For Geneva Carr, a series of small chances have resulted in some monumental changes. And, the past year has been a whirlwind culmination of both of those.
Carr received her first Tony Award nomination for her Broadway debut in Robert Askins' play Hand to God, a relationship that began when Askins drew her name out of a hat. But prior to that fateful moment, Carr had made the monumental decision to pursue a career in acting — and quit the finance job she had spent her life working towards.
After attending Mount Holyoke College and ESCP before she began working selling derivatives, Carr was transferred to New York, where she happened to attend a performance of Lady on a Highwire at EST Theatre. That performance, given in a small, sixth-floor theatre and featuring Suzanne Shepherd, inspired Carr to quit her job and pursue a career in acting.
"I remember how powerful it [was] to sit a few feet away from people and watch them living and that they create an entire world in front of your eyes, and you're just witnessing it," Carr recalled. "I just hadn't really seen theatre to that extent, and I hadn't seen that so close. It moved me, and I thought, 'What the hell am I doing?' I don't know why I decided to quit a safe job and throw away an education and do this." At first, the transition seemed easy for Carr. She booked television jobs quickly and received her Equity card with a one-week performance of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow. Before her fortuitous meeting with Askins, Carr went on to appear in numerous regional and Off-Broadway productions, including The Vagina Monologues, Boise and Trevor.
Carr and Askins first met at EST's Youngblood writing company, an organization for writers under the age of 30. In another example of the fortuitous coincidences in Carr's life, Askins was 29 — just one year shy of aging out of the program — when he met Carr by drawing her name out of a hat.
"The first show I did [with Askins] was called Matthew and the Pastor's Wife," Carr said. "It was about a woman who is helping a man. He can't stop cheating on his wife, so she tries to help him as a preacher's wife. And when she realizes she can't make him stop being unfaithful, she seduces him, has sex with him onstage and sews his mouth shut onstage. That's Rob Askins for you."
Carr's relationship with Askins, as well as fellow Hand to God star Steven Boyer, progressed until Askins offered to write a play for the two of them. The result was the first reading of Hand to God, a subversive dark comedy about a Christian puppet ministry and its members, all of whom are suffering from various losses and burdens.
Carr plays Marjorie, a recently widowed mother of the troubled teenage boy Jason and a leader of a Christian puppet ministry. Their quiet suburban life is disrupted when Jason's puppet, Tyrone, appears to have taken on a life of its own, and his devilish impulses wreak havoc on Jason's relationships with his mother, his crush (Sarah Stiles), his classmate Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer) and his pastor (Marc Kudisch).
Throughout Carr's three-and-a-half years with the play, she has starred in workshops, showcases and an Off-Broadway production, resulting in her becoming intimately familiar with the show.
"So much of it is based on truth," she said. "Rob did lose his father at 14. His mother did start a Christian puppet ministry. And his Aunt Sally has promised to tell me how much of the play is true. That's what she told me opening night. I don't know what his mother's history is with teens, but I'm going to find out when it's all said and done."
As the small community of Hand to God is shaken by Tyrone's actions, Marjorie engages in a sexual relationship with Timothy — a surprising decision for a middle-aged Christian woman. The physical relationship between the two begins in a chaotic and action-filled scene where Marjorie is visibly shaken after Pastor Greg attempts to seduce her. "What's so amazing about that scene is I don't think that Marjorie is attracted to him," Carr said. "I don't think it even crosses her mind. She is so distraught after being hit on by the pastor and feeling at a loss. This teen, who is just basically trouble, comes in and somehow he riles her feathers so intensely that it awakens something in Marjorie. I don't think there's anything leading up to it. It's so immediate. He makes Marjorie so angry because he's everything that Jason isn't, and he just awakens this rage and this sexual desire she didn't even know she had."
Carr spoke highly of her scene partner, emphasizing the difference between his character and the actor's personality, saying, "He's very polite. He's a very good Christian boy. He's really, really respectful. He tries to throw my shirt open showing as little skin as possible. When I met his parents on opening night, they came and apologized to my husband. And he's so well behaved and kind and soft spoken."
Carr said she especially enjoys playing Marjorie due to the honest portrayal of the character's sexual desires — often a rare thing to be written for women over the age of 40.
"Rob believes women can be sexual. He said to me, 'I write for you because I don't think anyone's ever going to tame your sexual energy,'" Carr said. "Women are sexual. We're just like men. He just writes for older women, middle-aged women, who are still in the prime of everything. I feel that way. I'm in my mid-40s and for God's sake, the fact that I can have sex on stage and then get hit on by both guys in the play — I feel like I'm living large! It's not over by 30. It just starts!"
Carr emphasized how much she enjoys that Marjorie is an everywoman whose sexuality is not outwardly on display, adding, "I specifically said I don't want sexy fitted costumes. I want Wal-Mart and Target and the places that Marjorie can afford. I think Marjorie dresses very nicely for a mom, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have an unbridled sexuality that can be released. And I think that's important, too. I don't think you have to dress like a 25-year-old to be able to get it on, and that's what I love about Marjorie. She really is that age, she has a kid that age, but she still is a full human being trying to figure herself out."
Offstage, Carr's personal life has also changed greatly. She was recently married to an architect she met on OKCupid. But, she joked, she harbors a crush on her co-star, Tyrone.
"I have such a crush [on Tyrone]," she said. "We did these interviews early on and they asked, 'What’s your fantasy relationship?' and I said, 'Tyrone.'... Tyrone and I have a history together. He’s irrestible."
Carr also considers the play itself irresistible, which she attributes to how relatable the characters and story are.
"[Askins] can't make this stuff up," she said. "I think that's why people respond to it. It sounds so outlandish to people. And Northerners don't know there are such things as Christian puppet ministries. I'm from the South. We know them. It's so real. The story is so visceral and so real. If you've ever lost anyone, especially to addiction, you know these people. If you know a mother who's just trying to hang on by a thread and not fall apart for her son, you know these people."
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)
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