If you missed Brad Hall in his last onstage performance in Massachusetts, you can be easily forgiven. The California boy played the lead role in a production of “Hamlet” at the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton during his sole year of residence in the Bay State.
Hall, 59, has worked a lot since then. He was a “Saturday Night Live” cast member for two years in the early 1980s, known for anchoring the news segment and impersonating original Beatles drummer Pete Best. He’s acted and written extensively for television, earned an Emmy nomination, and created the series “The Single Guy” and “Watching Ellie.” More recently, he’s directed his wife, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in her HBO series “Veep.”
Now he’s in town for Gloucester Stage Company’s regional debut of Lucy Prebble’s play “The Effect,” which runs through July 8.
Though he sometimes performs improv comedy or is tapped for stage shows like “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” in which Tim Robbins portrays Hunter S. Thompson — they most recently performed that one evening in May, at New York’s Town Hall — “The Effect” is the first stage show with a full rehearsal process and performance run that Hall has appeared in since . . . well, that’s a good question.
“I hadn’t done a play since I did ‘Our American Cousin’ with John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre, so it’s been a minute,” Hall says.
No, but seriously. In a phone interview one recent morning after emerging from Cape Ann Coffees in Gloucester, he thinks hard but can’t put his finger on the last time he appeared in a full theatrical run. As for the North Shore, he’s never been here before. And this is a busy time for him: He’s working on scripts for the 10-episode debut season of his next television series, which stars Meg Ryan and is due to air on EPIX. (Called “Picture Paris,” it’s based on a short film Hall and Louis-Dreyfus made a few years ago and will be shot in the French capital.)
So how did Brad Hall end up in Gloucester?
As is often the case in show business, it’s simply a matter of relationships. Hall has a long history with Sam Weisman, a well-traveled director for theater and television who these days teaches at Brandeis University. Weisman makes his own Gloucester Stage debut with “The Effect.” He was brought into the fold by the company’s artistic director Robert Walsh.
The cast also includes Academy Award and Grammy Award nominee (and Obie Award winner) Lindsay Crouse, who has become a familiar face in recent years at Gloucester Stage, in addition to Susannah Hoffman and Mickey Solis. Hoffman and Solis play two strangers participating in a drug trial who fall in love — though it’s unclear if their strong feelings are a side effect of their romantic chemistry or brain chemistry.
Hall and Crouse play the doctors administering the trial, whose own motives (and relationship) prove influential in the ongoing experiment. The play’s London premiere in 2012 at the National Theatre won an award for best new play, and it went to New York in 2016.
“I don’t have a lot of lifetime regrets, and very few show business regrets, surely,” Hall says, “but the few that I have are sort of clustered around plays that I didn’t do and I should have done.”
One example: the 1985 Broadway production of “Singin’ in the Rain,” for which he was offered two understudy parts. The show is not warmly remembered, but he would like to have the stories that would have come with the experience. “I could have been a mediocre tap dancer,” Hall says ruefully. “You need that skill in today’s world.”
With folks whose resumes are as long as Hall, Weisman, and Crouse’s, you can play the “six degrees of . . .” game pretty easily. The three all worked together on the 1995 film “Bye Bye, Love,” for instance. (Weisman directed, Hall co-produced and co-wrote, and Crouse appeared in it.)
Hall’s co-producer and co-writer on that project was “Family Ties” creator Gary David Goldberg, who first hired Hall for a writing job after being impressed by how funny he was at a Valentine’s Day dinner party at the Weisman home. (Hall and Louis-Dreyfus even liked the house so much they bought it from Weisman and his wife when they moved out. The real estate connections among “The Effect” personnel continues: much later, Weisman bought the Newton house of Crouse’s ex-husband, famed playwright David Mamet.)
‘Very often people in television don’t get credit for being artists, but Brad is an artist. He’s a writer, he’s a musician, he’s an actor, he’s a director. He loves visual art. He just is a Renaissance man.’
Weisman, Hall, and Goldberg also worked together on the critically acclaimed series “Brooklyn Bridge” (for which Hall and Weisman each netted Emmy nominations) and a shorter-lived series called “American Dreamer.” Weisman describes their partnership in those days as “like an old-time repertory theater, constantly trying to do stuff and try stuff out.”
“Very often people in television don’t get credit for being artists, but Brad is an artist,” Weisman says. “He’s a writer, he’s a musician, he’s an actor, he’s a director. He loves visual art. He just is a Renaissance man.”
Weisman felt strongly that he needed an actor with real stature to balance Crouse’s strong stage presence. And he and Hall had long fantasized about working together in the theater if the right opportunity ever came along. Hall cofounded the Practical Theatre Company in Chicago as an undergrad at Northwestern University, which staged new plays and improv comedy shows, and worked as a stage actor at times in the 1980s.
“When Sam and I were doing television and movies and stuff together,” Hall says, “whenever things would go wrong, or we’d get bad notes from the studio, we’d look at each other and say: ‘It’s not going to be like this when we go back to the theater!’ Now I’m testing that premise.”
Hall is getting into the swing of things while he’s in the area. An avid cyclist, he rented a bike from a Gloucester shop and has been exploring the region. He’s also a big surfer, and was impressed by the three intrepid surfers he saw off Good Harbor Beach on a rainy and chilly day recently. Hall met another of Gloucester’s committed surfers in a coffee shop, from whom he plans to borrow a board and wet suit once “The Effect” is safely onstage.
In between biking, surfing, and writing scripts for “Picture Paris,” Hall will also celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary with Louis-Dreyfus during the play’s run, and figures she’ll come see the show around then.
Hall will observe another full-circle moment in Gloucester: The teacher who directed that production of “Hamlet” at the Williston Northampton School way back when, which Hall describes as a “life-changing” experience, has made plans to catch “The Effect.”
All in all, this gig may be unexpected, but it seems to be making sense.
“Everybody says the theater is their first love, but for me and Sam [Weisman] that might actually be the case,” Hall says. “If you drugged me with truth serum and said I can only do one thing, I would probably have to say that I would be an actor in the theater.
“And then I would have you arrested for drugging me.”
At Gloucester Stage Company, through July 8. Tickets: $34-$42, 978-281-4433, www.gloucesterstage.comJeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.