Richard Chamberlain: the doctor is in at the Pasadena Playhouse
At 78, Richard Chamberlain is still handsome with blue eyes that sparkle when he laughs, which is often. His rich voice gives him instant command of the room, yet his charming, friendly manner sets people at ease. The man many swooned for in the early 1960s TV show "Dr. Kildare," Chamberlin has come full circle in a way, playing Dr. Austin Sloper in "The Heiress," opening at the Pasadena Playhouse on Tuesday.
The drama, based on Henry James' 1881 novel "Washington Square," is the tale of a young woman and her ailing physician father, who does not approve of her suitor because he thinks the man is after his daughter's inheritance. "The Heiress" is directed by Damaso Rodriguez and also stars Heather Tom and Julia Duffy.
"On a certain level it's about the difficulties and dangers of expectations," Chamberlain said.
He explains that Dr. Sloper's wife died after giving birth to their daughter, and he envisioned the young girl, Catherine, to step into her stead. But Catherine is nothing like the woman Sloper adored - she is plain and socially inept, so he controls and resents her.
Chamberlain finds his character fascinating because while he is successful and intelligent, and a caring and capable doctor, running a children's clinic and assisting in childbirth, his compassion stops with his daughter.
"I've noticed in my family that, especially in the men, there is a kind of mean streak," he said. "I inherited that to a certain extent.
Especially in my early days when I had very little self-confidence, despite the fact that I was rather successful. I was capable of withholding certain behaviors, which could be described as covertly mean. It's interesting for me to experience what it would have been like if I had really let my meanness go."
Chamberlain said that "The Heiress" could encourage people to "examine any ways that you might be deforming your own life, suppressing your own heart, closing off your own feelings and (where you lack) compassion."
Growing up in Los Angeles, Chamberlain enjoyed escaping into the fantasy world of the movies. His first acting role was playing the Pied Piper in a show in third grade. He later attended Pomona College as an art major.
"I always wanted to be an actor, but I was extremely shy and lacking in self-confidence," he said. "Being a totally impractical person, I thought, well, if I can't be an actor I'll do something practical like being an artist." .
Chamberlain ended up devoting most of his time to the college's theater department. After receiving an overwhelming response from the audience during a production of "Arms and the Man" in his senior year, he finally he realized he could pursue his dream.
Chamberlain co-founded the Los Angeles theater group Company of Angels and has appeared in numerous stage productions, TV shows and films, including "Shogun," "The Thorn Birds," "Chuck" and "Desperate Housewives." He has also narrated several documentary films, such as "Endangered Hawai'i," which explores the extinction of 71 bird species native to Hawaii.
Chamberlain is also an accomplished painter of abstracts, landscapes, portraits and any piece that offers a challenge. You can see his work at www.richard-chamberlain.com.
Chamberlain loves to travel and go to movies and dinner with friends.
"Work was the most important thing for most of my life, but I suddenly discovered people and I value my friends beyond anything else now," Chamberlain said.
As for "The Heiress," Chamberlain said the cast and crew get along very well and are looking forward to the opening curtain.
"It's a wonderfully constructed play," he said. "It's a bit melodramatic, but very human."
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