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Jewish Journal

Theater: Mark Feuerstein is the “Some Girls” guy

by Naomi Pfefferman

February 7, 2008 | 7:00 pm

Mark Feuerstein

Mark Feuerstein

After studying theater on a Fulbright scholarship, Mark Feuerstein played a series of affable Jewish leads on sitcoms such as "Conrad Bloom" and "Good Morning, Miami." His characters were "fumfering menshes who, though well intentioned, let their neuroses get in their own way," said the 36-year-old actor, a graduate of Princeton and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. "But because they were sitcom characters, they had to be guys of a certain type, meaning clean and neat and perfectly well-intentioned."

Feuerstein is relishing the opportunity to portray a less savory type of guy (named Guy) with dubious intentions in Neil LaBute's "Some Girl(s)" at the Geffen Playhouse through March 9. The character is the latest specimen of the American male according to LaBute, whom some perceive as a leading chronicler of men behaving badly.

Guy is a 30-something author who travels the country visiting former girlfriends, ostensibly to "right wrongs," on the eve of his nuptials to a 22-year-old nursing student. He says he wants to apologize for hastily dumping the women (and for writing about his conquests), but only reopens old wounds in each ex.

Feuerstein is not the first Jewish sitcom actor to portray the character; when "Friends" star David Schwimmer originated the role in London in 2005, The Evening Standard noted his Guy was "prone to guilt and worried self-scrutiny in a style not that dissimilar to a Woody Allen or Jules Feiffer Jewish hero."

Guy is actually a narcissist masquerading as a wuss, and Feuerstein finds his own Jewish persona helpful in depicting the antihero as a wily emotional terrorist.

"It's like he's disguised as the 'nice Jewish boy' -- slightly insecure, honest, funny, self-deprecating -- to disarm the women and get them to lower their defenses," said the actor, who also comes off as funny and slightly self-deprecating. "How could a nice Jewish boy possibly hurt you? But the façade is really a manipulation, a game to see if he can deepen her level of connection to him, in order to keep his relationship options open."

As Feuerstein toted a backpack to a 12-hour rehearsal recently, he said he was focusing as much on learning his lines as making sense of his character. LaBute -- who is also directing this West Coast premiere of his off-Broadway hit -- hired him when another actor left the production last month.

"I cast Mark because he's not just a gifted actor and comedian, he's also an extremely likable person, and that translates well onstage," the playwright said in an e-mail. "We need to believe Guy capable of all that he professes (his many conquests/relationships/women) and also be someone that fits the description given of him along the way -- most often that of a 'boy' or 'boyish," and, in spite of all the s--- that spills out of his mouth (or his physical actions), he has to make us smile.... Most audience members, the female ones at least, will watch him and simultaneously think, 'That guy is a prick, but I could change him,' and that sentiment is exactly what allows him to continue doing what he's been doing."

Feuerstein honed his comic skills doing impressions for his relatives during his childhood in a competitive Jewish family. Feuerstein's father -- who was raised above the family shoe store on the Lower East Side -- attended Harvard law school along with his brothers. Mark grew up on the Upper East Side and became a bar mitzvah at the Orthodox Park East Synagogue; his parents debated whether to send him to the Ramaz yeshiva, but opted for the prestigious Dalton School so he could, in his words, "get on the right track" for a stellar law career. (At Dalton, he became the state's wrestling champion.)

At Princeton, Feuerstein's "track" swerved when he auditioned for a play; he went on to attend clown school (in person he is an uncanny mimic) before landing roles in TV shows such as "Caroline in the City" and "Sex and the City" -- he played one of Miranda's least-talented lovers -- and in films such as "What Women Want" (he shared a memorable slapstick scene with a pre-"Passion" Mel Gibson).

Feuerstein said he was intrigued by "Some Girl(s)," in part, because it "speaks to parts of myself I remember from dating." Now married and expecting his second child, he said he spent much of his single life searching for The One, but says he may have led some women to believe he was more interested than, in reality, he was.

"If I played a role in the theater of dating, it was perhaps the man who might go the distance, and that's what Guy does on a much more insidious level," he said. "The first word of the play is 'always,' and the last word of the play is 'always.' Guy is selling the future to a woman in order to get her love, to later decide what he is going to do with it."

For tickets and information, call (310) 208-5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com

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