Former Ugly Betty star Michael Urie is stepping into the DC spotlight this summer, both onstage and behind the scenes. The actor is directing the one-man show Bright Colors and Bold Patterns at Studio Theatre and starring in the title role of Hamlet at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Free for All.”
Fresh off organizing a queer theater festival for Pride in New York, Urie chatted with Washingtonian about marriage equality, Hamlet’s relevance in the Trump era, and why he prefers Washington audiences over Manhattan’s.
What do you hope audiences take away from this production of Hamlet?
There’s something very topical about Hamlet. There’s quite a bit of politics in it, and I think they’ll ring true, this idea that there’s a new leader in Denmark that is very different from the former beloved leader. We’re not trying to make any correlations—we are simply telling a story of a major regime change, and being this much further into our own regime change has definitely influenced us [as actors].
So it’s newly relevant to this moment?
I think it’s always good to look back at Shakespeare because he was so ahead of his time, obviously. He was able to identify complex human emotions in such a simple way, and that’s why we still do it. Why do we weather the whips and scorns of time? That’s something anybody could understand. When you think about Washington, DC, right now and the work that everybody in Washington is doing, and the kinds of whips and scorns being thrown at them by the current administration and the world, watching Shakespeare and watching the dilemma of a man thrust into a new regime is fascinating.
How do DC audiences compare to New York’s?
In New York, people who frequent the theater see a lot of theater, and it’s almost like part of their work—it’s kind of a job. Here, of course, there’s a major theater scene, but the patrons are not necessarily a part of that scene—they do other things. So they’re coming to escape their lives, and they’re really able to shut off their lives and focus on a play. You can watch somebody else’s crazy life for a few hours.
Bright Colors and Bold Patterns was a critical darling in New York. How did you get involved?[Playwright Drew Droege] is an old friend of mine, really an old friend of my partner, Ryan [Spahn]. He was doing a show at Ars Nova once and said we should come. I thought it was going to be sketch comedy or improv or something like that, and it was Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, all done with a couple of chairs, beach towels, and a margarita. I watched him create this whole world of a backyard patio in Palm Springs. I thought, “This isn’t just a comedy show—this is a play, and I think I can help him make it one.”
How did it come to Washington?
David Muse, the artistic director at Studio Theatre, saw it in New York with Jeff Hiller at the SoHo Playhouse and reached out to us about doing it down here. Hopefully, it’ll mean lots of people will see this thought-provoking, funny play about what it means to be a gay man now in a post-marriage-equality world. This is where marriage equality happened, thanks to the Supreme Court and that one vote.
Bright Colors really examines this. It’s a long history of gay people not being able to be married. The next generation of gay people coming up, they’re going to grow up with those dreams—dreams of being husbands. But for a generation of gay people, that was not on the table. So it wasn’t part of their fantasies and their dreams. That’s sort of what Bright Colors is about: still wanting to be who we were and not wanting the fact that marriage equality is rightfully legal to change that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.