In a career that has spanned comic and dramatic roles, musicals, and classics, Eric Rawski is noted for committing to every gesture wholeheartedly. He is best known for the comic flair he brings to his characters, whether playing an innocent or a psychopathic killer—and he has played more than his share of psychopathic killers.
(Lest you think I exaggerate, the psycho killers in his repertoire include the man who attempted to murder Richard Nixon in Assassins for Second Generation, the child killer in Frozen for Red Thread, Bill Sikes in Oliver! for MusicalFare, and Captain Hook for New Phoenix.)
Among his most memorable roles are performances in Cloud 9, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and The Real Thing at the New Phoenix. For MusicalFare, he did The Drowsy Chaperone. For Second Generation he did Into the Woods. With Buffalo United Artists he’s done Godspell, The Laramie Project, and Love! Valour! Compassion! as well as a litany of camp shows from The Birds Attack to Poseidon: an Upside Down Musical.
Now, Rawski is back at BUA to star in Michael McKeever’s powerful play, Daniel’s Husband. He plays Mitchell, a successful writer living with Daniel, the love of his life (played by Michael Seitz). The one catch in this blissful life is that Mitchell and Daniel have opposite opinions on the subject of gay marriage. Daniel is for it; Mitchell finds the whole idea absurd.
“Cue the conflict,” quips Rawski dryly.
The plays starts out like a Neil Simon comedy, right down to the presence of an endearingly intrusive mother character (played by Anne Hartley Pfohl). This, however, is a ruse. Playwright McKeever shifts gears, skillfully subverting the familiar tropes of romantic comedy to send his characters careening, unexpectedly, into the territory of powerful drama. At the center of it all is Rawski’s character, a man who realizes, too late, that the crisis of his life could have been avoided so simply.
Rawski is perfectly cast. With his deft talent for comic nuance, the actor lures his unwary audience into the playwright’s artful trap of comedy. He rails against the grotesque trappings of traditional putti infested marriage rites, only to learn the hard way that there is substance to the protections society has long provided to heterosexual couples. When this funny man is reduced to tears, it is a shattering experience for the entire audience – and these tears are entirely earned.
This is an unusual role for an actor of unusual talent and range. Rawski plays it with impressive control, fighting back his most powerful emotions until the final moments of the play, when the situation no longer affords him that luxury.
Here, Rawski submits to The Public Questionnaire:
What word would your friends use to describe you?
I was told both “warm” and “charismatic.” A relative once said, “You could plop Eric down in the middle of a corn field and he’d make a friend.”
What quality in your current character is most unlike your own personality?
I am less cynical and more open to heartbreak than Mitchell.
What quality in your current character is most like your own personality?
I’ve been pretty good with a smart remark and a slow burn. It comes from years of watching The Golden Girls every day at 4pm after school. Remember that? Designing Women would come on at 5? Anyone?
When and where were you the happiest?
Some of the best years of my life were spent at Wagner College. Just having that first taste of freedom, and doing it while studying theater and being in New York City…to be on this campus that felt like New England, only you could see the Statue of Liberty and (at the time) the World Trade Center out your window. Just a magical, creative time in my life. Anyone who knows me also knows that Orlando, specifically Universal Studios and Walt Disney World, make me ridiculously happy. And in a smaller way, so do Margarita Tuesdays at Don Tequila.
What is your idea of hell on earth?
Most actors would say behind a desk in an office, right? Mine is stuck in a daycare center at the height of flu season. Ugh. The only kids I like are my nieces and nephews and that’s because I can take most of them drinking now.
What is your greatest fear?
Failure. And Cirque Du Soleil.
Which talent do you most wish you had?
If I had a voice and could play the piano like Joe Donohue, I’d be a happy camper. But gosh darn it, I’m good enough, I’m smart enough…
What superpower do you most wish you had?
I have survived seven surgeries in 10 years. Does that count? Also I want to be invisible. And fly. And to be able to read a guy’s mind. Yeah, that would help my dating life.
What would you change about your appearance?
I have a giant abdominal scar that I would be pretty happy without. It’s really cute when people say that I should be proud of it, and I earned it. So that, and I’d like Tyler Brown’s teeth.
What trait do you most despise in others?
Fake people. I hate when you meet someone and then a few months into the relationship you suddenly go, “Oh…this is who you really are.” I put my crazy right up front when you meet me; take it or leave it.
What trait to you most despise in yourself?
I can be a tad judgmental. I am listed as “Miranda” in a few of my friends’ phones. I’d like to think I’m a Carrie but…
What do you most value in your friends?
The obvious answer is loyalty, which this past year has been tested on more than a few occasions. But also decisiveness. I’m a Gemini and can’t make up my mind at all. So you decide on dinner, ’cause otherwise we’ll be here all night.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
I’m alive. After everything life has thrown at me, I’m alive.
What is your guilty pleasure?
A perfect Sunday for me involves my couch and favorite blanket, my hairbrush, Chinese food, and marathons on Bravo of whatever—Real Housewives or Shahs of Sunset or Don’t Be Tardy. I’m not proud.
What character from fiction do you identify with most?
Hermione Granger. For obvious reasons.
What person from history do you identify with most?
Imelda Marcos. Ditto.
What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue?
Structure. Order. Relax! Life is too short. It’ll get done.
On what occasion do you lie?
Well obviously to spare someone’s feelings…but also strategically. If I don’t want to go somewhere or do something. If it’s a story where I look bad. But mainly at work. “What’s that? You want eight different chilled shots and four different martinis when you and your friends have yet to tip a dime? Absolutely! I’m right on top of that! I look forward to it!”
What was the subject of your last Google search?
How to tell if my dog is deaf.
If you come back in another life, what person or thing would you like to be?
Beyoncé. Shouldn’t the answer to this question always be Beyoncé?
What is your most prized possession?
I love my dogs more than most people, so Stanley and Simon. Is this where I casually mention my Artie Awards without looking insufferable?
What role, in which you will never be cast, is actually perfect for you?
Charlotte in A Little Night Music. Damn you, Benzin!
What is your motto?
“I believe in doing what I can, crying when I must, laughing when I choose…”