Meredith Forlenza, currently playing a gifted quarterback on an all-male high-school football team in the Off-Broadway world premiere of Julia Brownell's All-American, has a confession: Despite the passes, catches and football gear that she displays in the LCT3 production at The Duke on 42nd Street, she's no jock.
"My friends who I grew up with who are seeing this find this hilarious because when I was growing up I was horrible at sports," Forlenza told Playbill.com. "I dreaded gym class, I hated sports, I didn't understand how they worked. I was very uncoordinated because in sixth grade I grew six inches in one year, and so I had a couple years of not knowing how to use my limbs. I used to get made fun of in gym class for running like a chicken, Oh, my God! I dreaded, dreaded gym."
Echoing the sports scandal that rocked Broadway in 2010, when actor Keith Nobbs admitted that he read "Football for Dummies" to prepare for the role of a learned sports reporter in Lombardi, Forlenza said, "I never understood football because it just seemed to me like they blow the whistle and everybody falls down and then it's over. Actually, when I got the audition I had to look up what a quarterback was because I thought it was the biggest guy on the team, and then when I realized what it actually was, I was like, 'Oh, O.K., this makes a lot more sense.' Because when I first got the audition, I was like, 'Really guys?' I said to my agents, 'Do I look like a football player?' But, it was so fun to prepare."
She added, "I kind of loved that I knew nothing about it going in because [director] Evan [Cabnet] was so excited to teach me about it, and two of the other actors, C.J. Wilson and Brock Harris, who play my dad and [fellow player] Jake Myers, they played football, so they were amazing about teaching me. Brock taught me how to throw, and C.J. and I would throw the ball around before rehearsal, after rehearsal, during breaks." She also revealed that she bought "Football for Dummies." She confessed, "It was incredibly helpful."
Forlenza also watched a lot of football in preparation for her role in the family comedy-drama, which continues to Nov. 19 as part of Lincoln Center Theater's LCT3 program that gives voice to new plays by emerging writers, while encouraging a new generation of theatregoer (tickets are $20).
Is Forlenza a football convert because of All-American?
"Now, I love it," she said. "I'm excited to have gotten this little gift from this show. Now I think it's one of the coolest things: How epic it is, and exciting." She added with a laugh, "Now that I understand what's happening, I'm a big fan."
In rehearsal, did Forlenza find that her throwing arm was getting a little sore?
"It was, yes," she said. "Once I got the role, I started working out. I had to look like an athlete, and it was really important to Evan and I that people who actually played football or knew the game very well would believe that I actually played — that I wasn't just a little actress attempting to throw the ball around." A wordless pre-show onstage warm-up between father and daughter was expanded just before opening night. "We added — and it was successful, knock on wood — longer throws where we are across the stage from each other to make it believable right away that I actually know what I'm doing."
So far, the 2011-12 New York City theatre season has been good for Forlenza. Following her work in Itamar Moses' Completeness at Playwrights Horizons, All-American marks her second appearance in a new play Off-Broadway. (She was an understudy in the world premiere of A Behanding in Spokane on Broadway in 2010.)
"My only experience in New York has been with brand new plays, and I love it," Forlenza said. "It's very thrilling to feel like your voice is contributing to what will be the finished product. It's exciting that no one else has done it before, it's a role that no one else has played. I feel very lucky to be affecting the work. [Itamar Moses] and Julia are pretty amazing up-and-coming voices for American theatre."
What's next after the final touchdown of All-American?
"I don't have something coming up yet," she said, "but I feel very excited for whatever comes next. This is the first time that I've ever not been panicked that I don't know what's next. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm very excited to see what does come next. I love the things I've done this year and feel very lucky to have had the year I've had."
For more information about LCT3, visit LincolnCenterTheater.
Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.