A Matter of Control

A Matter of Control Like her character in James Lapine's Fran's Bed, Mia Farrow has faced life's uncertainties
Mia Farrow
Mia Farrow

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With about a month to go before the opening of James Lapine's Fran's Bed at Playwrights Horizons, Mia Farrow still doesn't know if she will be speaking the same lines as when the piece was done two years ago at New Haven's Long Wharf or performed as a reading at Martha's Vineyard one year later.

"I've not seen the newest script. James told me not to refresh my mind as to how we did it before. Which is kind of terrifying," the star of the show says over the phone from her home in Connecticut.

Well, as the title character, Fran Dalton, will she still be comatose and incommunicable to everyone except herself, in that hospital bed in Florida, with her husband and two grown daughters sweating out the inevitable?

"I don't even know that, and I've been on board since the beginning. It's a great adventure, still evolving. Just the memorizing is a factor. I'm not 20 anymore. That's a little scary," says the actress who 50 movies ago made her first appearance on screen in "John Paul Jones," directed by her father, John Farrow, in 1959, when she was 14. Over another phone playwright-director Lapine confirms that yes, Fran Dalton is still in that hospital bed, but that the Terri Schiavo case, which hit the headlines long after he'd first started writing Fran's Bed, is not what the play is about. "It's not an issues play," he says. "What interests me is how we control or don't control our lives, and the lives of others, particularly within a family."

Be that as it may, it seems fair to ask what Farrow felt about the Terri Schiavo case.

"Well, one was very confused... It passed through my mind that maybe the vegetable state wasn't so bad. When you looked at her face, she looked quite happy. One's thought was: 'Maybe it's not so bad. Maybe I don't want them to pull the plug. Maybe it's a kind of peace,'" says the fragile-looking, ultra-feminine star whose tempestuous life and times have rocketed from John Farrow to Frank Sinatra to André Previn to Woody Allen and other points known and unknown.

"The sensible thing is to say, 'No, it's not a great way to be kept alive.' But you can't be sure. I don't know," she says with emphasis, almost with heat, "never having been there myself. My mother [actress Maureen O'Sullivan] died quite suddenly, at 87, in a hospital where they operated on one of her blocked carotid arteries and then said, 'Let's get the other one while we're at it.' And she died within 24 hours. At least she didn't linger. Me? I had peritonitis and almost died in my twenties. I was in a London hospital for six weeks. And I did have polio as a kid [age nine], which was not as serious, oddly enough."

What's truest about Fran's Bed is, she feels, its complexity. "God knows," says the one-time Allison Mackenzie of "Peyton Place," the Rosemary of Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby," "God knows life is not simple."