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Schiff's New Role Connects Him to the District

Courtesy Carol Rosegg
Schiff is probably best known, at least in the D.C. area, for his role on The West Wing as the grumpy but endearing White House communications director. In Hughie, on stage now at the Shakespeare Theatre Companys Lansburgh Theatre, Schiff plays a man remembering his only friend.

Schiff said hes known Pacino for 20 years, after meeting him during a read-through for the Glengarry movie, which starred Pacino in the Ricky Roma role. Since then, Schiff has co-starred in two movies with Pacino, one of which, the political thriller City Hall, Schiff describes as almost great.

Playing New York, Rehearsing D.C.

Every day before he delivered Mamets dialogue to a packed house at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, Schiff spent five daytime hours rehearsing Hughie with the director, Doug Hughes.

It was a big deal, he said of the grueling schedule. Its very hard very hard.

It did have advantages.

The great thing about going from ONeill during the day to Mamet at night, with a three-hour cross fade, is that you can recognize the lineage, he said.

Hughie runs about one hour and is staged in the lobby of a fleabag hotel near Times Square. Schiffs Erie is a down-and-out, two-bit gambler the Jazz Age forgot, who tries to draw out the hotels new night clerk, Charlie, played by Randall Newsome. He does this rather pathetically by eulogizing his only friend, the former night clerk, Hughie, who is now deceased.

I even talked to Mamet about it, Schiff said. If you take the scene in [Arthur Millers] Death of a Salesman ... then you extract it and push it forward in years, you got Glengarry. Its a direct lineage. And the language of Mamet is a modern day, not exactly street, but the street vernacular of very tough guys.

And thats what ONeill wrote in his day. Not [in Long Days Journey Into Night], but it is Iceman Cometh, for sure, and it is Hughie, he continued.

That was cool, Schiff said. To trace a direct line from the father of American modern drama, to the son, to the grandson.

Erie Vs. Glengarry

My guess is [Glengarry Glenn Ross] was [Mamets] reaction to the Reagan years and Reaganomics when deregulation created this free for all, Schiff said. You know, in Glengarry they are selling nothing. They are selling valueless plans. This was written in 83. We then went on a 20-year binge, learning how to make a fortune out of nothing, derivatives, mortgages and so on.

He switches gears quickly to target former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the man who lost last years presidential election.

This was Romneys brilliant career of raiding companies, downsizing companies and watching them bankrupt. He made his fortune that way. So, Glengarry, to me, is very poignant.

Where Glengarry reflects back on the countrys economic troubles, Schiff said, Hughie is a show about human connection and how disconnection from people is as dangerous to the psyche as disease, poverty and violence.

This is a very personal story, he said. Dont forget it was written in 1941, but [it is set in] 1928, before the [1929 stock market] crash.

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