For Tony Nominee Linda Lavin, Every Time's the Charm

News   For Tony Nominee Linda Lavin, Every Time's the Charm Tony Award winner Linda Lavin has had her pick of choice roles for women the past two seasons, shedding one character for the next as she progressed to the role of Rita Lyons, the driven family matriarch of Nicky Silver's emotional comedy The Lyons, which opened on Broadway April 23.

Linda Lavin
Linda Lavin

Lavin originated the role of acerbic alcoholic aunt Sylda in Jon Robin Baitz's intense family drama Other Desert Cities Off-Broadway in winter 2011, departing the production to take on the role of "Broadway Baby" belter Hattie Walker in the Kennedy Center revival of the Stephen Sondheim-William Goldman musical Follies in Washington, D.C. last summer.

Both productions subsequently made their way to Broadway without Lavin – Judith Light would slip into Other Desert Cities at the Booth Theatre and Jayne Houdyshell would plant her feet center stage at the Marquis Theatre in Follies' return to Broadway. Light and Houdyshell both earned 2012 Tony Award nominations for their work in the choice roles.

In the meantime, Lavin was honing her performance in The Lyons, which played an acclaimed Off-Broadway debut at the Vineyard Theatre last fall and arrived on Broadway this spring at the Cort Theatre. Critics singled out Lavin's performance, which was also recognized with a 2012 Tony nomination. It marks her fifth Tony nomination, not including her win for Broadway Bound in 1987. 

Visit Lavin's page on the Playbill Vault.

Not many roles have passed you by this season. You truly had your pick, and clearly the Tony committee thought so, too; everyone who played the roles you did were nominated!
Linda Lavin: They picked me! I'll tell you, the truth is, I've been lucky. There have been some great roles written for women lately and I'm lucky to have this new Nicky Silver play to be playing every day. I just love this character and this play... These are great parts and great actresses playing these parts. Judith Light and Jayne Houdyshell, how great is that? I'm just thrilled to be invited to this party, to be anointed into this crowd, and this group of auspicious, talented, seasoned and young performers.

Lavin in The Lyons
photo by Carol Rosegg

In many ways you are the seen and unseen driving force within The Lyons. Having read the script, I was fascinated to see how much you took these words and filled this character out to the margin of the page, physically and vocally. 
LL: Well, that's perhaps a combination of me and Mark Brokaw, who's a magnificent director and I trust him implicitly. He's very, very smart. He feels things deeply and encourages me to do the same. Nicky's writing is a combination of tragedy, comedy, high drama and deep pain all in one moment. It's kind of how I see life, how I like to express it. It's why I do it this way. If somebody else were playing the part, they would do it their way, but I see her as somebody who's trying to control a situation that's uncontrollable.

I understand this woman and it's kind of who I am, as far as understanding her is concerned. I wouldn't play every character this way, and certainly I don't, but she's somebody who is very busy – she's busy in her thinking, she's busy with her body, she's busy with her future, she's busy remembering the past. So it keeps me on my toes.

All of the roles you've played over the past year are very different. What keeps you hungry as an actor? Is there a moment when you look at the script that makes you say, "Yes"? 
LL: Absolutely. When I read this script, I got to about page four and I knew I had to start reading it out loud because it moved me. She moved me to want to jump off the page with her. When I got to her act one monologue, where she gets to express what's really, really going on, then I knew that this was a great writer whose work I had to experiment with. I had to find myself in this woman and find this woman in me. She is not me, I am not her, but she reminds me of a lot of women I've known.

It rings true for audiences, too.
LL: Yes, I heard an audience member over the loudspeaker say, "Well, this is everyone in my family and myself." People are willing to go there. You can hear it in the laughter. They identify, they know these people. Nicky writes that fully, that precisely and that fundamentally accurately. He has an ear for truth. I gotta be in that play and I gotta do that part.

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