The Divine Sean Hayes

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Tuesday March 15, 2016
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Sean Hayes has the title role in the Broadway comedy <i>An<br>Act of God</i> coming to the Golden Gate<br>Theatre. Photo: Jim Cox
Sean Hayes has the title role in the Broadway comedy An
Act of God
coming to the Golden Gate
Theatre. Photo: Jim Cox

The publicist appeared at the door, signaling that it was time to wrap up the interview. But Sean Hayes asked for a few minutes more. He wanted to return to a subject we had discussed and seemingly moved on from. "I just wanted to make sure I get everything about that other thing," he said, explaining the extension. "We were on a roll there."

Hayes was in town promoting his upcoming run in An Act of God that begins performances on March 29 at the Golden Gate Theatre. In David Javerbaum's comedy, seen on Broadway last year with Jim Parsons in the title role, Hayes plays God, or more precisely, God appears to us in the form of Sean Hayes to deliver a replacement set of the 10 Commandments. "You know what's funny," God tells the audience. "Sean doesn't even know he's here."

Hayes had talked about the appeal of the play, a laugh-out-loud comedy with poignant underpinnings, when the topic of his early reluctance to identify as a gay man came up " leading him to ask for more interview time. "I think when you're young and under the spotlight, you do stupid things because of fear," he said. "I've said publicly in other interviews that I apologize to the gay community for not coming out sooner. I'm trying to be a better human being now. I was just scared."

Sean Hayes, left, poses with his Will & Grace co-stars Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, and Megan Mullally. Photo: Courtesy NBC

Hayes, now 45, was still in his 20s, with one indie film and a few commercials on his resume, when he was cast as the lovably ditsy, flamboyantly gay, wannabe actor Jack McFarland on Will & Grace. That the sitcom's lead male character, Will Truman (played by the quietly straight Eric McCormack), was also an out-gay man, and a successful lawyer at that, gave the series breakthrough status when it debuted in 1998. Running for eight seasons, often at the top of the ratings, it was inevitable that Hayes would face "are you or aren't you?" questions about being gay himself.

"The great thing that came out of that is now I recognize I should have, and can still, do more," he said. "I do things in my way, and one of the things I do, which I never did before, is talk about being married to a man [music producer Scott Icenogle]. I talk about it on talk shows, and I shoot funny videos with my husband. Even just talking about this now with you is part of the journey."

There were complaints from the gay community when he declined to discuss his orientation, and there were complaints when he finally did. "Lots of people were mean because it wasn't on their terms. 'How dare he take so long,' or, 'He's doing it now because he needs to promote something.' I'm always promoting something every fucking week of the year."

An Act of God is something he is cheerfully promoting. When Hayes' agent told him that director Joe Mantello and playwright David Javerbaum were interested in him playing the role in a production for Los Angeles and San Francisco, he started reading the script. "I didn't get to see the play on Broadway, but after I read just five or six pages, I said, 'I'm in.' I love that it's approaching the topic of religion, all religions, under the umbrella of humor. It's not preaching anything or telling you what you should or shouldn't believe. It's first and foremost a comedy."

Javerbaum, who has written for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, began what became An Act of God as a series of tweets that he then compiled into a book. But the play is not just a collection of quips. "There is a narrative here to mold," Hayes said, "so we had to find the right levels and colors of the piece. It's not just silly. It's super-smart. On every page you get sideswiped by, like, 'I never thought about it that way before.'"

Sean Hayes married music producer Scott Icenogle in 2014, after an eight-year courtship. Photo: Courtesy Sean Hayes

For most of his career, Hayes has been wrapped up in television, both as a performer and more recently as a producer through Hazy Mills Productions of such shows as Grimm, Hot in Cleveland, and the NBC sitcom Crowded, which debuted just this week. Hazy Mills is also working on a screen adaptation of Avenue Q.

Tied to television production for so many years, Hayes' stage work has been much more limited. He did co-star with Kristen Chenoweth in a 2010 Broadway revival of Promises, Promises, and of course, he was playing to live studio audiences through 194 episodes of Will & Grace. As Hayes explains it, it became something of a wonderful grind.

"It was one of the greatest experiences of my entire life, but you are stuck, because you have a contract where you must play this character, and they have their vision for it, and you're hired to follow their vision," he said. "After awhile, I think the character became a silly fop. I felt myself growing, but not the character growing."

His production company was also behind Sean Saves the World, which gave Hayes his first title role on a TV series in 2013, but which was canceled after just 13 episodes had aired. "It was kind of a conflict of visions," Hayes said, quick to acknowledge the sitcom's shortcomings even though the show was built as a vehicle for his talents. Would he do another sitcom? "Oh, no, no, no, not as long as I live. But never say never."

And never does he blame an audience for not getting it. "The audience is never wrong," Hayes said. "The audience's only job is to be entertained, and we're supposed to figure out the rest for them."

 

An Act of God will run March 29-April 17 at the Golden Gate Theatre. Tickets are $45-$150. Call (888) 746-1799 of go to shnsf.com.