Vanishing Act

"The audience has seen a lot of me, and maybe they need a break."

He's been called, on various occasions, "preening, arrogant, sinister"; "a raving tyrant, enthusiastically cruel and as self-convinced as one of Tom Waits' growling drunkards"; "quiet, intense, inarticulate and bewildered, growing more helplessly tongue-tied the more he understands what's going on." And now he's skipping town.

Marco Barricelli, one of the Bay Area's best-known theater actors and a member of the core company at ACT, is heading to the East Coast after more than a decade of association with Artistic Director Carey Perloff's company. Speaking on his cell phone from New Haven, Conn., last week -- don't worry, he's already back in San Francisco rehearsing his swan song, Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O'Neill -- Barricelli seemed rather tortured about the move.

"This is one of the best jobs an actor can have," he said. "But I've been here for eight seasons, and although it's scary, I have to move on. As an artist, it's important to work with other people, aesthetics, and methodologies. Also, the audience has seen a lot of me, and maybe they need a break."

The 46-year-old said he'd been mulling the move for about a year before coming to a decision four months ago. Now that a verdict has been reached, Barricelli's short-term plans include jetting off to Italy in July this year and again in January 2006 to teach, and playing Cyrano de Bergerac in Ashland, Ore., next year. More generally, he's thinking about returning to New York, where he lived for 10 years and trained at Juilliard. Like many actors in his position, Barricelli wants to develop his directing portfolio, make more money ("I'll do a soap opera, or whatever"), and maybe become artistic director of a theater someday. From a personal perspective, he'd like to be closer to his girlfriend, who works as dramaturge and literary manager at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre.

When Perloff originally decided to assemble a core company for ACT's 2001-2002 season, Barricelli was the first to be hired. Perloff hauled the actor into her office during rehearsals for a production of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo and asked him what he was looking for, careerwise. "I said I wanted a theater to commit to me for a while, and that I'd do the same in return," Barricelli said. So Perloff gave him a contract.

Since then, three additional company members have joined the fray: René Augesen, Steven Anthony Jones, and Gregory Wallace, and Barricelli has brought his imposing frame and brooding grace to a multitude of roles, from A Streetcar Named Desire's Stanley Kowalski to Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons. Some parts have appealed to him more than others -- he loved performing in American Buffalo, for instance, but "couldn't find Vershinin" in The Three Sisters -- yet his most powerful memory from his time with the company has to do not with the roles he played but with his collaboration with Perloff, whom he talks about as if she's some kind of Earth Mother. "Carey builds confidence, challenges actors, and maintains their utter respect."

To an outsider's eye, it's Barricelli's onstage relationship with colleague Augesen that sticks. You only had to be at a performance of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing last year to see the test tubes bubble. When the former theater critic of this publication, Michael Scott Moore, heard about Barricelli's departure, he asked just one question: "Now who will René flirt with onstage?" (Chloe Veltman)

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