That show was the 2001 revival of the farce Noises Off, and Finneran was Brooke Ashton, a dim actress whose small scraps of clothing included a contact lens which kept slipping out of her eye. Finneran is back on Broadway in Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius and she's far from a dummy this time around. Her character, Mary, is a philatelist — that is, a stamp collector — in possession of a valuable collection of old stamps that once belonged to her grandfather. Her wishes to preserve the collection clash with those of her younger half-sister Jackie (Alison Pill) who wants to sell them to the highest bidder, and two men who desperately want to buy them. Finneran talked to Playbill.com about putting her stamp on this latest role.
Playbill.com: How did Mauritius come to you?
Katie Finneran: I was in the midst of a lot of television and things are a little more arduous out there in terms of getting a job and tap-dancing for people. I just got a phone call and they said that Theresa and [director] Doug [Hughes] would really like you to do this play.
Playbill.com: Have you ever worked with Theresa Rebeck before?
KF: Never. But I've seen Bad Dates and loved it. The thing I loved about it was it was so funny and so intimate and inviting into that world, and it was just the actress on stage, Julie White. I could remember a lot of the play, which is very unusual for me. There was this whole world going on in my head.
Playbill.com: Have you ever known anything about stamps before this?
KF: Not a clue!
Playbill.com: Your character is the one who actually owns the book of valuable stamps. What do you think of her?
KF: She's just someone who has low self-confidence and has tried all her life to find an identity for herself. And once she finds a tie into her past that is good [the stamps], she wants to hold onto it as much as she can no matter what. I think she's definitely an unhappy person. She tries to wear the right clothes and do the right things and say the right the things and be happy. But she's just kind of miserable inside. And once she finds that link to a happy past, there's no way she's going to let that go. Playbill.com: I was talking to Theresa earlier and she said something to the effect that she thought your character and the stamp expert Phillip were the bad guys, which surprised me. There are some pretty shady types in this play. What do you think of that comment?
KF: Well, Jackie [the younger half-sister of Finneran's character] is our hero. We are Jackie. The audience is Jackie. [Mary and Phillip] are not the people you like the most in the play.
Playbill.com: Do you think Mary and Phillip are as devious as the other characters?
KF: I don't think my character is devious at all! I think they're my stamps and I think Jackie was wrong to take them. I think there's nothing wrong with my character! Phillip and Mary love stamps. We have a great reverence for stamps. And I think that's perfectly legitimate and valid and right.
Playbill.com: The second act is one extended scene featuring all five characters and plays like a long, fast toboggan slide downhill. Is it hard for you and the cast to keep that top spinning?
KF: Actually, I prefer that. It makes you feel like you're really telling a story together and that there's this trajectory and you're heading toward the end. It makes it exhilarating to play. There's no down time. You can't really think about your grocery list. (Laughs) You have to focus to make it play. You can't fake that. If there's any kind of pause, it loses its steam.
Playbill.com: I hear the cast took a field trip to a philatelist society.
KF: It was fantastic! What I realized with all those guys — women were really a minority there — watching them talking about stamps — they had stamp jokes and stamp stories and they corrected each other and they had opinions and they laughed and argued and fought. And I realized it's exactly like actors talking about their plays and talking about who was the best Cleopatra and the best Medea. It was exactly the same.
Playbill.com: Have any of them come to see the play yet?
KF: One guy came who I didn't meet. That night, I said "1857" instead of "1847" [about the date of a stamp], and the man stopped Alison Pill outside the stage door. She asked, "What did you think?" And he said, "You got the dates wrong. It was 1847, not 1857." (Laughs)