The actor Paul Morella has been on stage for his whole life, though in the early years, his platforms rarely came with the traditional proscenium arch and wings.
As the eldest child of former Rep. Constance A. Morella, young Paul made frequent campaign appearances that included a script of sorts. ("Elect my mother," he would tell potential voters, "and get her off the streets.")
In theater and politics, private lives are exposed for a public viewing. Performers in both arenas are taught to look natural while hitting their marks.
"Growing up in a political family was not without its challenges, because a lot of family moments morphed into political moments," Morella said. "There were holidays where we were being filmed, or a reporter would be there. I've always been fascinated by the synergy between theater, politics and the law."
The 55-year-old Morella is a longtime fixture on the Washington theater scene. He has acted for three decades to critical acclaim at such prestigious venues as Signature Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theater, and, in particular, at the Olney Theatre Center.
But tonight is only the second time that Morella has performed in Baltimore. He takes the stage in Everyman Theatre's production of Steven Dietz' bittersweet comedy, "Shooting Star."
Morella portrays Reed, a businessman with a BlackBerry stuck in an airport during a blizzard. While waiting for flights to resume, he runs into his college sweetheart, Elena, now a middle-age bohemian.
Morella has excelled in roles as varied as Ebenezer Scrooge, Clarence Darrow and Communist-hunting attorney Roy Cohn. But the quintessential Morella character is more akin to Reed — an ordinary middle-class man who hides depths of complexity beneath an underlying decency and desire to please.
"Shooting Star" will reunite Morella and Everyman ensemble member Deborah Hazlett, who plays Elena. So surefire is their onstage chemistry, you'd swear the two had performed together for at least a decade. But this is only their third show together.
"As soon as we secured the rights to 'Shooting Star,' it was crucial for me to get these two particular actors," says Vincent Lancisi, Everyman's artistic director.
"They're both highly intelligent and inquisitive. They have interpretive skills beyond the ordinary, and they're very detail-oriented. Not a moment happens on stage that isn't carefully planned out. But it always looks and feels spontaneous."
Morella and Hazlett make an attractive stage couple, and they're even good-looking in a similar way — tall, slender and fine-boned, with sensitive mouths and large, expressive eyes.
Indeed, the camera seems to like Morella's looks. He has performed bit parts on television in "The Wire," "Homicide: Life on the Streets" and "America's Most Wanted." His big-screen credits include appearances in "The Replacements" and "The Pelican Brief" starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.
But Morella's performing genes don't come just from his mother. His father, Anthony J. Morella, is a trial attorney who knows a thing or two about presenting himself before a jury; he defended Watergate Judge John J. Sirica during his constitutional clash with President Richard M. Nixon.
And, from Morella's college debut in "Equus," he's had a large, ready-made audience to cheer him on.
In the mid-1970s, Tony and Connie Morella adopted six siblings after the children's mother, Connie Morella's sister, died of cancer. The couple already had three children, including Paul, the eldest.
So remarkable was the situation that the family was profiled in "From This Day Forward," the 2001 book by Steve and Cokie Roberts that examined American marriages.
"I don't think my parents ever thought twice about taking in my cousins," Paul Morella says. "There was never any question about what they would do."
Still, visits home from college could be crowded; occasionally, Paul bunked beneath an air-conditioning unit.
Perhaps as a way of ensuring himself privacy, he began jogging about seven miles a day. He ran last winter, when Baltimore was buried in nearly 80 inches of snow, and he ran last summer, when the mercury topped 100 degrees.
In fact, the last time that Morella missed a day of running was Nov. 9, 1980 — more than 30 years ago.
"There's a whole Zenlike meditation about it," Morella says, adding that his workouts complement his approach to acting. "There's a discipline about it that I find helpful, because I have to do it every day. Both are ongoing voyages without a destination. The journey within rather than the journey without — that's what I find so fascinating."
If you go
"Shooting Star" runs through Feb. 20 at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St. Tickets cost $10-$42. Call 410-752-2208 or go to everymantheatre.org.