Family -- Onstage and Off

Family -- Onstage and Off ROSEMARY HARRIS IN DELICATE BALANCE

ROSEMARY HARRIS IN DELICATE BALANCE

While chatting on a movie set in Amsterdam last year, Paul Scofield asked Rosemary Harris, "Have you ever thought about doing A Delicate Balance?" A week later, Lincoln Center Theater offered Harris a leading role in its current Broadway revival (at the Plymouth Theatre) of Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. George Grizzard co-stars as Harris's husband, the role Scofield played opposite Katharine Hepburn in a 1973 film version of the play.

The coincidences don't end there. "George and I have done eight plays together over the years," notes Harris, including stints in The Seagull and Twelfth Night. And Harris says she vividly remembers Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in the original production of A Delicate Balance 30 years ago. "I can still see Jessica sitting on the sofa at that wonderful beginning of the play," Harris says with a smile. "I hope that somehow she's giving me her blessing."

Harris is delighted to be working directly with Edward Albee on a play exploring the bonds of friendship and family. "It's a huge privilege because he is one of America's greatest playwrights. As I told Gerry [director Gerald Gutierrez], I look forward to talking with Edward about his punctuation and orchestrations. Each playwright writes to a different melody, but nearly every play I do is about love. In this play everybody loves everybody else, though things aren't always as they seem. It's a play with a lot of layers and perspectives, which is what makes it so fascinating."

More than 40 years have passed since the British-born Harris arrived in New York for her Broadway debut in Climate of Eden. "On the day my boat came in, all the lights on Broadway were dipped because Gertrude Lawrence had died," she recalls. "In my mind's eye Broadway was very, very glamorous then. There were theatre stars in those days." These days, actors often complain about a lack of good roles, but Rosemary Harris has had a more pleasant problem: figuring out how to juggle all the challenging work coming her way. Since leaving the Broadway revival of An Inspector Calls, Harris played Hecuba in a London production of The Trojan Women and Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman for the BBC, then co-starred with Scofield in the Disney Channel movie The Little Riders. Meanwhile, her husband John Ehle, adapted his novel The Journey of August King for Miramax Films, and their daughter Jennifer won raves for playing Elizabeth Bennet in the recent miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice.

"We've all been tremendously busy, but we manage to hang in together," Harris says. "Our base camp is Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where we wash our clothes and dump our books before heading out again. I always say that home is wherever John and Jennifer are." Aware of the career sacrifices Harris willingly made when Jennifer was young, Ehle now accompanies his wife to London, New York and movie sets around the world. "John has said, 'Go for it,'" reports Harris in her impeccably cultured tone. "Eventually I'll have to stop, but at the moment work is coming thick and fast."