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Originally published Saturday, September 4, 2010 at 7:05 PM

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Lauded Broadway actor Daniel Breaker joins Intiman cast of 'A Doctor in Spite of Himself'

Seattle, meet Daniel Breaker, the celebrated actor who makes his debut in Molière's "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" at Intiman Theatre — a stage outfit that happens to be run by Breaker's wife, Kate Whoriskey.

Seattle Times theater critic

Theater preview

'A Doctor in Spite of Himself'

Previews Tuesday-Saturday, opens Sunday and runs through Oct. 10, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center; $10-$61 (206-269-1900 or www.intiman.org).
Theater preview

'A Doctor in Spite of Himself'

Previews Tuesday-Saturday, opens Sunday and runs through Oct. 10, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center; $10-$61 (206-269-1900 or www.intiman.org).

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He's a devoted father, a classical-music freak and "closeted conductor," a gourmet cook who whips up eight-course dinners for his wife's birthday. Oh yes, and he's also an acclaimed actor and Tony Award nominee who is equally at home in the classics, Broadway musicals and edgy modern plays.

Daniel Breaker, meet Seattle. Seattle, meet Daniel Breaker.

Maybe this will be the start of a long relationship, given that Breaker has arrived here with his wife, Kate Whoriskey, new artistic director of Intiman Theatre, and their young son. Who knows?

But at least for the time being, the well-lauded actor is among us, and on the cusp of making his Seattle stage debut as the top scamp in Intiman's new production of a Molière romp, "A Doctor in Spite of Himself."

This would incite anticipation in any event, given the rep that precedes the exuberant 30-year old Breaker. A shining star at Washington, D.C.'s The Shakespeare Theatre, particularly prized for his comedic savvy, Breaker is also known for his laugh-grabbing recent turn as Donkey in the Broadway musical "Shrek the Musical." (Note: He joined the cast in New York, after the show's Seattle world premiere.)

And Breaker was the charismatic lead in Broadway's "Passing Strange," an offbeat rock musical about a young African American's globe-trotting search for himself. It won Breaker a Tony nod, and lots of screen time in the film of the show directed by Spike Lee.

An Army brat who grew up in Germany, Illinois, Kansas, Florida and other locales, Breaker is new to the Northwest. But several months after relocating here from New York City, he seems high on the place.

Compact and wiry, with strikingly wide eyes and a mobile face, he expresses enthusiasm in an interview over coffee. "My thing is always to do something I've never done before, so I was excited to come here. Now that we have a child, things have changed, and what matters to me most is that he sleeps well here, he eats amazing food and it all just feels healthier."

And for himself? "The country here is majestic, lush, really lovely. But this also feels like an environment where you can do good work, and take some artistic risks."

To that end, Breaker is happy to be connecting with the local actors (Don Darryl Rivera, Chelsey Rives, Ashley Marshall and others) in Intiman's gag-laden version of "A Doctor in Spite of Himself."

"I feel like I've been welcomed into this community," Breaker reports. And while it's no surprise his first gig here is at Intiman, he adds, "Hopefully I'll branch out and do more at other theaters here, too."

Respected commedia expert Christopher Bayes, director and co-adaptor (with Steven Epp) of the Intiman show, says he was eager to have Breaker play Sganarelle, a woodcutter who becomes embroiled in passing himself off as a doctor to gullible "patients."

"First of all, I love Daniel," comments Bayes, a former teacher of Breaker's at the prestigious Juilliard School. "He is ferociously playful, deeply talented and relentlessly inventive. ...

"On top of being a hilarious comic actor, he also is a beautiful singer and understands how to use his physicality with great abandon and precision."

Bayes' admiration is echoed in a sheaf of reviews of Breaker's work, and in my own experience watching him skillfully, hilariously cavort through several New York shows.

The youngest of four children, Breaker got into theater initially "as a way of hiding. Traveling a lot as a kid, I didn't have many real friends. So rather than taking a risk with people, playing a character was easier. The constants in my life as a kid were family, music and theater."

Breaker performed in school shows, including "West Side Story." A teacher at his magnet high school for the arts in Jacksonville, Fla., urged him to try for a coveted spot in the acting program at Juilliard.

"I think I got in because I didn't know how important Juilliard was when I auditioned," he says with a laugh. "I wasn't so nervous."

Once enrolled, he happily discovered "my first love in the theater, which isn't really comedy, but Shakespeare, the Bard."

After graduation, he "hit the ground running," and his versatility won him work Off Broadway and in regional theater very quickly — including a stint in a show he calls "A Christmas Carol, the Opera."

Soon he was snagging major roles at D.C.'s The Shakespeare Theatre — Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Dromio in "The Comedy of Errors." Ariel in Whoriskey's mounting of "The Tempest."

Asked about his passion for Shakespeare, Breaker muses, "Why do people love Beethoven? And Mozart? There's a depth, a connection to emotionality, a poetry, a musicality ... where do you begin?"

Before he played Ariel for his up-and-coming director wife ("In that show I was suspended in the air the entire time"), Breaker acted in the Whoriskey-staged, 2004 Off Broadway run of "Fabulation" by Lynn Nottage, author of the recent Intiman hit "Ruined."

"That's when we met, and we just loved working together," he recalls. "I got really interested in Kate, and came on like a Casanova — I kept asking her out. And she kept saying, 'I don't date actors!' "

Breaker finally wooed Whoriskey into taking a "whirlwind trip" to Europe and "that's where we fell in love." They married, and Whoriskey, now 40, gave birth to their son, Rory, two years ago.

Just weeks after Rory's birth, Breaker was hired to play Donkey in "Shrek the Musical" which was "great timing. It paid well and also let me stay home and be with my son."

And moving to Seattle, he says, "was the best thing for our family."

Is he bothered by the specter of nepotism while working at Intiman? He shrugs. "I'm not worried about it. All I can do is focus on my work. It's my only job."

Breaker's main task in "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" is to keep people chortling. He describes the show as "a blend of commedia, music, clowning, vaudeville, a little bit of silent movie — but it's modern. Chris just keeps helping us find the funny."

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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