Old Times and New Times
Beau Gravitte brings the Actors Studio to town
Actors Studio cast members Sayra Player, Beth Manspeizer, and Chris Stack will perform Harold Pinter’s Old Times at the Playhouse.
Photo by Shashwat Gupta
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Beau and Debbie Gravitte moved to Ridgefield in 1997 from Los Angeles to raise their three kids. In their years here, the talented duo has spent more time on American performance stages than on our tree-lined Main Street—Beau is a hugely accomplished stage actor, and Debbie a Tony Award-winning Broadway singer. While Debbie has returned from European sojourns to orchestrate the often-annual Holiday Spectacular at the Ridgefield Playhouse, Beau has only once performed on the Playhouse stage—many, many moons ago. That’s changing.
On September 9, Beau Gravitte will direct Old Times, Nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s intensely rich play about three friends talking about, well, old times. “Old Times is about memory,” Gravitte says. “How memory can change, over time, and how we use memory to seduce, or to destroy, one another.” It was first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1971. The three-actor performance is part of a project of the Actors Studio, which in late August will relocate to Ridgefield.
The Actors Studio is a non-profit group for actors, directors, and playwrights founded in 1947 by legends Elia Kazan, Cheryl Crawford, and Robert Lewis to provide a place where professional actors could work to develop their craft. “It’s a private gym for actors. It’s where I was born as an actor, in front of Ellen Burstyn,” says Gravitte, of the Academy-, Tony-, and Emmy Award–winning actress. “Once you’re a member, you’re a member for life. It’s a place where you work out and define what your own workout is,” says Gravitte, a longtime board member who now serves as the organization’s associate artistic director. He commutes to its West 44th Street location a few days a week.
“Ridgefield is a great place to raise the kids, great place to come home,” he says. The Gravittes have twins Ellie and Sam—both entering senior year and pursuing theatrical paths at Brown and Princeton, respectively. Sam was a lacrosse standout and the lead in Ridgefield High School’s 2013 spring show, Les Misérables. Now he excels at academics and plays on Princeton’s lacrosse team. Ellie throws the javelin and holds a northeast distance record at Brown. Third child, Charlie, is also graduating in 2017, from Clemson.
One thing Beau has found lacking in Ridgefield: professional theater. “I had this idea,” says the tall, bearded Gravitte, whose booming voice fills the magazine’s Main Street office. “I knew that I was going to be directing a show in New York, sometime in September. And I thought, Wouldn’t it be cool if we had an out-of-town workshop?” So for two weeks at the end of August, Gravitte will host the cast of Old Times to rehearse and perfect the play, which they will perform at the Playhouse on September 9. (The cast will return to New York and open a three-week run.) “I know the sensibility in the town here, I know it’s a cultured town with good taste and good theater. I know it will recognize good theater when it sees it. And I know we don’t get it here often.”
It’s going to be full production, with lights and sets. “The actors will be well-rehearsed,” he emphasizes. As director, he’s confident in the show, and even more so in his actors Chris Stack, Sayra Player, and Beth Manspeizer, who he’s excited to introduce to his hometown. “It’s good for them to get out of the city and come up here—it’s so beautiful here in Ridgefield. If it works for both partners, it’s something I’d like to do every year.”
The Gravittes will celebrate their 30th anniversary this year, having just sold their Ridgebury house and moved to Redding. Most recently, Debbie traveled to Russia, where audiences were so swept away by her voice that she has been invited back to sing in December. “I get a big crush on her whenever I go see her sing. She always gets invited back,” Beau says. “I hope the Actors Studio can get invited back here. The show will be witty and intelligent and fun—just like the people in Ridgefield.”