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Judd Hirsch on acting as listening

Judd Hirsch is familiar to a lot of Americans, mostly because he played good guy "Alex" on the triple-Emmy-winning sitcom "Taxi" from 1978-83, part of an impressive cast that included Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and enigmatic Andy Kaufman as "Latka."

Now his life involves touring coast-to-coast in the three-man play "Art."

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"I love the stage an awful lot," Hirsch told an eager pack of theater writers this week in Boston, where "Art" will open next month.

But unlike most theater, where actors take cues on how to adjust their performances from audience reaction, this comedy works best, he says, if the audience thinks it's eavesdropping. "You cannot admit [the audience] is there," which is quite a challenge, says Hirsch, who's won Broadway's Tony Award twice.

"Art," a play about a man who buys an expensive abstract painting and then gets into an argument with his two best friends about its value, includes extensive monologues. How does Hirsch stay involved while he's not speaking for long periods?

Carol Channing, he says, once visited the show backstage after a performance, and said to her companions, "Do you see how they listen? And they never say a word. That's acting!"

Listening onstage "is a very difficult thing to do," Hirsch says. "It's an active listening.... I do think it feeds the audience, and it feeds the other actor.... In a movie, the camera's on you or not....

"In a play, they're going to watch whatever they want. Some will hear, some will see - some will be looking at the drapes!"

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