the war. To the extent that he was cut out of any meetings of the inner sanctum, Oval Office dealings with Vietnam. He was kicked out when the chiefs of staffs or any of them had dealings about the war. He finally shut the heck up and sort of compromised himself at a press conference by saying that these protestors at the universities and such were opposed to the President and are dishonoring our brave soldiers who are dying in Vietnam. When he was running for President afterwards Johnson literally didn't endorse him. He didn't say anything in favor of Humphrey. Humphrey was still the Vice President while trying to run for President and tried to speak out against the policies. He had his own inner war going on within himself. He had tried to resign and step down from being Vice President, but was convinced not to do it. Finally, as his career turned from summer to fall, he just spoke his mind. He didn't lose the presidency by as much a margin as people seem to remember. It was almost 50-50.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - straight play or musical - regardless of ANY limitation, what would it be and why?

Frechette: Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan. That's the one I think of. It would be completely wrong for me because, despite my work in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I am so in favor of women getting opportunities as much as a man does. I'm attracted to Saint Joan because she has that innocence and a genuine fire (no pun intended) to her as well as a genuine craziness. A real clinical craziness with needs and wants. Plus it's a beautifully written part.

Peter Frechette is originally from Rhode Island. After moving to New York, he found work Off-Broadway eventually winning an Obie Award for his work. He's been associated with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for over four years, which resulted in his being cast as Hubert Humphrey in All The Way, which is currently playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

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