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Performing Arts

Jason Alexander is in, and Larry David is out

Trained stage actor will bring new approach to show
Jason Alexander, left, is going to be taking over Larry David’s role in the Broadway play “Fish in The Dark.” The play is about the rivalries and still-simmering angers that explode when a family gathers to bid farewell to their dying patriarch.

NEW YORK – When Larry David was showing his old “Seinfeld” pal Jason Alexander the quirks of his Broadway dressing room, the discussion naturally went to the toilet.

“You know what he said? ‘It’s a two or three flusher,’” said Alexander. “He said, ‘Don’t assume.’ I said, ‘Really? OK, I won’t assume.’”

But Alexander, who is about to take over from David in his hit play “Fish in the Dark,” fooled with the handle and discovered that he could just hold it until the water cleared.

“I went to him and I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to rock your world but it’s actually less effort than you’ve been making it,’” Alexander said. “Like most things in life.”

Alexander is pretty much planning to do the same thing with David’s play that he did with his toilet – mess around with the plumbing to find a more efficient way to tell the story.

“It is possible that I will be better and he will be funnier,” said Alexander in David’s dressing room one recent morning.

“If someone saw both of us do it, if they laughed 100 times with Larry, they may only laugh 90 times with me but the takeaway from the show will be ‘Wow, I actually went on that journey a little bit.’”

If anyone can do it, it’s Alexander, who before “Seinfeld” was a Tony-winning stage performer who then played David’s alter-ego on the show’s nine-year run.

“We are making the small adjustments that allow me to approach this as more of a trained actor than Larry could,” he said. “I really understand Larry’s turf, his rhythms, his melodies. I get the music of Larry David.”

Director Anna D. Shapiro has helped Alexander and the cast manage the transition and said Alexander knows instinctively how to spread the focus around the stage.

“He likes to throw the ball as much as hold the ball,” she says. “With Larry, what he’s doing, he is the most expert at. What Jason’s doing is a shared mastery.”

“Fish in the Dark,” David’s first play, is about the rivalries and still-simmering angers that explode when a family gathers to bid farewell to their dying patriarch.

The show has been a huge draw because of David, who co-created “Seinfeld” and went on to star and write “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Theater-goers get to see him do a bit about whether or not to tip doctors and be typically petty, vindictive and clueless.

The play co-stars Jayne Houdyshell and Rosie Perez, but David has dominated the stage, with his usual exasperated, impolite routine.

“I think the show with me will feel more like an ensemble show than a star vehicle even though the character continues to drive the piece,” said Alexander.

“The upside is it’s not a deeply complex play. It’s a light comedy. So the trick is finding how you get the laugh and finding the rhythms of the show with the cast.”

Before David ever began the role, he asked Alexander what he might expect in his Broadway debut. For one, he had no idea how grueling the eight-show-a-week schedule becomes.

“As most people do, he had some misconceptions,” Alexander said.

“He said, ‘It won’t be so bad. I’ll play golf during the day.’ I said, ‘You’re not playing golf.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ll go out for drinks after.’ I said, ‘Not if you want to do a show the next day.’”

Alexander knows that playing George Costanza has built him plenty of fondness in the crowd, but he isn’t counting on that for long when he hits the stage.

“That buys you 5-10 minutes of extraordinary good will,” he said. “And then after that, if you drop the ball, they’ll go, ‘You know, he’s not so good.’”

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