At 24, Adi Stein has graced the stages of The Kennedy Center, Studio Theatre and Imagination Stage – and he continues to make his rounds in the D.C. theater scene, currently appearing in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage. An American University graduate, the Cleveland Park resident dabbles in writing and directing, but the acting bug has been with him since he was a kid. Stein talked to WJW about his first major stage role out of school, his acting genes and tagging along for a day with the cast of Veep.
You’re involved in The Shoplifters at Arena Stage. What can you tell us about the play’s premise and the character you portray?
The piece is about these two women who get caught trying to steal these very expensive steaks from a large grocery store. I play one of the security guards, Dom, who catches them. I’m young, I’m very new, I’ve only been on the job for, like, seven hours. I’m very eager and excited and enthusiastic that I’ve made this big catch. The other security guard is about to retire and he’s more in the mind of “who cares. It’s a couple steaks, who really cares?”
What attracted you to the role of Dom?
Well for starters, it’s a role at Arena Stage. I really love the work they do there, and it’s a really fantastic theater. On top of that, it’s a world premiere. You rarely see a world premiere given this kind of high-quality production. Combined with the fact that it’s a comedy, which is even more rare for world premieres now. I really love doing comedies; it’s where I feel most at home. This character is really interesting and complicated. Dom has a very dark past. He’s trying to do his best to make it through life at such a young age. Getting to play with the comedy and with the fact that he’s complicated, that’s exciting.
The artists I’m working with are outrageously talented. I’m working with Jayne Houdyshell, a multiple Tony nominee. I’m working with Delaney Williams, who has been on television shows like The Wire, The West Wing and [Law & Order:] SVU. Jenna Sokolowski is a great D.C. talent. And then Morris Panych, the writer and director, is someone whose work I really admire. The opportunity to work with him so closely helped create this character.
What’s the first major stage role you landed?
I was in a production of Annie Baker’s Body Awareness, which was at Theater J a couple years ago. I got cast in that production right out of school, which was incredibly exciting for me. It was a very complicated character. This 18-year-old kid named Jared, who’s trying to come to grips with his sexuality. He struggles with that and the fact that he has Asperger’s and that his mother has recently come out. I was lucky to have that so early in my career.
Why did you want to become an actor?
It’s the only thing I think I’m good at [laughs]. I tried other things and I’m not very good at anything else.
That can’t be true.
I appreciate your confidence in me [laughs]. More importantly, it’s something that’s been in my family. My grandmother was in theater, and my grandfather was a musician. I never knew him but my grandmother, Sonia, passed away several years ago. She was always so supportive and one of my main inspirations. When I was in middle school, I was in a feature film. One of the proudest moments she ever had was being on set with me in Chicago and seeing everything. I think about her all the time. She’s pretty much the reason I do this.
Was acting a gateway to writing and directing?
Yeah. I’ve been acting for much longer than I’ve been writing and directing. Acting was a more realistic goal for me because I have more experience at it, and I think I’m a little better at it. I’ve picked up directing more and more because I’ve had opportunities to assist some really great people in D.C. I’ve directed interesting pieces in the Capital Fringe Festival and The Source Festival. In regards to writing, it’s important to my career. It’s more personal for me, and I’m more interested in workshopping it and having it grow.
You tagged along on set with the cast of Veep for a day. How was that?
It was a lot of fun. There are a lot of D.C. actors in Veep and House of Cards because they shoot in Baltimore. It’s more local than California. I saw someone post something on Facebook, I commented and he set me up with Pat Moran, the casting person. I love that show, and I love House of Cards. I love how they use D.C. actors. My beginnings were in film and television. I say “my beginnings” like I’m 73 years old. I’m 24. I started acting when I was in elementary and middle school, I was doing a lot of film, television and commercial work. In many ways, that’s more of my home than theater.
What upcoming projects are you working on?
My next project is Cherokee, a play by Lisa D’Amour, which will be at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. That starts rehearsals in a couple months. I’m also writing more and workshopping some pieces I have. That’s it for the more immediate future. As an artist, you’re always constantly trying to find new work and more work.