NEW YORK — WHAT'S FOR DINNER
In his thumbnail-size dressing room just offstage at Broadway's Cort Theatre, Larry David is on dinner break from rehearsals for "Fish in the Dark," the new comedy he wrote and stars in, and that opens March 5.
Lamb chops and a salad have been delivered, which he eats from the plastic dishware they arrived in.
"Boy, this is a good lamb chop," he tells his interviewer, just before deciding to pick it up with its convenient rib-handle and eat off the bone.
"You know what, it's much better to eat a lamb chop like this, than to have to cut it. This is the way to eat a lamb chop. Can you do this in a restaurant? Is this permitted in a restaurant? Do you want a lamb chop? Are you sure?"
WHY HE WROTE IT
You know Larry David. Who, with Jerry Seinfeld, co-created the transformative 1990s TV comedy "Seinfeld." Then a few years later stepped in front of the camera for HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as its star as well as writer and guiding principle.
Then, two years ago, the father of a friend, producer Lloyd Braun, died.
Sitting shiva. The funeral. Eulogizing. Conflicts laid bare among the survivors. It all seemed a likely source of comedy. David set to work.
"I just started, and then I just kept going. Things would occur to me as I was writing — I thought, 'Oh, boy that's a good idea.' I didn't plan it out the way I had to plan out a 'Curb' episode. I just starting writing the dialogue, and things fell into place."
ANYTHING BUT STAR-STRUCK
"I didn't write it to be in it," insists David, whose stage debut this is at the tender age of 67. "I didn't volunteer for it! Unfortunately, the main character sounded way too much like me for Scott Rudin" — the clearly persuasive entertainment impresario who now is a producer of this show — "to ignore. So that's where I made my mistake."
Indeed, the character he was talked into playing, Norman Drexel, "I think of as me. A little more grounded than the guy on 'Curb,' a little more normal. Not a big stretch at all.
"But it could be a totally humiliating experience. I don't know. I hope not."
Of course, this is the signature fretful Larry David style, which, though richly verbalized by him, is contradicted by his chipper mood as he savors his lamb chops and, by all indications, his status as a Broadway initiate.
"But I'm waiting for the moment where I'm going to completely implode," he says, careful to leave all options open, including disaster. "Somebody came up to me on the street and said, 'Oh, I can't wait for your play. I'm so excited!' I go, 'No, no, no, don't be so excited!' I hate to have people come with any expectations."
Though a show-biz veteran with standup and sketch comedy as well as film performances on his resume, David has learned much in this new dramatic realm.
"Before, I didn't know the terms 'upstage' and 'downstage,'" he says. "And I'm learning about acting. You keep going over the same things, so you start to come up with different ideas and ways of doing it, put some embellishments on it. I've acted before, but this is different."
His cast includes Rita Wilson, Rosie Perez, Ben Shenkman, Jerry Adler, Lewis J. Stadlen and Jayne Houdyshell, a troupe he says he "loves." As for the director, Anna D. Shapiro, "I have complete faith in her, which is great.
"If we just could end it now and I could go home, it would have been a great experience."
PROFILE IN COURAGE
Here he is, the native New Yorker who made his bones in sunny L.A., where he drives his save-the-planet Prius and gets to play golf all the time. Outside the Cort, it's freezing. Already he misses his golf.
And yet he has chosen to take on this new project, a challenge in so many ways outside his comfort zone.
For everyone who ever fell short of the advice "carpe diem," who dreamed of striking out on a brand-new venture but copped out instead, Larry David is the new champion.
He is trapped all right, shackled by record-breaking advance sales. He faces 18 weeks of penance, he is fond of saying, if the show turns out to be terrible. Which makes him all the more heroic.
His interviewer tells him, "We look to your example so that we, too, might have the courage to try something new and different, as you have."
"Oh, no. Oh, great," he says, looking stricken as only Larry David can. "'Cause there was no pressure BEFORE! Thanks a lot!"
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at email@example.com and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier. Past stories are available at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/frazier-moore