The Face Behind ‘4 Faces’ : A Multifaceted Peter Mark Richman Brings His One-Man Play to Chapman
Actor, playwright, painter, pharmacist.
Peter Mark Richman is all of those and more--philanthropist, filmmaker, former semi-pro fullback and, not to put too fine a point on it, elder of the religious brotherhood Subud.
But when people refer to him as a Renaissance man, he finds it embarrassing. “I leave that to Michelangelo,” he says.
Michelangelo doubtless leaves to him the gazillion movie-and-television roles that have stamped his face, if not his name, in the collective unconscious of tens of millions of couch potatoes.
One of Hollywood’s busiest character actors for decades, Richman was Blake Carrington’s lawyer on “Dynasty” and Chrissy’s father on “Three’s Company.” He starred in his own NBC series, “Cain’s Hundred,” back in the ‘60s. Maybe you’ve seen him in “The Naked Gun 2 1/2,” “Friday the 13th, Part 8,” “Blind Ambition,” “Murder, She Wrote” or “Star Trek--The Next Generation.”
“I’ve fulfilled other writers’ ideas for a very long time,” he said recently on the phone from his home in Woodland Hills. “Sometimes I enhanced their ideas, because they weren’t sure of what they were saying. I once had to rewrite a Broadway play out of town and hide what I was doing from the rest of the cast because the writer was paralyzed. He didn’t have a clue.”
When Richman’s one-man show “4 Faces” opens tonight at Chapman University’s Waltmar Theatre in Orange, there should be no doubt as to the playwright’s meaning. Richman wrote it; his wife Helen, a former actress, is directing it, and his son Lucas, a composer and former assistant conductor of the Pacific Symphony, scored it.
The 67-year-old star will play four characters in crisis: a fundamentalist preacher addressing his congregation, a blue-collar worker dealing with the death of his son, a former Gestapo officer and an elderly Jewish man who has survived the Nazi concentration camps.
Richman began writing the show three years ago and tried it out last year in sessions at the Los Angeles branch of the Actors Studio. A longtime student of Lee Strasberg, he first appeared at the Actors Studio in New York in a 1953 production of Calder Willingham’s “End as a Man.” The next year, he was invited to join the studio, where he worked with such luminaries of his generation as Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint, Patricia Neal and Maureen Stapleton.
“4 Faces” will be his third play to reach the stage. Two others--a one-act version of “A Medal for Murray,” which he is expanding into a full-length play, and “Heavy, Heavy, What Hangs Over,” an evening of one-acts--have been produced in Los Angeles.
But long before he became an actor and a writer, the South Philadelphia native was a painter.
“I’m not a ‘celebrity painter’ who took up painting when he became a celebrity,” Richman said. “I have an academic art background. I studied drawing from the time I was a kid. At 9, I used to go to the Philadelphia Graphic Sketch Club.”
He still has some of the original watercolors and charcoals he did all through his adolescence, and memories of not being allowed into life classes because of his age. “Even when I was 14 or 15, they gave me plaster casts with boobs to draw from,” he recalls.
A figurative expressionist, he has had 15 one-man shows. A few of his paintings are in permanent collections at several museums, including the Crocker Museum in Sacramento. “Unless they’ve de-accessioned me,” he says.
At the moment, though, his chief creative outlet is “4 Faces.” He regards the Waltmar staging as a prelude to future productions. Billed as a world premiere, the six-performance engagement is really a shakedown cruise to see how the show plays to an audience.
“I want to open it in Los Angeles as soon as possible after I leave Chapman,” he said. “I’m hot to trot. I don’t want to waste time. Eventually I want to take it to New York.” Although he doesn’t have a deal signed, he said several Los Angeles backers are interested.
Meanwhile, his composer-conductor son may get to New York before him. Lucas Richman has written the score and lyrics for a musicalization of “Bonanza” which is being touted for Broadway.
George Hearn, who won a Tony Award in “La Cage au Folles,” played the lead for a backer’s audition in Santa Monica. “Bonanza” creator David Dortor, who produced the TV series for 14 years, plans to co-produce the musical.
“I don’t know who’ll get there first,” said Richman pere . “We’re in a race.”
* “4 Faces,” written and performed by Peter Mark Richman, premieres tonight at the Waltmar Theatre, Chapman University, 333 N. Glassell St., Orange. Showtimes: Fri-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. Ends March 5. $10-$15. (714) 997-6812).
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