Ted van Griethuysen is one of DC’s most recognizable faces. You have seen him over the years in many productions at The Studio Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company. He has just completed The Habit of Art at Studio and is currently rehearsing Much Ado About Nothing at STC. Past credits include All’s Well that Ends Well, Moonlight, Rock ‘N’ Roll, Twelfth Night, and Major Barbara. He is a 3-time Helen Hayes Award winner.
What was your first professional job?
I reckon that my first professional job was the Lion in Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. It was in Houston, in 1951, and I was still in high school. It was the first time that I worked in a company – the Four Arts Theatre Company – with professional actors. Technically speaking, I suppose, if “professional” is taken to mean that I was paid as a member of Actors’ Equity, then we have to leap forward in time to, as I recall, 1959, when I played several small parts in a revival of the musical Lute Song at City Center in New York. In my heart of hearts, however, it was Houston in 1951, and the Lion.
Over the years you have played a very wide range of characters. What are your favorite kinds of roles? Dramatic or comedic?
My favorite kind of role is a good role, and whether it is dramatic or comedic – though I like it best when the role is both – is immaterial. And “good role,” by the way, does not necessarily mean a Big Role. Just good. And by good I mean it has something necessary about it. The character is someone we need – to listen to, to think about. The first thing I look for is something that moves me, and that can as easily be in a comedy as in a drama.To be moved is a doorway to another life, another way of meeting the world than my own, but one I need to know, and one that will be forever a part of my life.
Have you ever performed in a musical?
I am glad you ask about musicals because it led me to a reconsideration of something. I have often been fond of saying that I don’t do musicals, that I am not good in them, and that the world has lost little or nothing by my essential absence from the field. Then I started to look back over the years and I find I have done them more often than I thought, though still not without grave misgivings. The first one was at Williamstown in 1958. It was Maltby and Shire’s first musical, Cyrano, and, yes that Cyrano. I was playing Christian and, if I do say so myself, I was gorgeous – though I didn’t think so at the time. Anyway, I had one line to sing and after several rehearsals it was thought best that I not sing. A relief for all. Still, the next season at Williamstown – and I often forget about this one – I played Lord Brockhurst in The Boy Friend . I sang “Never Too Late to Fall in Love,” and had a whale of good time.
Two years later in New York I played Young Marlowe, in an Off-Broadway musical version of She Stoops to Conquer. I sweated that one out. To my surprise I got quite good reviews though it didn’t run long. The last time was in DC, at the Folger where I had been persuaded to do Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera. I will not go into details. I did alright, I suppose, but the opening night was the worst one I have ever had. It must have been about then that I thought, “No more.” Actually, the problem for me has always been that I hate being controlled by the music. I like to feel that I am free to alter pauses, speed, volume, inflections as I go through a performance. And that is rather odd when you consider that to do Shakespeare, really do it, is certainly to be governed by poetic form, by meter, by the music of poetry.
You work at The Studio Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company quite frequently. What is it about those two houses that keep you coming back?
The quality of the plays done, of the theatres themselves, and of the people with whom one is fortunate to work. Then, of course, there is always the fact that I keep coming back because they ask me. I get to explore the field in which I was most deeply educated, Shakespeare and those dramatists who came before him and those who came after, right up to the Twentieth Century, through the good offices of Michael Kahn and the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Then there are the opportunities offered to me by Joy Zinoman and, now David Muse, at the Studio.
Over the last two years I have done Richard II and Henry V; Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession and All’s Well That Ends Well at the Shakespeare Theatre Company and, then, The Walworth Farce and The Habit of Art at Studio. That‘s a feast. The best of several worlds. Who wouldn’t keep coming back?
What are your next few projects?
Right now we are in rehearsals at the Shakespeare Theatre Company for Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Ethan McSweeny. I am doing Dogberry. In the spring comes a real adventure: Michael Kahn is directing a play he has wanted to do for years – O’Neill’s Strange Interlude. After that, things are taking shape.