Ben McKenzie gets a birthday surprise at 'The Glass Menagerie' cast party
"Southland" hunk Ben McKenzie's surprise birthday celebration at Ciudad restaurant in downtown Los Angeles Sunday evening was just the cherry on his sundae. Or should we say the chocolate mousse on his pastel rufina, the yummy puff pastry, chocolate chunk and sweetened cream cheese concoction that's a specialty of chef/restaurateur Mary Sue Milliken from the Food Network's "Too Hot Tamales.'" (Hey, this is L.A. -- even our snacks are ready for their close-ups.)
It had been quite a day. Turning 32 was blessedly meh -- "it's a little bit of a shrug birthday," McKenzie said good-naturedly. But he had just sailed through opening night, playing the gentleman caller in Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" at the Mark Taper Forum, and he was celebrating his newfound dotage at the post-party with fellow cast members: two-time Tony winner Judith Ivey, "Mercy's" Patch Darragh and Keira Keeley.
"Menagerie" marked McKenzie's debut with the Center Theatre Group, which involved full-tilt serendipity: McKenzie's uncle is Robert Schenkkan, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his drama "The Kentucky Cycle," which was workshopped at the Taper 20 years earlier. (McKenzie's full name is Ben McKenzie Schenkkan, but he only uses his middle name professionally to avoid confusion with "Damages'" Ben Shenkman.
His uncle's play inspired him to become an actor, but it was his relationship with CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie that landed him the part –- he'd met Ritchie almost a decade ago at Williamstown Theatre Festival, where he apprenticed under Ritchie's reign.
Indeed, plenty of cross-cultural pollination was evident in the audience as well, with a lot of Hollywood actors, many of whom also like to tread the boards, there to cheer on friends. "Brothers & Sisters" stars Patricia Wettig and Ken Olin went backstage after the performance to give congratulatory hugs to Keeley, who recently played a transgender woman in Wettig's play "F to M" in New York. And they were marveling at the fact that this was the first fully-staged Williams play they'd seen since they met 29 years ago in a Portsmouth, N.H., production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." Naturally, Wettig played Stella, and Olin was the T-shirted Stanley. Fortunately for Olin, he got better reviews from Wettig than the critics.
"It was terrible," Olin said. "They said they thought I looked like I was on an audition for ‘Happy Days.' But she married me anyway."
Anne Heche and James Tupper came to see his "Mercy" co-star Darragh; other industry folk in the audience included "Modern Family's" Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harry Groener, Joe Montegna, Peter MacNicol, Scott Bakula, Shelley Long, Ron Rifkin, Malcolm Jamal Warner, McKenzie's "Southland" co-stars Michael Cudlitz and Regina King and Lisa Simpson voice actor Yeardley Smith, whom Ivey directed in her one-woman show, "More," off-Broadway and at Burbank's Falcon Theatre several years ago.
-- Irene Lacher
Photos (from top) Ben McKenzie (second from right) celebrates his birthday with (from left) Judith Ivey, Keira Keeley, Patch Darragh and a nummy pastel rufina. Credit: Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging
The "Brothers & Sisters" crew -- Ken Olin, Patricia Wettig and Ron Rifkin -- outside the Mark Taper Forum on "A Glass Menagerie's" opening night. Credit: Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging
Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ben McKenzie celebrate on opening night. Credit: Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging