Austin Pendleton Tackles Raw Material in 'Thousand Pines'

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Austin Pendleton remembers first reading Matthew Greene’s Thousand Pines, a new play about how a junior high school shooting affects three families months after the incident.

“I remember reading it on the train up to Boston and I thought, ‘Whoa,’ ” says the director-actor-playwright in a recent conversation at New York City’s HB Studio, where he has taught acting for 50 years.

And he was only on page six, he says.

The script made its way to Mark Lamos, artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, and after a reading at the theater, the play was put on the 2018 season. The production, with Pendleton directing, continues through Nov. 17.

“Healing is not easy,” says Pendleton, who says he is both “excited and scared” going into rehearsals about the emotional journey of these three families. “The spectrum is very wide, but healing is also God’s gift to tragedy. There is a natural process in people that works toward healing or partial healing or even acknowledging the hope for healing.”

Audiences may know Pendleton from his acting roles in films What’s Up, Doc?, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge and as the voice of Gurgle in Finding Nemo, among his scores of TV, stage and film credits. (He portrayed Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2012 HBO movie Game Change, about Sarah Palin’s rise as John McCain’s 2008 running mate.) Following Thousand Pines, Pendleton is acting on Broadway in January in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy.