James Rebhorn, SoA ’72, and Rebecca Henderson, SoA ’06, are drawing on their Columbia training to portray two generations onstage. The two play a father and daughter in Roundabout Underground’s New York premiere of Meghan Kennedy’s “Too Much, Too Much, Too Many,” running through Jan. 5.
The play is focused on Emma (Henderson), a young woman forced to care for her mother, Rose (Phyllis Somerville), who has locked herself in a room in reaction to the death of her husband (Rebhorn) nearly a year earlier. A local pastor (Luke Kirby) comes to try to convince Rose to come out of her room, although his visit also has unintended consequences for Emma. Many scenes take place within Emma’s memory, as she retraces her father’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease from its onset until his death.
“The experience has been terrific so far,” Rebhorn said. He has performed in many stage productions, films, and television series throughout his career, including “Homeland,” “Seinfeld,” and “Law and Order.”
What drew him to “Too Much, Too Much, Too Many” was Kennedy’s script.
“It’s a beautifully written play,” Rebhorn said. “The quality of the playwriting is what first attracted me to it. It was received very well and [we] decided to find a spot for it at the Underground place.”
For Rebhorn, his character’s struggle also has personal meaning, as his mother died from Alzheimer’s.
“There is not enough done to expose the disease,” he said.
Acting within the framework of flashbacks also added a dimension to the character that Rebhorn wanted to explore.
“That is one of the things that appeals to me as an actor, because there is an arc to that character,” he said. “That, as an acting challenge, is extraordinarily appealing.”
Henderson, who also has had considerable experience in both television and theater, was interested in her character’s emotional development throughout the play.
“She is very, very stuck in her life, kind of going crazy dealing with unanswered questions about what happened to her father and the unanswered question of what is happening with her mother,” sheg said. “The play is sort of about that moment.”
The challenge for Henderson has been exposing vulnerability onstage.
“The hardest part is to open up to the audience and go to that dark, scary part of myself whether or not the audience is responding,” Henderson said. “To have to go there can be really tough, to show that part of myself or the character. It’s a mixture of me and the character.”
Both actors brought their SoA education to the production to handle these acting challenges. Although Henderson and Rebhorn both have SoA degrees and a similar respect and value for their acting education there, their experiences at the school differed greatly.
Rebhorn arrived at Columbia in the fall of 1970, having just graduated from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Uncertain about whether he wanted to be a professional actor, he decided to take the risk and pursue his love for theater, leaving behind a job at the local YMCA. In his first year at Columbia, he was met with the announcement of a change in the department.
“We were told that our program was being disbanded,” Rebhorn said. “I was in the last class of that particular program.”
Despite the impending changes, Rebhorn was more than satisfied with the MFA program he participated in.
“I felt it gave me an acting system, a way to actually approach the role and the work that otherwise I wouldn’t have had,” Rebhorn said.
By the time Henderson came to the School of the Arts in 2004, it had already been restructured to be much more experimental than the program Rebhorn took.
“I love Columbia,” Henderson said. “It provides very different training than any other training in the city. It’s very experimental.”
“The program has made me a totally fearless performer,” she added. “I do have the feeling that I can do anything from my training.”
“Too Much, Too Much, Too Many” runs through Jan. 5. at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. Tickets are $20.