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Veteran character actor Richard Masur on the intergenerational bonding in The Net Will Appear
Initially, Richard Masur thought bringing The Net Will Appear to 59E59 Theaters would be a breeze. After all, he had starred in the world premiere of Erin Mallon's two-hander about the unlikely friendship between an elderly curmudgeon and a spunky 9-year-old girl last year at Hoboken's Mile Square Theatre, and he expected to reprise his role opposite Matilda Lawler.
But when Lawler landed a part in Broadway's The Ferryman earlier this fall, the director, Mark Cirnigliaro, had to scramble to find another precocious juvenile performer who could convincingly play Rory, a lonely kid dealing with a new home, stepfather and younger sister. Eve Johnson won the role, but she didn't have long to prepare.
"We had scheduled the whole thing so we'd have two weeks' rehearsal just to brush it up," says Masur. "She had to learn everything -- the blocking and all the props -- in two weeks, which is an awful lot for a little girl to do. It was really madness, but she's really great in the role."
Bernard, Masur's cantankerous character, doesn't have the same type of praise for Rory when she first starts talking to him across their neighboring rooftops in suburban Ohio. A 75-year-old man who just wants to relax and drink his Jim Beam in peace, Bernard is coping with an ailing wife, and he has zero interest in engaging with a rambunctious, attention-starved child. But gradually, the space between them closes, at least metaphorically. "It's like a little haiku of a story about two people who don't know they need each other until they learn they need each other," Masur says.
The 70-year-old actor has been involved with The Net Will Appear ever since the playwright invited him to participate in an early reading. Both are members of The Collective NY, an ensemble of theatre artists for which he occasionally directs. "I'm the old guy in the group," he quips.
Although Masur came to national fame with recurring roles on the revered '70s sitcoms Rhoda and One Day at a Time, he started out in theatre. In fact, back in 1973 TV producer Norman Lear spotted Masur in the Broadway play The Changing Room (the same production that launched John Lithgow's career), which led to the actor's first small-screen gig, a guest appearance on All in the Family. Masur still fondly recalls the New York Times review of the show: "John and I were the only two people that [Walter Kerr] pulled out from the cast to talk about. I was very pleased."
After spending more than a quarter century appearing in TV and film in Los Angeles, Masur returned to New York 17 years ago and took on stage roles for the first time in decades. "I came back here and it became very clear to me that if I was going to work, I had to be doing theatre, too," he says.
Masur eased back into the scene slowly. In 2003 he was part of the rotating cast of The Exonerated, about wrongfully convicted former death-row inmates. A year later, he costarred with J. Smith-Cameron in the family drama Sarah Sarah at Manhattan Theatre Club, playing two characters, including a housedress-wearing cleaning man. Soon he became a New York stage regular, appearing on Broadway in Democracy and Lucky Guy, as well as Off-Broadway plays at Playwrights Horizons, the Public Theater and New York Theatre Workshop.
The past few years Masur has mostly focused on TV work -- he's had notable arcs on Transparent, Orange Is the New Black and Younger. But The Net Will Appear is his second Off-Broadway show this year after Relevance at MCC Theater. After 45 years in the business, he's at a point where he works on what he wants, when he wants.
"I'm doing this show because of Erin, because I'm just so convinced that she's got this lovely, lovely voice, and her brain works in quirky ways," he says. "I've been really lucky -- I say no to very little. I have done all this work and I haven't humiliated myself too frequently."
To read about a student's experience at The Net Will Appear, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for The Net Will Appear. Go here to browse our current offers.
Diane Snyder writes about theatre for Time Out New York and The Telegraph. Follow her at @DianeLSnyder. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.
Top image: Richard Masur in The Net Will Appear. Photos by Jody Christopherson.