Examine the punim. (That’s Yiddish for "face," by the way.)
You probably know it.
Name? Not so much.
"People look at me and go, ‘Peter Coyote!’ " Stephen Macht says with a deep roar of a laugh. "Or Richard Boone. Or Peter Strauss. Once in a while, someone says, ‘Stephen Macht!’ and I say, ‘Are you sure I’m not Peter Coyote?’ "
However you know him — mob lawyer Trevor Lansing on "General Hospital," Sharon Gless’ guy on "Cagney & Lacey," Michele Lee’s bro on "Knots Landing" or countless TV movies, including playing an Israeli officer in "Raid on Entebbe" (and almost the captain on "Star Trek: The Next Generation") — Macht’s been, approximately, everywhere.
Next stop is Summerlin, where Macht, 68, co-stars in Neil Simon’s farcical "Rumors," the first fully staged production by the Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada after staged readings of "The Sisters Rosensweig" and "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" launched the troupe. "Rumors" is produced with the Neil Simon Festival of Cedar City, Utah.
"We’ve had incredible support from the community and now we’re getting sponsorships," says Norma Morrow, co-founder with Charlene Sher. "People were so excited to have this theater. That was my gut feeling in the beginning."
Grabbing Macht is a coup for the company, the actor’s talents complemented by a late-in-life immersion in rabbinical studies. Here, Macht discusses Jewish values, a healthy career and skipping the bridge of the Starship Enterprise:
Question: So, on "General Hospital," did evil Trevor really die falling off that ledge holding a deadly biotoxin?
Answer: People stop me and say, "We miss him, he was such villain." I tell them, "Write the network!" They didn’t show his body. I’d love to go back.
Q: You’ve never done a Simon play before. Are you enjoying it in rehearsals?
A: I’m not known as a farce actor so this is a treat to get to go so overboard as a lawyer who tries to cap what he thinks is a terrible offense that his friend and major client tried to commit suicide, and hold it in and not tell anybody. It’s a premise that just gets out of hand and drives him insane. It’s a lot of fun and that’s the reward. It certainly isn’t the money.
Q: Was working with a Jewish company part of the reason you took the gig?
A: I’ve done dramatic stage readings for over 25 years in the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity, a seed organization that gives money to young Jewish artists to do their thing, whether dance, music, film, painting. The whole theory is to be involved with Jewish art so we are sure Jewish values are transmitted forever for every generation, not only through study of the Torah, but through the arts. It’s really close to my heart.
Q: Were you raised religiously?
A: Not at all. My wife thought she was marrying a shaygetz (Yiddish for a non-Jewish male). Now she’s helped give birth to an old Yid!
Q: Why did you decide to take up rabbinical studies at this stage of your life?
A: I had a lot of tragic events in my life. My father died when I was 9, I got married at 22, we were married in a cancer ward (where his mother was sick). I saw life very tragically. When I was 58, I almost got killed in a car accident. I felt something shift in my life. I thought, "You’re spending all this time wondering when you’re going to die, you should be thankful you’re alive. Get up every morning, be thankful for your life, and stop being an (expletive)!"
I thought if I don’t go to school, it’s not going to work, so I did and I loved to study. I saw all the ways you bless and sanctify life in the moment. One of them is doing the 613 mitzvot (good deeds). And one of them is doing this play.
Q: Why not go all the way and become a rabbi?
A: Unless you commit to five years of nothing but Hebrew, you can’t get ordained. So they have a program called the chaplaincy, that’s two years of Torah and Hebrew. I know enough to give pastoral care to people in hospitals, old-age homes, drug centers, prisons and I’m beginning to do that. Also, I know enough of the life-cycle literacy so I have already performed four weddings, three baby-naming ceremonies, three funerals and one bat mitzvah. If I experience a moment of road rage, my wife will say, "That’s not very chaplain-esque of you."
Q: Did you ever feel held back careerwise, being cast in so many ethnic roles?
A: No. Dusty Hoffman opened it up for ethnic types. I worked with him in Boston in Beckett’s "Endgame." I was trained in England as a classical actor to play anything, whereas the secret in Hollywood was to stamp your personality early on in a role so people could recognize you as a star element.
Q: Why turn down the captain’s chair on "Star Trek: The Next Generation"?
A: Again, I was an (expletive). Gene Roddenberry ("Star Trek" creator) came to me. He said, "Stephen, I want you to play the next Captain Kirk." I was at that time when my career was really popping along, so I said, "I don’t want to play a character who speaks to people with 10 heads my whole life." He said, "It’s not really about that. You’re really going to like this, come read for the head of the studio." I said, "I’m not reading." Wow. Tuchas! (Yiddish for rear end.)
So they found Patrick Stewart. It was mine to lose and I lost it because of the way I looked at life. If I had begun my Jewish studies earlier, I would have said, "Thank you very much Gene, I’m your guy." I played the tragic guy, that’s what I thought I wanted to do rather than the leading man who brings grace and light and love and happiness into the world.
Q: But aren’t the heavies and character parts more interesting to play?
A: They can be, but not when they throw $90 million at you. I’ve gotten over it.
Q: Has being known more on sight than in name ever bothered you?
A: Not at all. My son says, "You want to see my father’s work? Get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and watch one of the cable channels." Here’s a story:
When my son got married in Australia, the whole family got off one of the ferry boats in Australia Harbor. We’re walking past drunken aborigines who are playing didgeridoos. As I walked past, one of the guys who was in a loincloth drunkenly looks up at me, smiles and says, "Brothhhha!" He wrapped his arms around me as a sign of recognition. Ha!
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.Preview
"Rumors" by Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada
8 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday and Thursday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Adelson Educational Campus Theatre, 9700 W. Hillpointe Road