How did you get started in theater?
I knew in elementary school when I was in
the lead role of 'Peter Rabbit' that I was
meant to make a fool of myself on stage
as much as possible...
What hooked you? Was it your first school
play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway
Show? What inspired you to be where you
In junior high school, my English teacher forced everyone to audition for
the school play - I ended up with my pants around my ankles playing Paul
Sycamore in "You Can't Take It With You" - then in high school, with all the
fun shows, (Grease, Bye Bye Birdie, Noises Off, etc...), I loved the feeling
of being on stage and how comfortable it felt to be in front of people. I
had also started directing back in junior high, which I knew would be
something I would want to do more of.
Seeing "Les Miserables" and "Into the Woods" (original casts) inspired me to
work both on and back stage as well.
Today, it is seeing and doing the stuff that I don't normally see or do that
continues to inspire me. I am constantly loving and learning from projects
that I thought I wouldn't ever do or be able to do. When it all comes
together - it truly is special for me.
...boy, I bet you all never expected me to be so corny, huh?!
What was the first play you ever saw? Ever performed in?
The acclaimed and aforementioned "Peter Rabbit" was my world premiere
performance. I would include my Steve Parks' review, but I think it left it
under my cottontail...
Did you study acting? If not, how did you get into it?
I didn't take any classes until college, where I minored in theatre at SUNY
Binghamton. Most of my "getting into it" was through experience. I learn
by doing, and whenever I didn't know how to do something or when I needed to
do something immediately, I asked...and sometimes the answers were very
What was your first audition?
Couldn't tell ya if I wanted to...
How do you choose what play you will audition for? The piece itself, the
director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
For a while, it was for the sheer experience. I just wanted to do as much
as I could to get involved, learn, and meet people. But then the problem
developed that I began to get known for taking anything (fill-ins, swings,
ensemble, whatever...) and I allowed myself to do more than I would now. I
don't regret any of the experiences I've had, however. Now, it is really
about the project/show itself and the people involved (that includes the
entire production team) that are important. The theater can be important
but with a good project and and good people, I'd do a show anywhere...
All of those things also apply for me as a director as well. I am slowly
learning to choose more discerningly and do the theatre that is both fun and
inspiring for me.
Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
As an actor, I've been the benefactor and victim of pre-casting many times.
More so the victim. It can be frustrating at times to see that something
has been pre-cast and wish it weren't. But at least knowing in advance is
important. Nothing is more infuriating than going to an audition call and
finding out after you get there that certain parts have been pre-cast.
I remember directing a show last year at a regional theater company on Long
Island and we were holding a second set of auditions to finish the casting.
(This show had a completely open call.) We placed a Newsday ad,
specifically stipulating what roles were still available and what had
already been cast form the first auditions. But, of course, by the laws of
Murphy, that tidbit of info was not published. So we had many people come
down and experience the same infuriating feeling I just wrote about. We did
post signs, apologizing for the errors, but it didn't make it much better
for those people. And that wasn't even about pre-casting!! But people
thought it was about that!!
With book musicals, I have never pre-cast as a director. Once for a musical
revue I recently directed, I did pre-cast, largely because of the nature of
the piece and the time constraints made by the theatre manager. With
straight shows, I have pre-cast a couple of times, again because of the
nature of piece, etc. But only with smaller cast shows.
A long answer to a short question, I think it's OK if it's not deceitful.
What types of parts do you normally play? Do you feel typecast?
I've been cast as the good guy, the bad guy, the playboy, the geek, the
sidekick, the mobster, the fairy, the king, the bum, and everything in
between!! It's fun to play the character roles. I don't mind playing the
bad guy - it's a lot of fun to be evil or manipulative on stage. I can get
out a lot of aggression, healthfully! It is always fun to play a character
that is very different from the real person I am. I learn through the
rehearsal process and research about their thought patterns, their
emotional process, and the ways they carry themselves.
Being a psychology and counseling professional, I put a lot of that stuff
into all my work as a performer and as a director.
Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a
certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly? When directors look at a certain role, what do you think they see as a "Darren Petronella" type?
I honestly couldn't tell you what other people see me as, in terms of type.
Since I've been directing much more than performing these days, I think a
lot of people don't even see me as a performer anymore! But perhaps because
of my stature, I could be seen as a stronger type figure, someone who
appears confident and in control. Yeah, right! :)
What is your approach to developing your character?
I love to think about where the character came from. True to many
therapeutic interventions, I like to know/find out what potential upbringing
this person had, what influenced them when they were younger and how all
that affects them today. I then look at what or who has an impact on them
now. I am interested in historical context often times, but more
importantly, how it affects them personally, in thought, feeling and action.
Again, as a director, I use this approach intricately throughout a rehearsal
process. I tend to ask a lot of questions of myself (whether as an actor or
director) and of the other characters/actors I am working with.
Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
I have so many favorites for different reasons, such as Thomas Jefferson in
'1776', Alan Baker in 'Come Blow Your Horn', Lank Hawkins in 'Crazy for
You', the voice of Audrey II in 'Little Shop of Horrors', but my favorites,
because of the roles' ambiguity, complexity and absurdity are a tie between
Goldberg in 'The Birthday Party' and Sam Byck in 'Assassins'.
What do you think were your best roles?
I'm not a good judge of what I think my best role was/is...maybe the ones
that were my favorites?
