“Yes, it was my Broadway debut, but in my body, and in my mind, and in my experience, I had been working,” says Carmen Cusack on her Tony-nominated turn in last season’s short-lived bluegrass musical Bright Star. Having played leading roles since the age of 23, mainly in the West End, it may have been a debut, but far from her first time in the spotlight.
When it came time for her Main Stem bow, the actor
says she “ felt so lucky that this opportunity came along when I felt at peace, and I felt comfortable in my own skin. I felt confident with my choices, so I was able to collaborate with the likes of [writers] Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, and all these legends. It didn’t blow my mind to the point of [running] away from it.”
She adds that being part of the show was “a wonderful and inspiring experience,” despite being a shorter-than-hoped run. “When we get to the rollercoaster ride [and] the bouquet of Tonys, for me, I don’t feel like it was a failure. I still feel like it was such a success in my mind’s eye. I didn’t think it was going to close as soon as it did after the Tonys—that was a little bit of a shocker—but in saying that, it was a magnificent ride, and we rode that wave. I still feel like we’re floating from it.”
This time around, though, Cusack is scared. She’s starring in the world premiere of Do This. In fact, she’s the only one starring. The piece by Karen Siff Exkorn is a one-person play about a mother’s journey with her two-year-old son on the autism spectrum.
“As soon as I read the script, it scared me, and that’s when I knew…” Cusack says. “It excited me because I really connected to the script, but it scared the heck out of me, and I thought, ‘Well, that means you have to do it.’ I think I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I have to do everything that I’m scared of because you’re not going to learn anything if you don’t, so you just have to dive in the deep end and see if you can swim. I’m still doing that.”
Cusack related closely to Do This, described as celebrating “the trials and triumphs of the human spirit and the resilience of the human soul,” as she has two nieces (ages 16 and 12) on the autism spectrum.
“You really are going on a rollercoaster ride with this woman,” she says. “It’s encouraging, and it’s devastating in moments, but it’s also fascinating.”
Between Bright Star’s closing and Do This’ opening (January 7 at Florida’s Gulfshore Playhouse), Cusack performed at Feinstein’s/54 Below—the only other time she tackled a solo show. “That scared the living daylights out of me,” she admits. “Who wants to sit and look at my face for freakin’ 70 minutes? What am I going to be that’s so special to listen to or to learn about? I sit in my body, and I don’t think I’m that interesting.
“You get all those little doubts and little demons that say, ‘Who do you think you are? What makes you so special that people would want to listen to what you have to say for 90 minutes?’” she says of Do This. “But, luckily, I didn’t write the play.
“It was a page-turner,” she adds. “I couldn’t put it down, so I’m hoping that I can bring those pages to life in the way that I saw them in my head.”