Second in a series of interviews with the many theater professionals who call DC their artistic home.
There comes a crossroads in every theater professional’s life, where you have to answer the question – should I try my luck in New York or LA? After two decades as a beloved actor of the DC scene, Rick Foucheux hit that point. So he spent last year “pounding the pavement” in NYC.
But, luckily for us, he returned to DC when the year was out. As exciting as the Big Apple was, and despite his doing well there, its energy just didn’t suit him. “New York has a charge, but it’s like a frayed electrical cord,” he joked, “DC has a more regular current.”
Foucheux got his start in DC theater when he came here in 1982 to host a TV show called “Good Morning Washington” on Channel 7 – it lasted a year. Having studied theater in college in his home state of Louisiana, he thought he’d try his hand at freelancing and made a decent living acting in industrial films. But when the “theater explosion” burst upon DC in the mid-1980’s, he took a chance and got back on the boards. Suddenly it seemed the area was filled with “strong small companies, and as they grew, I grew too.”
In speaking with Foucheux about his background and thoughts on DC theater, it’s obvious that he’s a gracious gentleman, putting you instantly at ease. Displaying equal doses of humor and humility, he’s happiest as a collaborator, enjoying his work with the current crop of playwrights and feeling privileged to be a part of the process. “I like having the opportunity to make some comment,” he says, though then quick to point out he feels his is a small contribution. During our interview, his smooth voice reminded me of a old-school radio announcer, no doubt a result both of his training for TV and his Louisiana background. It’s a welcome respite from the days of mumblecore.
He knows he is lucky too. “In my early career I was pushed forward by directors, like the late John MacDonald of Washington Stage Guild. People like Joe Banno and Ari Roth took chances on me. ” But he notes that though brilliant artistic directors are vital to the area’s success, the single most important reason DC theater has flourished is its audience base.
“DC audiences get it, in the sense that they understand the need for diversion,” he says,” They want to be intellectually stimulated, yes, but there’s an absence of the harshest criticism like you find in New York.” He notes that he can be surprised by the “vitriol” in other theater environments, and finds DC to be more nurturing.
Currently Foucheux can be seen making DC audiences roar with laughter in Theater J’s The Odd Couple as Oscar Madison. Director Jerry Whiddon is at the helm, and Foucheux is enjoying the run immensely. Whiddon is “so smart and sharp about comedy,” he says, “he was right at every turn.” Of his compatriot J. Fred Shiffman as Felix Unger, he says, “Fred and I have worked together before, our styles are similar and it’s a pleasure to play off of him.” In order to combat possible mimicry of those iconic performances from both the original production and the TV series, Whiddon told Foucheux and Shiffman to keep their portrayals grounded in reality -“remember, these guys don’t know that they’re funny.” It’s a winning approach, with audiences going wild for the comedy.
I was curious about what attracts him most to working in DC theater, and especially why did he return after his year in NYC? “I missed everyone so much,” he says, “it’s so sophisticated, so tight here, with more of a collegial atmosphere.” Though he appreciated the intense excitement and the constant visual stimulation of NYC, coming back reminded him why he loves DC.
“DC has calm, and beauty,” he says,” It’s just the right size. I’ve raised two kids here with my wife, and I have a great affinity for DC.” He loves that his current sojourn at Theater J means time spent hanging out in Dupont Circle. “I can have a sandwich at the local diner beforehand, and a cocktail at the bar afterwards,” he laughs.
Love of collaboration, collegiality, the craft of theater, and DC. That’s a great combination for one of Washington’s finest actors. We’re lucky to have him back.