BERKELEY -- Danny Scheie is hungry and dressed head-to-toe in olive green as he arrives for lunch during a break from rehearsals of "Troublemaker," a world-premiere play opening this week at Berkeley Rep.
His sedate attire is a rare sighting: typically, the 52-year-old actor and respected theater director is gracing -- or rather, kidnapping the spotlight on -- Bay Area stages as a flamboyantly costumed, frolicking, comedic character.
"I was brought on late to this wild, comic book play -- and I'm generations too old," he explains, describing his role as "a seventh grade post-correctional Nazi-bully."
The "off-the-wall" idea of cavorting with "the coolest, hot (stuff), young New York" actors pleases him.
"I think taboos -- I get excited with playing around with those. In life, I like to follow laws," he says. "But on stage, I think breaking rules means we see things we've never seen before."
Audiences and critics have a long standing love affair with Scheie's artistic anarchy. His three-hat professional life means he appears regularly with California Shakespeare Theater, frequently directs Shakespeare Santa Cruz productions and is a professor of drama at UC Santa Cruz.
"When I came here, Cal and Stanford were the only places with a heavy directing PhD. I was the first wave of postmodern, queer, deconstructionist Shakespeareanists," he says. "People think I have a gay agenda, but as a director, what I try to do is not
Scheie says his teaching job is his way of "forcing this capitalistic system to support the arts." Laughing delightedly, he suggests bulldozing Stanford and private prep schools and forcing everyone to attend public schools.
"The arts would be funded and actors wouldn't be unable to feed themselves. It would fix everything," he exclaims.
Directing and teaching are his "dharma," he decides, causing another burst of laughter, at the end of which he gasps, "Oh my god, I got to use 'dharma' in an interview."
On some level, every moment with Scheie is a performance, every chosen word a cause for celebration. He spouts paragraphs, then pauses to ask, "How's that?" -- as if concerned about delivering "good stuff."
His boyish charm and instinctive propensity for finding the humor in dark subjects gains gravitas from his rough, Midwest childhood and a lifetime of following his heart, even to loss.
"I was a little gay kid in the '70s: I was tortured," he admits. "Anyone who says being popular doesn't matter -- don't believe them. Being popular is everything."
Scheie learned to be funny and when he stopped drinking in 1991, he committed to a more powerful drug.
"The acting buzz is like being licked by a puppy. It's immature, childish, but when it's clicking and you're at the top of your game, it's cloud nine."
Ironically, "Cloud Nine" is the Berkeley Rep production he played in during the year following the death of his former partner.
"I just kicked everything up a level. I got on the horse and kept riding it," Scheie says. "I love that you get wiser and expand as you get older. I've always followed love."
It's not all love-on-easy-street, he insists, saying directors like Cal Shake's Jon Moscone push him by being super strict.
"Jon builds a vehicle, a specific, confident well-made machine with platforms for freedom. You can get on top and do pirouettes and the machine will be fine."
His inner-dancer leads Scheie into ballet classes with 18-year old wonders at UC Santa Cruz and causes him to confess, "Oh yeah, I love all that assemblé and grand jeté and stuff."
Scheie and his husband Daric Wolkenhauer, a public high school English teacher, also love parrotlets (small parrots) and the San Francisco Giants.
"Parrots impress me with their consciousness. They're quite developed you know, full of personality and attitudes. That's why I became vegetarian: birds evolved me," Scheie claims.
The Giants are his current obsession.
"There's tons of orange and black gear everywhere in my home. It's fun -- and Giant devotion made me understand Homer's 'The Iliad,'" Scheie says.
"That desire to go into the other village and chop people into bits! Concrete heroes that cause people to cry! Now I get it," he finishes, pausing theatrically before ending with a flourish, "all because of the Giants."
To see a slide show of Danny Scheie and the cast of "Troublemaker," visit http://director.mercurynews.com/images.php?album=3324.