For all her film work ("Light Sleeper," "Exit to Eden," "Tombstone") and TV movie credits ("Wild Palms," "A Promise to Keep"), Dana Delany remains best known for one television series: "China Beach," for which she received two Best Actress Emmy Awards and which allowed her to work steadily on small and large screens for the past decade. But TV can be a fickle medium (as well as a cool one), and a pilot Delany did this season didn't get picked up.
With the summer free and the desire to act intact, Delany received the script for Donald Margulies' Pulitzer-Prize winning comedy, Dinner With Friends. The timing and the role were ideal, so on June 13 Delany joins the Dinner quartet at the Variety Arts Theatre, taking over for original castmember Lisa Emery. The last time Delany was on a New York stage was in a moderately well-received mounting of Brian Friel's Translations, opposite Brian Dennehy, Donal Donnelly, Rufus Sewell and Michael Cumpsty.
PLAYBILL ON-LINE: Welcome back to New York. For how long?
Dana Delany: Just three months, until Sept. 7. I live in L.A., and I'm so enjoying being in New York. I know people bemoan the commercialization here... But I love riding the subway. I just think it's the greatest thing. So easy and fast. I love being able to look at people and faces. We're so isolated in our cars in L.A., You don't see people up close. I don't think it's healthy. There's a certain rage that comes from being behind your windshield all the time. Because everyone has to live so closely together in New York, there's a real solicitousness. People are quite polite to each other.
PBOL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know. But seriously, is there something special about doing theatre, as opposed to TV or film?
DD: Well, with television you get tired of the machinations of deal-making and the networks... But I really have no preference between film and theater-TV. They all require different muscles, and it's fun to keep in shape for all those media.
Jane Alexander once told me that television had been very good to her. At the time I thought, I'm never doing television, ugh.' But for me it's been a great medium, and a great medium for women. I think that's changing, unfortunately. More and more it's a youth medium, much more than it used to be. The networks are scrambling for audiences.
Still, I'm now getting into producing movies for TV. I enjoy developing material. I have two upcoming projects, both based on books: "Final Jeopardy," based on Linda Fairstein's writings (she's a sex-crime prosecutor who writes novels), and "Deja Dead" by Kathy Reichs (a forensic anthropologist). I'm working with another producer, and we find the writer and develop the script. We'll pick the director and sell it to the network. I'll star in them also.
PBOL: Back to theatre though... Do you remember the first live show you ever saw?>
DD: Oh yes, it was The Sound of Music on Broadway. Carol Lawrence was in it. And the second was Oliver! directed by Peter Coe, who directed me in A Life.
I loved musical theatre; I memorized every word of those scores. Which is why I am so looking forward to seeing The Music Man. I like to sing, and I did musical theatre in school -- I played Nellie in South Pacific -- but I don't consider myself a professional singer. I did sing on the "China Beach" album, a song called "Far From Home." PBOL: You mentioned A Life, which was your first Broadway show as an actress. Good experience?
DD: Well, I was 24 years old, and it was the first thing I'd done since summer stock. I can't say I really knew what I was doing, but I got my feet wet. I'd come from an undergraduate degree in liberal arts at Wesleyan University and then took private classes in New York. I studied with Gina Barnett (through Ensemble Studio Theatre), who was very solid Meisner technique.
PBOL: And after A Life?
DD: I did a show called Bloodmoon by Nicholas Kazan Off Broadway. They took it to L.A., and I went with it and ended up staying there. I remember one amazing experience. At the end of this Greek tragedy-type drama, I feed an aborted fetus to the man who raped me. It's in the manicotti. At the end, I address the audience, and I say, "Am I a monster?" One night, a woman in the front row said, "YES!" My next line was again, "Was I a monster?" She again said, "Yes!" In the rest of the speech, I justify what I did, and believe me, that night, I justified it so well. Anyway, I came offstage and said to the other actor, "Was that Julie Harris???" The next week I got a note from Julie Harris apologizing for speaking out. She was just so taken with it. Oddly enough, I did "Housesitter" with her years later, and she mentioned this horrific play she'd seen years ago, and I reminded her, "I was in that!"
PBOL: Well, there is a lot of food preparation in Dinner With Friends, though nothing quite so...exotic. Does the play or your character (the one who stays married) strike a particular chord with you?
DD: Anybody in their 40s can relate to the play. I've never been married, so I don't have that connection. What hits home is the whole "being halfway through life and looking at what's left, and looking back.' The mortality thing. What did I do with my life? Was I right? You look back and go, "was I kidding myself there?" There are certainly things in my life that I regret.
PBOL: That said, the best advice you've ever gotten?
DD: Trust your instincts.
-- By David Lefkowitz