I don't know about the worst necessarily, but...probably the most ridiculous
experience was when I had to fill in for an Educational Repertory
performance of 'Evita' at Maguire Theatre (BroadHollow)...Not having seen
the show and having little prior knowledge of it, I was almost literally
thrown on stage and blocked into the show DURING THE SHOW! For example,
during "The Money Kept Rolling In" (or whatever it's called), I was
stationed next to Andy MacAskill and he was "choreographing" me to "pretend
like you're writing...OK, now, pretend like you're reaching in slow motion... OK, now, step with your right foot forward..." - IT WAS INSANE!!! I appreciated Andy's help, but am confident that I was of NO theatrical value on stage that day!!
What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why? How well do you
think you met the challenge?
The roles that are historically relevant and real are the most challenging -
the others are true choices. Real historical figures deserve a great amount
of authencity in their portrayal! So researching becomes that much more
What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this
I think I was OK but would be much better now if I played Archibald in 'The
Secret Garden' again...
What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
John Wilkes Booth in 'Assassins'; Zach in 'A Chorus Line'; Salieri in
How do you feel when you perform?
Please...you gotta be kidding...
sometimes nervous (I still get nervous before I go on sometimes...not
when I'm out there...)
...sometimes, like I gotta pee...
What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
The satisfaction that it happens and sometimes happens really well....
During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to
myself?" Why do you do it?
I'm a glutton for punishment...
What is your favorite theater story?
Wow - I'm drawing a blank - the first that I can think of was when we did
'Godspell' at Bayway (1998), at one point on stage during a particularly
serious moment, Joe Mankowski as Jesus let out a small, squeaky fart!! -
Then during the same run, while Marci Rubin was singing the lead on "Day by
Day" to Joe, his face started twitching uncontrollably, making all of us
wonder if he was having a medical moment on stage (stroke? heart attack?
A very recent story was during our run of 'Sweeney Todd' at Hofstra, at the
end of the show, Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett are supposed to "rise out of the
ground" on a lift - set under the stage. As the magic of live theatre would
have it, the lift didn't work, leaving the two characters (Bruce Rebold and
Lydia Gladstone) standing with barely their heads visible to the audience -
in an attempted moment of theatrical bravery, Bruce tried to hoist himself
out of the 6-7 foot hole but he couldn't - which made him fall onto the lift
- (I actually tried to offer my hand to lift him up, but it was too late,
musically) - The next day, he had a black/purple bruise on his thigh the size
of a pizza! Though scary in the moment - it is quite entertaining to recall!
There are more stories, but the PG nature of the Deb's Web as well as the
Witness Protection program stipulations will not allow me to elaborate
Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable,
crack up on stage?
Who hasn't?! - some people just don't admit it!
What was your worst theater experience?
I don't like to dwell on negatives....and incriminate the others!
What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
I cracked (vocally) during the Act I finale!! (I'm not mentioning the
Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
It's always about the people...
Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
Absolutely - it's a great thing - but it has gotten more diluted (meaning
the casting pool is not growing as fast as the amount of opportunities out
there) - there are so many opportunities, it becomes that much more
difficult for producers to cast (which is maybe why more pre-casting is
Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been
particularly rewarding to work with?
They know who they are...
Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
I respectfully decline to answer - I hate rating stuff like this!!
Who is your favorite performer?
A tough question - but the first theatre performer who comes to mind is
Victor Garber...there are so many more (Boyd Gaines, Lee Wilkoff, Kristin
Chenoweth, Marin Mazzie, etc...) Probably the most inspiring performance on
stage recently for me was David Suchet as Salieri in 'Amadeus' (Broadway
Favorite L.I. performer?
I respectfully decline to answer this one b/c it is impossible for me to be
objective and fair to the SO MANY wonderful people I've worked with as an
actor and director. I know, I know, I'm a cop out!
How do you maintain your career and do theater?
I live by my planner - organization is key!!
Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
I really enjoy the people involved. We are very fortunate on Long Island to
have so much at our fingertips, in terms of opportunities to engage in
whatever cultural activity you're interested in. It is a major reason why I
won't move out of the area...
Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Sometimes - my family doesn't really know what goes into this stuff - they
just know that it prevents me from getting a 2nd job!!
Nothing infuriates me more than when a family member asks me if I am in a
particular show or if I "just directed" it!! And they'll say they don't
want to attend it if I'm not in it!! AAAHHH!! They don't realize that the
production team does an extraordinary amount of work!! But to their credit,
they have gotten better (with much kicking and screaming from me!!)
How has performing enriched your life?
It has made me appreciate so much in life. Theatre is a reflection of life
itself. I learn something from every experience. I have met some amazing,
talented, and wonderful people. It also makes me a better director. That is
why I still perform and do other assorted tech work occasionally - whether
it is lead or ensemble or walk-on, I constantly appreciate everyone's job by
doing it myself every now and then. People have often told me that I am an
"Actor's director" because as an actor, I am sensitive to actors' needs. I
appreciate those comments and do feel that I utilize my performing
experiences constantly to try to be the most effective director I can be.
What brings you the greatest joy?
Seeing a project come together - from the birth of its thought to its
maturation in performance...helping other achieve their potential on stage.
What really irks you?
Lack of consideration and appreciation for one's time and effort.
If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would....
...quit my day job and do free-lance theatre directing/performing. I'd also
travel alot and see a lot of theatre/music...probably also learn how to play
piano really well.
Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Absolutely...money can buys a lot of things!!
What's your favorite word?
When you reach the pearly gates what do you want St. Peter to say?
"How'd you get here?!"
Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be
I'm directing 'Damn Yankees' at the Suffolk Y Theater in Commack (November
2001) and then I'm directing 'Romance, Romance' for The Gray Wig at Hofstra
University (January 2002). Then I'll be working on 2 NYC shows and a couple
of school/college shows in the winter-spring 2002...then, who knows. I'd
like to do some more meaningful performing soon, too.
Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
I'd love to play Franklin Shepard in 'Merrily We Roll Along'...