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Picnic - Broadway

Roundabout Theatre Company presents the revival of William Inge's comedy.

Picnic’s Ben Rappaport on Juilliard, Outsourced and Calling Meryl Streep Mom

Picnic’s Ben Rappaport on Juilliard, Outsourced and Calling Meryl Streep Mom
Ben Rappaport photographed at the Paramount Hotel by Jenny Anderson for Broadway.com
My dream was to be a mad scientist. In hindsight, it makes sense that now I’m an actor.

Age & Hometown: 26; Spring, TX

Current Role: Alan Seymour, a rich suitor who pines for the beautiful Madge (Maggie Grace) in Roundabout Theatre Company’s sexy revival of Picnic.

Juilliard Reunion: Making a Broadway debut is nerve-wracking, but luckily for Ben Rappaport, the classically trained actor is collaborating with a familiar face: “[Director] Sam Gold and I go way back—he was directing at Juilliard when I was an acting student—so it was a match made in heaven,” says Rappaport. Still, taking the stage at the American Airlines theater is definitely a big deal. “On my first day of tech, I looked out into the house and took this deep breath and just kind of got lost in the awe of it all,” he says. It helps that Rappaport feels in sync with his character, created on Broadway in 1953 by Paul Newman. “I really think Alan is the perfect role for me at this point in my life,” he says, explaining that he was drawn to the “very Chekhovian” themes in William Inge's portrait of life in a small Kansas town. “The play happens to take place in the ‘50s, but people were just as messed up then as we are now.”

Of Mercutio And Meryl: As a shy nine-year-old, Rappaport found solace in make-believe. He started a treehouse karate club and a motorcycle gang, recalling with a laugh, “I was Indiana Jones for a long time. My dream was to be a mad scientist. In hindsight, it makes sense that now I’m an actor.” A high school production of Romeo and Juliet—particularly, Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech—changed everything. “That just rattled my bones,” he says. “I feel like that was the exact moment I got bit by the bug. I thought, ‘Why am I not doing that?’” After winning the top acting prize at Juilliard, Rappaport found work off-Broadway opposite Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson in The Gingerbread House, then played Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones’ son in the 2012 film comedy Hope Springs. “It was cool to see someone as powerful and legendary as Meryl be so human and real,”  he marvels. “I was pinching myself the whole time.”

Sitcom Success: Fans still approach the native Texan about his short-lived NBC comedy Outsourced, in which Rappaport starred as an American office manager transferred to India to run a call center. “There were a lot of concerns with the subject matter, and unfortunately those vibes haunted the show a bit,” he says of Outsourced, which was cancelled after one season. “It was a triumph to at least make the full 22 episodes.” Though he was on a path in which he "could have just stayed the sitcom guy," Rappaport instead made the conscious decision to pursue what he calls a “very balanced career” of film, TV and theater, with time to pursue other hobbies, as well. “I’m a musician, and it’s such a big part of my life that I haven’t really been able to focus on,” says the guitar-playing actor, whose past band names included the Ethel Rosenberg and Slaphappy. Laughs Rappaport, “They were real winners.”

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