Karl Miller worked his ass off—and scared the bejesus out of audiences—playing Columbine High School killer Eric Harris in columbinus last year at the Round House Theatre.
Then he hauled his ass out to Alaska when the production traveled to Juneau’s Perseverance Theatre. (Yup, that’s the same company founded by current Arena Stage boss Molly Smith.)
Then Miller gave up a part in The Violet Hour at Rep Stage (where he just played Hamlet) so he could help put columbinus in front of potential backers for a New York production.
Then he gave up another local part in an upcoming show at the Theater Alliance, because columbinus director PJ Paparelli (a former staffer at The Shakespeare Theatre Company, now in Smith’s old job at Perseverance) had told him—as recently as two weeks before Theater Alliance rehearsals were to start—that he’d be playing Eric again at the New York Theatre Workshop.
Then Paparelli ditched him for a bigger name.
Not much bigger, if you ask me, but there you go. It’ll be Keith Nobbs, who’s got a decent handful of Broadway, off-Broadway, and film credits, doing the psychopathic thing at NYTW. (Which yes, since you ask, is the same place that’s still shaking off the scorn of the world theatrical for bailing out of the controversial My Name is Rachel Corrie).
At least that’s how the story reads over at Miller’s blog (second half of post, after the Rachel Corrie conversation), where he chronicles all these backs-and-forths in a surprisingly even tone. Surprising to me, anyway: If my editors tried some equivalent shit with a story I’d been working on, hair would be pulled. And vigorously.
Says Paparelli: Miller was “just absolutely sensational” as Eric in the D.C. and Juneau productions—“a wonderful, wonderful actor.” Nevertheless “we’re excited to have a new actor get a chance to work on the material, since Karl was pretty much the only actor who had worked on it before, and as you know, with a new play, it’s great to have another new voice working on it, shaping the piece.”
Will Rogers, who played the Dylan Klebold character in the Washington premiere, remains with the production, as do D.C.-based set and lighting designers Tony Cisek and Dan Covey.
The cold professional reality is that a director—not to mention a director who conceived and helped create the play, as Paparelli did—has got every right to recast. He’s got every right to go with a quantity that New Yorkers know, if that’s what the producing theater wants.
But the key word there is cold. Professional reality is one thing. But a last-minute about-face, when your actor has turned down other work after double-checking with you to be sure your project is going forward with him attached—that’s another.
And knowing how long Miller has been associated with columbinus, and remembering how chillingly good he was in it, I can certainly identify with the reaction of one commenter on Miller’s blog:
“[A]nyone who saw you in columbinus knows what a travesty of moral decency has been committed.”