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'Rock' star for Buffalo He's hot, he's hilarious, and Alec Baldwin is coming here to promote our live theater

Alec Baldwin is everywhere.

After a period in which the actor's career seemed to be destined for a Mickey Rourke-like downward spiral, his friends Tina Fey and Lorne Michaels convinced Baldwin to star in a little NBC comedy called "30 Rock."

Two years into his role as the flagrantly self-centered network boss Jack Donaghy, he's racked up an Emmy, two Golden Globes and the sort of cult-hero following Borat would kill for. Last weekend, he hosted "Saturday Night Live" for the 14th time.

And now, as if to prove that his talents know no geographical bounds, Baldwin is coming to Buffalo.

On Saturday, Baldwin will perform in a staged reading of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" to raise money for the Buffalo theater company Road Less Traveled Productions. It will be his second visit to the area to help the young company, whose artistic director, Scott Behrend, met Baldwin during an assistant-directing stint on a 2005 Broadway production of "Entertaining Mr. Sloane."

And Baldwin, a veteran of the stage, is nothing if not loyal to his friends. That's why the guy who gets dozens of pitches a week for film roles, event appearances and favors of every sort has made time to appear in the very off-off-Broadway venue of Rockwell Hall.

"I love Scott," Baldwin said in a phone interview last week. "He's a good guy, he's a decent guy, he's all about the presentation. He's all about bringing what he loves to the community. I'm always wanting to support people like that."

You also get the sense that Baldwin, an outspoken critic of the film and television industries in which he primarily works, would jump at any chance to get up on a stage, where broadcast deadlines and nagging commercial pressures are a million miles away. ("When you do films," he said, "you always feel the hand in your throat of the commerce of the whole thing.") Baldwin has called stage acting one of the two most relaxing and fulfilling experiences he knows. The other, according to a September profile in the New Yorker, is piloting his boat.

"The theater is important because, and I don't mean just revivals, but new material," -- Road Less Traveled Productions's bread and butter -- "to give people an alternative to commercial culture," Baldwin said.

"I work for a commercial culture. I work for a network. It doesn't get any more commercial than that. We struggle every day to produce a TV show that shows now 21 minutes. It's nine minutes of commercials."

He added: "If we had one minute of that back, it would have an unbelievable impact on the quality of the program."

In theater, to Baldwin's delight, there are no commercials. Just an intermission -- probably the only part of the theatrical experience that doesn't match up with his seemingly boundless appetite for new action and ideas. When, for instance, he was informed that Buffalo has been without its regional theater, Studio Arena, for the better part of a year, he immediately suggested installing Behrend as the bankrupt institution's new leader.

"The importance of [companies] like Road Less Traveled is for people like Behrend to cut their teeth, so that when things happen to your other theater company, you've got a stock of people that are ready to take over," Baldwin said. "I mean, Buffalo's a big town. It's not, you know, Utica. Buffalo is a big town and it deserves to have an off-Broadway space."

For his part, Behrend said, "I'm very flattered that Alec would put me in that sort of light, but I'm very happy right now building Road Less Traveled Productions to a new place in the Buffalo community." And now, with the institution still riddled with debt in a plunging economy, the prospect of anyone taking it over in the near future looks grim.

Road Less Traveled has been doing quite well to raise its local profile on its own account, by bringing in actors like Baldwin, playwright and actor Eric Bogosian and, in May, the stage and film actor James Rebhorn.

For local actor Brian Misliwy, who will appear onstage with Baldwin along with fellow Buffalonian Kelly Jakiel, the chance to act in Baldwin's company was an offer he couldn't refuse.

"There absolutely couldn't be anyone hotter right now," said Misliwy, who's still riding high on the success of his tour de force performance in the Irish Classical Theatre Company's "The Servant of Two Masters" last year. "And of course, if we can get folks revved up about coming out to see an event or an evening of live theater and know that it's going to be quality and that everybody involved is going to give it their all, that certainly can't hurt anything."

Asked if he had any concerns about working with Buffalo actors he hasn't met before, Baldwin answered in a defiantly Baldwinian manner -- he said "no" 11 times in a row.

"[If] I'd come up there and it was Scott and a bunch of his buddies and it had this kind of 'Wayne's World' feel to it ... and it was something more seat-of-the-pants, then I would never have come back," Baldwin said of his 2006 visit, when he performed a reading of Yasmina Reza's play "Art" at Babeville. "I really, really enjoyed it. And let's face it, it's about relationships. It made Scott happy."

At that point in the interview, Baldwin, who was in a car heading downtown in Manhattan, excused himself. A car door slammed. Baldwin's voice could then be heard saying, "What's your problem? You gotta slow down, [expletive]!" The door slammed again. Baldwin apologized for the interruption.

"We have this guy in front of us, he almost hit a horse and the carriage," said Baldwin. "He's such a jerk!"

The actor got a bad rap for an enraged voicemail he left for his daughter in 2007, a stigma he joked about on last week's "Saturday Night Live" by referencing Christian Bale's more recent rant.

In this case, however, it was clear that Baldwin was only acting out of concern for the people around him. And that, in a sense, speaks to his task in coming to Buffalo to play Mamet's character Bobby Gould, an unscrupulous movie producer who tosses around a fair share of expletives himself.

The point of Baldwin's visit, said Jakiel, who will read the part of Karen, whom Gould attempts to seduce, is in highlighting the talents and treasures of Buffalo's theater scene.

"The fact that Alec Baldwin has done this before and was willing and enthusiastic to do it again I think speaks very highly for the kind of community that we already have in Buffalo," Jakiel said. "And I hope this will call a little more attention to it."

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW

Alec Baldwin, Brian Misliwy and Kelly Jakiel perform a staged reading of David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" at 8 p.m. Saturday in Rockwell Hall, 1300 Elmwood Ave.

Tickets: $40 and $55.

For information, call 878-3005 or visit roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

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