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David Garrison: Distinctive Everyman Actor

David Garrison is a veteran of stage and television.

New York actor David Garrison is immediately recognizable, be it as a lawyer on “Law And Order,” or Steve Rhoades from the immensely successful “Married … with Children” TV series (1987-1990).

He also appeared with actor Jason Bateman on the sitcom “It’s Your Move” (1984-1985). Though known best for his TV work, Garrison is primarily a theatre actor, essaying multiple roles in many musicals and plays. He has starred on Broadway in A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, where he played the role of Groucho Marx.

He was nominated for a Tony for that role. He”s also appeared on Broadway in Titanic, Torch Song Trilogy, The Pirates of Penzance, Bells are Ringing and Off-Broadway in I Do! I Do! Garrison earned a Drama Desk Award nomination for that performance.

He also played The Wizard in both the Broadway and west coast productions of Wicked. He’s played Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, the Devil in Randy Newman’s Faust, Frosch in Die Fledermaus at the Santa Fe Opera, and Charley in the Arena Stage revival of Merrily We Roll Along, for which he received the Helen Hayes Award.

In addition to the aforementioned TV work, he has also appeared in “The West Wing,” “The Practice,” “Without a Trace,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “NYPD Blue,” “Judging Amy,” “Murphy Brown,” and “L.A. Law.”

Though he enjoyed his years on “Married…” he missed the theatre, and asked to be let out of his contract after four years on the show. As a going-away gift, producers of the show gave him a blown-up police mug-shot of him as Rhoades, with the caption: “Gotta’ sing, gotta’ dance, gotta’ fucking starve to death.”

He parted on good terms, returning four times in subsequent seasons detailing the career Rhoades had pursued since he’d last been seen.

Garrison begins a new play called Red Remembers on Sept. 12 (through to November 1), at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Ma.

TheImproper: Tell us about the genesis of “Red Remembers” It’s about legendary sportscaster Red Barber, an American icon.

GARRISON: Red was an American original—a pioneer broadcaster both on radio and television, a man who brought baseball to into the homes of countless fans, a Southerner transplanted to New York, a writer and humorist in the grand tradition of Mark Twain and H. L. Menken (Red wrote several books and coined phrases like “the catbird seat” and “rhubarb”), and a man troubled by alcoholism and perfectionism.

Red’s daughter Sarah, now sadly deceased, was a neighbor of mine in Santa Fe, where I have a home, and she brought the script of the play to my attention. The LA writer Andrew Guerdat had approached Sarah about creating a one-man show about Red’s life, and she had given him permission to do so. I was immediately impressed by both Andy’s work and Red’s character. It took me a few years to secure the rights to the play, and to bring Tony-winning director (and baseball fan) John Rando on board, but the final result was worth the wait. While I was doing Wicked on Broadway, we did a one-night presentation at the Vineyard Theatre Off-Broadway. The response was extraordinary, and we knew we needed to take the play to a full production. Kate Maguire at the Berkshire Theatre Festival read the script and invited us to create the premiere at BTF.

IM: Clearly, there are elements of both TV and the stage that excite and embrace you. Tell us what you like about each.

GARRISON: Well, certainly the paycheck is more exciting in TV. I’ve been lucky enough to go back and forth between the stage and television, and a lot of my television work, such as “Married … with Children” has been done in front of a live audience, so it has felt something like a theatre experience, where as an actor you have more control over your performance. On film, or single-camera television, performances are often created more by the cameraman, director and editor than by the actor. I like the subtlety working on camera allows, but I prefer the excitement of live theatre.

IM: I would say that each benefits the other? Is that a fair statement?

Garrison: I think it’s fair to say that theatre-trained actors have some advantages over actors who’ve never had to face the discipline of eight shows a week, or who have only worked on camera. On the other hand, camera work forces a theatre actor to be very exacting and economical in expression. It’s the difference between playing violin in a Beethoven symphony and in a Beethoven string quartet. Both forms inform the other.

IM: Tell us about the “Married … with Children” experience. Working with such a stellar cast of actors must have been tremendously rewarding.

Garrison: Well, it was certainly a hell of a lot of fun. We set out to break the rules of the family sit-com (remember, this was before “Roseanne,” “The Simpsons,” and all the rest that followed), and we did just that. It’s always fun to be the bad boys. I believe the working title of the series was “Not the Cosby’s,” an unusable, if appropriate, moniker.

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