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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 3.0° F  Fair
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Public television gone rogue in Apartment 3A
Big Bird will die
Better send in those pledges.
Better send in those pledges.
Credit:Colm McCarthy

"I felt for a while that serious acting could only happen in New York and in Los Angeles," says Kamal Marayati. "And there is a lot of serious acting that goes on there. But you can do it here, too."

Marayati is a veteran of many television programs, including Desperate Housewives, Law & Order and 7th Heaven. Now he's making his Madison premiere in Strollers Theatre's production of Apartment 3A. Why would a Los Angeles Screen Actors Guild performer appear in rinkydink amateur theater?

"There's no such thing as rinkydink amateur theater," Marayati says, praising Strollers and his fellow performers.

Apartment 3A is the kind of serio-comic play he sinks his teeth into. It's by playwright-actor Jeff Daniels, star of The Purple Rose of Cairo and Dumb and Dumber.

The show is recommended for mature audiences. It's about Annie, a public television fundraiser whose life is falling apart. During a pledge drive she loses it on-air. "She decides to sort of go rogue and suggest to the children's audience of Sesame Street that if their parents don't send in donations, Big Bird is going to die," says director Tony Trout.

The play premiered at the venue Daniels founded, the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, Mich., in 1996. It's had two off-Broadway runs, and The New York Times said it was "written with wit, conviction and a real affection for its characters." A 10-week revival at Purple Rose just closed Dec. 20. Marayati plays Donald, a possible romantic interest for Annie.

Marayati was born in Baghdad. He moved to the United States as a child, and in 2004 came to Madison, where he's able to stay close to family. He works as a software engineer at Epic Systems Corp.

Trout happened to call him for the role the same day his latest L.A. gig fell through. Marayati was to reprise his part in Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes, which was a hit last summer in San Francisco.

"It was actually a very timely piece," he says. "It's about this Arab-American who is a serious actor. He does Hamlet and stuff. But his agent is trying to convince him to take on this big movie-time role that will make him famous. But the role is a terrorist."

Marayati laughs. "It's kind of the story of my life, actually."

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