“It’s the same now as it was then,” said Michael Cristofer of his current role playing Charles Darwin in the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Trumpery. “The controversy over his ideas is still very alive in the United States, which is kind of surprising,” added the 62-year-old venerable actor-director-playwright, who, after winning a 1977 “Best Play” Tony Award for The Shadow Box, went on to write the screenplays for such films as The Witches of Eastwick and The Bonfire of the Vanities. (He also introduced the world to Angelina Jolie, whom he directed in Gia.)
These days, he is far from Hollywood, sweating under the stage lights in Chelsea, where his character in Peter Parnell’s play struggles with a loss of both faith and family, all the while developing a theory that would forever alter the course of human history. “I think he was repressed in many areas. He was afraid to unleash the ideas that he had, afraid of the consequences of them,” Mr. Cristofer said of the 19th-century English naturalist.
While Darwin may have struggled with a longing to hide from his own terrifying discoveries, Mr. Cristofer, the artist, does not. “The truth is now you just can’t do this kind of work on Broadway,” he said of the Off Broadway production, which is directed by David Esbjornson. “It’s not a place where anybody is about anything except making as much money as they can.” Talk about controversy—maybe Mr. Cristofer and Darwin have something in common after all.
Trumpery opens on Dec. 5 at the Linda Gross Theatre, 336 West 20th Street. Performances are Tuesday to Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets, visit http://www.ticketcentral.com or call 212-279-4200.