Bill Buell's cheeks were pink, his curly light brown hair wind-blown and his expressive hazel eyes bright with satisfaction and contentment.
"I just got back from Alta," he said, a peaceful smile curling on his lips. "It is the greatest snow on earth."
His wife, Katie La Bourdette, took off after their 11-month-old son, Charlie, who was scooting across the Pioneer Memorial Theater lobby. "This is the fun part," she said, looking back over her shoulder. "It's really more like a vacation than working."But "work" is what brought Buell and La Bourdette to Salt Lake City, where they both have joined fellow New York City-based actors John Guerrasio and Nick Bakay in the cast of Pioneer Theatre Company's acclaimed production of the 1940s comedy "Room Service," which concludes its run this week.
For Buell, a rubber-faced actor with Broadway and off-Broadway productions of "Big River," "Annie" and "Quartermaine's Terms" on his list of credits, this is the second time PTC's New York City casting director has convinced him to make the trek from Broadway's Big Time to Salt Lake City's Little Time. Earlier this season he delighted audiences as Moonface Martin in "Anything Goes."
"To tell you the truth, I was a little worried coming out here the first time," Buell said, lounging with his New York colleagues in the PMT lobby. "A lot of times when you work in a regional theater you have to deal with a lot of provincialism and some pretty tough working conditions.
"But I've been very pleasantly surprised," he continued. "There's a broader base of talent to work with here than you'd think, and the facilities are excellent."
In fact, he said, the theater itself was like a dream come true. "Coming out here, I didn't know what to expect," Buell said. "But I had this dream. Ideally, I was hoping that there would be this big, majestic theater on a hill with big trees all around it. When I saw this place I thought, `Yep, this is the place."'
Funny - a lot of folks say that when they first get to this valley.
Still, you have to wonder what would bring experienced actors like these so far off-off-off-off-Broadway.
"You don't do it to make a buck," said Bakay, "because the reality of this business is you don't make a buck. You survive."
So why did he decide to leave his wife in New York for six weeks to perform in Salt Lake?
"It was a chance to act in a real comedy in a big theater with a big proscenium stage," said Bakay, who is making his first appearance on PMT's Lees Main Stage. "It seems like all of the big regional theaters these days have thrust stages like the Guthrie Theatre. You just don't get to act on a big proscenium stage like this very often."
Guerrasio, who has become something of a regular at PTC with recent appearances in "Amadeus," "Noises Off," "Charley's Aunt" and "The Man Who Came To Dinner," says the main attraction for him is "getting to play the parts Chuck (PTC artistic director Charles Morey) has offered me. I mean, these are terrific roles."
La Bourdette's character in "Room Service," Hilda Manney, isn't quite as challenging as the roles her male counterparts are playing. But that's OK, because that wasn't the main reason she accepted the part. "This is the first time my husband and I have had a chance to work together," she said, "and it's the first time I've been back on stage since Charlie was born. I just wanted to do something light and easy and fun - and that's just what this has been."
Of course, "fun" wasn't on the agenda much during the first few weeks of the actors' six-week stay, because they spent most of their time in rehearsal or working lines. "This was the most grueling rehearsal period of my life," said Buell, whose character, Gordon Miller, is involved in all but about three pages of John Murray and Allen Boretz's script. "It's been a real challenge to be the engine that drives the play."
But now that the show is running and the actors have their days free, it really does turn into more of a vacation for them.
"We try to get out and do something or see something new every day," said Buell. Added La Bourdette: "We've enjoyed exploring Utah with our kids. And sure, sometimes we just lay around and watch TV. It's been very relaxing that way."
Guerrasio said he's seen all the local sites on his previous visits to Salt Lake, so he brings creative projects to work on during his free time. Ditto Bakay, who has been doing some writing in his role as a contributing editor for The National Lampoon magazine - in between visits to the gym.
And it isn't just the time and the trips to ski resorts that makes working in Utah so popular with these actors. It has been a success for them aesthetically, too.
"When you're in New York you have so many things to deal with every day," said Bakay. "While you're here you can really focus on your work."
Actors also grow, said Guerrasio, by being exposed to different people and cultures. And actors always learn from performing for different audiences.
"The Salt Lake audience feels a little older than most," said Bakay.
"But it's a smart, fun audience," La Bourdette interjected.
"Better than Syracuse," said Guerrasio.
"Or Atlanta," said Bakay. "Have you ever worked Atlanta? Tough audience."
As enjoyable as the actors have found their stay in Utah, however, they all admit to missing certain things about New York. For Guerrasio it's the vibrant, 24-hour New York City street life ("If you could just have a little more of New York downtown and keep this theater up here it would be perfect," he said). Bakay misses his wife ("Me, too," quipped Guerrasio) and La Bourdette misses her friends. And Buell says he just plain misses New York.
"New York is so fast-paced, so energetic," he said. "Utah is so . . . so . . . mellow. It's a nice change for awhile, but I get tired of it. I always look forward to going home."
"And then," Guerrasio added, "coming back."