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Suddenly, Last Summer

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Jen Danby
January 7, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Actor (and I am also the Founder and Artistic Director of Mississippi Mud Productions).

What is your show about?
A girl loves a boy, her cousin, who is gay, and sees him murdered in Spain last summer, and she rants about it and is put in a mental hospital, and now his mother wants to protect her dead son and so tries to bribe a psycho-surgeon who works at a New Orleans mental hospital in need of funds to perform a lobotomy on the girl, but the doctor is torn and gives her a truth serum, and so this is a love story for everybody about what happened suddenly, last summer.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in Southampton, Long Island, New York. I was raised on Eastern Long Island in a Hamlet called Wading River. I went to school at The University of Texas at Austin for my undergraduate training in drama and acting, and then C.W. Post School of Visual and Performing Arts for my Master's acting training in the Tadashi Suzuki and Stanislavski methods. I also did graduate work at CUNY Graduate Center to earn my Ph.D. in Theatre with a focus on Acting Studies and helped found the Active Theatre Group there, and we'd put on readings and plays. I can't get enough of acting. So my schooling was a "Renaissance" approach to actor training. I also studied with Austin Pendleton, Anne Jackson, Mark Blum, and Helen Gallagher, all at HB Studio, as well as Olympia Dukakis and Alexandra Neil. In Austin, Tx., I studied with Jeff Corey and Gabriel Folse in Film. All wonderful teachers.

What was the last show you saw that really excited you, and why?
IVANOV directed by Austin Pendleton at CSC. I may be biased because I work with Austin (smile), but objectively, this show astounded and moved me. This "mutt" of a Chekhov play, an early work, is a powerful sensory study of what we now understand as depression. And there was light and dark in it, as there is in Chekhov. What I loved so much was that the performances, from Ethan Hawkes's lead to all of the players, were vulnerable and their needs were alive and acute. The ensemble playing was brave and give and take. The directing, set, all the elements, all the textures, brought the play to life. I loved it. I can't stop thinking about it.

Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
Kissing Austin Pendleton after he injects me with Truth Serum. Both of us in character, of course. You have to see it. Austin is an actor whisperer as a beloved friend of his acutely said, and he is a great kisser. Even my spouse thinks it is a hot moment.

Which famous New Jerseyite would like your show the best: Snooki, Bruce Springsteen, Thomas Edison?
Bruce Springsteen because it is "Born to Run": "In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway american dream / At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines / Sprung from cages out on highway 9,/ Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin out over the line / Baby this town rips the bones from your back / Its a death trap, its a suicide rap / We gotta get out while were young / `cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run." Tennessee Williams knew how to Rock n Roll. He was a Mississippi Boy, he got the blues, he got Elvis, he got jazz, he got it all. Bruce, a Jersey Boy, gets all of that too.

Who are your heroes?
Marlon Brando, Kim Stanley, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, I like all these Method actors. Also Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, Gena Rowlands, Laura Linney, actress Jennifer Jones who I was named after by my mother and father, and so many others. A hero outside of acting is my Southern ancestor Joshua Speed, who wrote letters to Abraham Lincoln his best friend and roommate for four years about everything from women, to marriage, to ethics of political systems, to a good night out, and to slavery and emancipation. It was a turbulent time and they were in the fire of that. Joshua later wrote a book about traveling in America and the deep South and the Civil War and cultural changes. He found a way to value the beauty of what he grew up in but recognize the things that needed to change for true liberty. I think it's brave. And they knew how to kick back and have a bourbon and laugh at themselves and life and love. Heroes laugh and cry and have tenacity. To me heroes live deeply.