When art imitates an unusual life

Few artists have quite as good an excuse as Vaclav Havel for taking a sabbatical from their work. During the 20 years between his last play, 1988’s “Tomorrow,” and his latest, “Leaving,” Havel kept busy with a 10-year term as president of the Czech Republic in the wake of the Velvet Revolution.

“Leaving,” the U.S. premiere of which will close the Wilma Theater’s season, follows the leader of an unnamed country as he leaves office — experiences that Havel is obviously intimately familiar with. But it would be a mistake, according to actor David Strathairn, to associate the character too closely with his author.

“I don’t want people thinking, ‘Is that really Havel, or is that Clinton, or Putin, or Tony Blair?’” Strathairn says. “I think it’s better if an audience can release the connections to reality and experience this character and this play in its pure form.”

Strathairn has no qualms about taking on a real-life character; he’s probably best known for his Oscar-nominated turn as Edward R. Murrow in “Good Night and Good Luck.” By avoiding an imitation of Havel, though, he says that the universality of the play can more easily come through.

“It’s quite a complex play,” he says. “Havel’s not only referencing his own experience as a leader on the world stage; it’s also in and of itself a theatrical experience quite unlike any other I’ve been involved in. It supports at any given moment an absurdist approach, a naturalistic approach, a farcical or satirical approach — this piece has a real mercurial nature. It’s all over the map in kind of a delightful way.”


Through June 20

Wilma Theater

265 S. Broad St.

$36-$65, 215-546-7824


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