PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marian Seldes

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Marian Seldes She enters on a word and gesture from Brian Murray. "Woman," he says, points to a doorway to the left of the stage and there she is. Marian Seldes, a true grand dame of the theatre, never played the classical roles she yearned for in her youth - instead she launched a career of new work, strewn with accolades and awards. Among them: induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame for diverse credits including The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, Equus and Deathtrap; two Obies (The Ginger Man, Isadora Duncan); two Tony nominations (Father's Day, Ring Around the Moon— for the former, she took home a Drama Desk Award); and a Tony Award for her performance as Julia in the 1966 premiere of A Delicate Balance. Balance was not her first brush with Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Albee. She understudied Alice in the much-maligned original production of Tiny Alice and later went on to star in Three Tall Women Off-Broadway. Nor will her current role as Woman in The Play About the Baby be her last—at least not if Seldes has anything to do with it.
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Photo by Photo by Aubrey Reuben

She enters on a word and gesture from Brian Murray. "Woman," he says, points to a doorway to the left of the stage and there she is. Marian Seldes, a true grand dame of the theatre, never played the classical roles she yearned for in her youth - instead she launched a career of new work, strewn with accolades and awards. Among them: induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame for diverse credits including The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, Equus and Deathtrap; two Obies (The Ginger Man, Isadora Duncan); two Tony nominations (Father's Day, Ring Around the Moon— for the former, she took home a Drama Desk Award); and a Tony Award for her performance as Julia in the 1966 premiere of A Delicate Balance. Balance was not her first brush with Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Albee. She understudied Alice in the much-maligned original production of Tiny Alice and later went on to star in Three Tall Women Off-Broadway. Nor will her current role as Woman in The Play About the Baby be her last—at least not if Seldes has anything to do with it.

Playbill On-Line: When I first spoke to Edward Albee and David Esbjornson about The Play About the Baby the first thing they said was this Play About the Baby is going to be different from anything that's been done with the play before. How is it different from your previous experience with the play in Houston?
Marian Seldes: It is definitely different. I feel like a beginner— and when I realized I felt that way I was so happy. This is different. Edward was the director in Houston, now we have David. But we still have Edward here with us. So, it's not a different show; it's the evolution of the play. It's a step forward, a step further into it. The audience, the shape of the theatre—everything is working towards making the play more of what Edward wrote.

PBOL: I saw the play in Houston and am looking forward to seeing it again here in New York.
MS: You'll see that everything is different, I think. I hope! I feel differently about the play. They've guided me and shown me other ways to play it. It makes me feel that I'm 18 and starting my career.

PBOL: Tell me about working with your partner in the piece - "Man."
MS: Brian Murray. I can't say enough about him. I love working with him and to work with him twice in one year! [Murray and Seldes appeared at Playwrights Horizons in The Butterfly Collection last fall.] He is so charming and has the nature of the character [of Man]. He has the major role in the play and the major contribution.

PBOL: And he's your third "Man," after Earle Hyman, who collapsed during a performance of Baby in Houston, and James Belcher, who replaced him.
MS: Well, you see, when we did it in Houston, Earle fell ill after the second performance, so in a sense, everything we did in Houston was like rehearsal. The actor who played it was marvelous, but he never rehearsed. He just got into the part. But this is starting from the beginning, all of us together and all of the exploration, the trying different things we couldn't possibly do in Houston. PBOL: You've talked much about this new exploration. Has the meaning of the play changed for you? When we first talked, you said The Play About the Baby was about the loss of innocence. Is it still that for you?
MS: I still feel that. But I feel differently about the character now. Speaking from what I do, with the cruelty that goes on — we're the perpetrators of that awfulness and that makes [Man and Woman] more terrifying. I admire this play a great deal. And you know, they say his next play, The Goat, or Sylvia, is even more wonderful. I'm going to get a copy. [Laughs] I could play the goat! [Laughs] You know, I was told by the person who read it "There isn't a role for you." I said that was absolutely the last thing on my mind. I would pick up a scrap of paper from a restaurant table if Edward had written his name on it.

PBOL: It's too bad there's no role for you in The Goat. You've been a good luck charm for Albee — A Delicate Balance, Three Tall Women...
MS: And here we are and I can't think of anything but the word "success" for this play. Still, I try not to think about it. When you're doing something you believe in, you just do it. But I'm extremely curious how the critics will react. I think it's a great burden on critics, Albee's work. I think they really have to do their work, instead of just report on an Albee play. With Tiny Alice, Edward was really vindicated by [the Second Stage revival's reviews]. He was so aware of its reception.

PBOL: Who is your favorite person working in theatre today?
MS: I would say Edward because of the situation. For me it is always the playwright. If you'd asked me during The Butterfly Collection, I would have said Theresa Rebeck. My love of theatre is really based on my love of writing. The performing and everything is just extra joy. But if you don't have a good play or a play you really love to do, then where are you? You're just treading water, flying around in the clouds.

PBOL: You've had a spectacular career, but can you look back and see any role you missed that you still wish you could have played?
MS: There are hundreds. To go back to playwrights, I wanted to play everything in Chekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare and Moliere. That's what drew me to the theatre — and that's what I felt I would do. But through all the years of my career, I never got the chance.

— By Christine Ehren