- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

For actor Adam Dannheisser, the role of a wild, know-it-all bartender in the touring production of the Tony Award-winning show "Contact" was not too difficult to master.

He had worked at a bar to put himself through graduate school and met the woman he would later marry at a bar.

Mr. Dannheisser plays dual roles in "Contact," first as a Mafia man with a short fuse who makes his wife cower into her plate and then the bartender. He also does some voices in the dance musical, which plays at the National Theatre through March 16.

While relishing the opportunity to play two such distinct roles, Mr. Dannheisser, 31, found that playing an abusive husband was initially daunting.

"It's hard to get past the idea of being the bad guy, especially when you can see that the audience dislikes you," he says. "But I'm not a bad guy in real life, so it was only after I allowed myself to act like one, that the role become a lot of fun to play."

Mr. Dannheisser, who grew up in Columbia, Md., has been acting since he was a child. Raised by divorced journalists Nancy Dunne and Ralph Dannheisser, the actor says he and his older sister, Leah, were always encouraged to appreciate the arts. As a child, he admired famous comedians.

"I always looked up to Chevy Chase, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams," Mr. Dannheisser says. "I connected with them because they were funny, and I always wanted to be funny."

He says young people in Columbia were involved mainly in two activities, soccer and theater. After being cut from the soccer team, he began his involvement with the Columbia School of Theatrical Arts, the same place well-known actor Ed Norton began his career. Mr. Dannheisser performed in more than 20 plays in four years at the school, and it was there that he developed his passion for acting.

After graduating from Howard County's Centennial High School in 1988, Mr. Dannheisser attended the Hart School of Music at Hartford University in Connecticut for one year. He then transferred to the Boston Conservatory of Music, where he remained a musical-theater major before graduating in 1992.

He moved to New York to pursue acting after deciding that wearing dance-belts was more than he could endure. Encouraged by a professor, he attended the graduate acting program at New York University.

Mr. Dannheisser took to bartending at a popular New York bar during graduate school. While working there, he was set up on a blind date with actress Jennifer West, whom he would later marry.

"[A mutual friend] left a message on my answering machine saying that he had found my future wife, and that I should go out and buy a ring," Mr. Dannheisser says. "Six years later, the same friend sang at our wedding."

Miss West, also 31, is a member of the ensemble of the Broadway musical "Oklahoma." Although the couple owns an apartment in Brooklyn, touring with "Contact" means that Mr. Dannheisser is rarely home. He says that being apart from his wife is the most difficult part about his job.

"We have a three-week rule," he says. "So, if it's been over three weeks that we haven't seen each other, one of us gets on a plane and visits the other."

After graduating from NYU, he dabbled in both television and theater, scoring small roles in television shows such as "Law and Order," "Sex and the City" and "Mad About You."

He also performed in the Broadway renditions of "The Tempest," with "Star Trek" actor Patrick Stewart; "Twelfth Night," with Helen Hunt; and "Macbeth," with Alec Baldwin and Angela Bassett.

He was understudying a role in the play "Proof" on Broadway, when he auditioned for "Contact." After seeing one of his friends, a member of the Broadway cast, perform the dual roles, Mr. Dannheisser felt confident that he fit the mold of what the casting directors wanted. Once offered the part, he grabbed the opportunity and began touring with the musical almost immediately.

Months later, he has become accustomed to the daily routine that he must follow. After all, performing a 2½-hour musical eight times a week is no small feat.

But for Mr. Dannheisser, performing at the National Theater holds a special significance, because it is the same theater that he came to as a child, to watch plays with his family.

Mr. Dannheisser, who will tour with the "Contact" cast for the next three months, is looking forward to future performances that will take him to Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois.

"I love touring it's an adventure. I'm seeing the country and doing what I love to do," he says. "What could be better than that?"

WHAT: "Contact"

WHEN: 8 p.m. today and Monday through next Saturday, 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, and 2 p.m. today, tomorrow and next Saturday. Performance added for 2 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

TICKETS: $35 to $75

PHONE: 800/447-7400

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