Bob Balaban played the sober, mild-mannered French translator in “Close Encounters,” the sober, mild-mannered film producer in “Gosford Park” and the sober, mild-mannered president of NBC in several memorable “Seinfeld” episodes.
So naturally, he was the perfect choice to direct “Addicted,” a one-man play about a man with raging addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Written by its star Mark Lundholm, “Addicted” makes its Bay Area premiere with a two-week San Francisco engagement at the Marines Memorial Theatre starting Saturday, Oct. 2.
But it’s the New York-based Balaban who might be the bigger draw. The Jewish actor-director has been with “Addicted” from the beginning, through tryouts in Chicago and a successful New York run off-Broadway.
“I identified totally with it,” says the actor of his initial attraction to the project, “though my life is totally different from Mark’s. Just because you haven’t taken his particular drugs, we all have addictions. I’m addicted to work, addicted to the telephone.”
The autobiographical stage comedy follows Lundholm down the rabbit hole of addiction, though a less-than-sterling childhood, homelessness, rehab and ultimate redemption. He goes on to compare his brand of drug use to some less apparent addictions — work, money, gambling, shopping, chocolate, coffee, even golf.
Balaban met Lundholm three years ago after seeing a 20-minute reel of his work-in-progress. A playwright and stand-up comic, Lundholm had been telling his life story to substance abuse recovery groups around the country, and over time he had honed it into a sharply comedic presentation.
That’s when Balaban stepped in.
“When I read the material, I became emotionally connected to what he was saying,” notes Balaban. “It was moving and profound, with real humor based on real situations. We started working and shaping the show. It’s essentially a monologue, but with lights and sound effects, you get the feeling you’ve had a night in the theater.”
Sometimes early in development, Balaban and Lundholm created so much new action and dialogue that during some performances Lundholm wore a tiny radio receiver in his ear to keep up with the changes. “Those,” says Balaban, “were some of his best shows.”
Though probably best known as an actor, Balaban is a total film and theater talent, having written, directed and produced for the stage and screen. He’s one of those actors that so disappear into a role (think Alec Guinness, Alfred Molina), it’s hard to get a read on who, exactly, is the real Bob Balaban.
Turns out, he’s a nice Jewish boy from Chicago. His father was Elmer Balaban, the last-surviving of the seven Balaban brothers, who dominated the theater business in much of the Midwest. The Balaban brothers built Chicago’s first movie palaces, the 700-seat Circle and the 2,000-seat Central Park. Balaban’s uncle, Barney, became chairman of Paramount Pictures.
Balaban admits he did not grow up with much Judaism. “My father had been Orthodox, the youngest of nine siblings,” he recalls. “He was the baby and therefore more rebellious. My mom was not particularly religious, and I had to ask to go to Sunday school.”
Balaban returned to Judaism thanks to his marriage. “I married a woman far more traditionally Jewish than I was,” he says, “and I am more so now because of her. We go to temple regularly, and though I never heard of fasting on Yom Kippur growing up, we fast in our household now. It’s all more interesting to me now.”
Next up for Balaban: a co-starring role with Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick in the upcoming film “Marie and Bruce.” He will be here for opening night of “Addiction,” eagerly anticipating an embracing Bay Area audience.
Though perhaps not as embracing as some other crowds that have turned out to see the show. Balaban recalls a few nights in which the theater was packed with Alcoholics Anonymous members who understood Lundholm’s story all too well.
“They get out of control,” says Balaban, “and they laugh too much.”
“Addicted” opens for a two-week run, with previews beginning 2, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, at Marines Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., S.F. Tickets: $20-$40. Information: (415) 771-6900 or www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com.