Twelve hours of Horton Foote. Two Shakespeare plays, performed in rep in Central Park. Seven hours of Angels in America. How on earth is Bill Heck still standing, after the artistic marathons he’s run in the past year? “The variety and quality of the material I’ve been blessed to be a part of is a little overwhelming,” Heck says in his charmingly old-fashioned way of speaking. To review: The 32-year-old actor charmed critics and audiences as leading man Horace Robedaux in Foote’s mammoth Orphans’ Home Cycle, then jumped to The Merchant of Venice (as Lorenzo) and The Winter’s Tale (as a Lord) before tackling the emotionally wrenching role of closeted Mormon husband Joe Pitt in both parts of Tony Kushner’s masterpiece at Signature Theatre Company. Heck is of the “do it, don’t talk about it” school of acting, but we managed to pry a few details about what 2010 has been like for him, including a (brief!) acknowledgment that he’s dating his Orphans co-star, the lovely and talented Maggie Lacey.
Can anyone fathom what you’ve been through this past year, jumping from Orphans to a pair of Shakespeares to the two Angels plays?
It's definitely been full. We started rehearsal for Central Park when I still had nine weeks of The Orphans’ Home Cycle to do, then we started rehearsals for Angels when there were still three weeks left in the park run, so there was overlap there, too. We had two days off going into opening week [of Angels], and I can’t remember the last time I had two days in a row off.
You must have a mighty big brain to keep all those lines in there.
Each new line is pushing an old one out [laughs].
What’s it been like to mount Millennium Approaches and Perestroika at the same time?
Very intense. The theater allotted two extra hours of rehearsal a day, so we’ve been rehearsing as much as six hours before the shows at night. The set has gone through some changes, the costumes have gone through changes; we’ve re-examined things in a lot of different ways. Everyone is exhausted, but there’s a real sense of creativity; it all feels very worth it. Tony [Kushner] spent a lot of time with us doing scene work and helping us understand his play better, and it’s been amazing to have his input—to discover what he was thinking as well as what he’s realized after spending 20 years with this play.
Tony Kushner must have been feeling pressure, given the acclaim these plays received the first time around.
There’s definitely some pressure and a set of expectations that comes with this revival because it’s such a beloved piece, but no one has greater expectations and hope for it than Tony. It’s been wonderful to have him around, just as an inspiration. I think I can speak for all of us and say that he’s been incredibly supportive.
Why is Angels in America still relevant?
Now that AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was in an immediate sense, it has become more of a metaphor within the play and allowed other big ideas about love and change and death to come to the forefront in ways that still feels very relevant. On top of that, we’ve reached another ceiling in the gay rights movement in terms of people feeling like they’re citizens in a free country—things like legalizing marriage, the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy and this recent spate of suicides. So in that way, [the play] feels very resonant again. It’s reminding us that we need to take care of the people we live with.
After the thousands of hours you've spent at Signature Theatre with Orphans and Angels, they need to put up a plaque outside the Bill Heck Memorial Dressing Room.
[Laughs.] But who knows if they’ll have another show here? They’re moving into a new theater next year.
Well, you should just scribble on the wall: “Help! I am being held prisoner at the Signature Theatre.”
Surprisingly, it has been of my own free will. It doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but believe it or not, this was my choice.
And you got a sweetheart out of Orphans [actress Maggie Lacey, now appearing in Spirit Control at Manhattan Theatre Club].
That’s right, I did. How did you know that?
You’ve been spotted around town together, like Gossip Girl.
I’ll have to tell Maggie that.
You are the cutest couple.
Well, thank you. I’m rather taken with her, and I like to think she thinks I’m all right.
The two of you need to do a nice romantic comedy in a Broadway theater, with your very own “star” dressing rooms.
Let’s make as short a play as you can find—like an 86-minute play, and we’ll be out of the theater by 9:30 [laughs]. Sounds great.