Actress Laurie Metcalf has had the opportunity to do many things during her long tenure as an ensemble member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
Two things she hasn't gotten the chance do are: play a Neil Simon character and act in rep. Metcalf will do both for the first time this fall on Broadway, playing the matriarch in Simon's autobiographical comedies Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound. The landmark enterprise at the Nederlander Theatre is being directed by a fellow Chicagoan David Cromer. Metcalf talked to Playbill.com about Simon, Broadway, Steppenwolf and what her middle name isn't.
Playbill.com: How did this project come your way?
Laurie Melcalf: I got a call to read the plays together, and I heard they were doing them in rep, which was really intriguing to me.
Playbill.com: Have you ever done anything like that before?
LM: I've never done rep, no. I don't think it's done too much anymore. It's unusual. It's also probably weirdly expensive. So I read them back to back. I didn't know the plays, which was inexcusable. Playbill.com: You'd never seen them?
LM: I'd never seen them. I'd always heard about them my whole life.
Playbill.com: Have you had any experience doing Neil Simon?
LM: No, never.
Playbill.com: He's not really the kind of playwright who's done at Steppenwolf that often, is he?
LM: Well, we haven't done him. But having worked on the shows now, they're so deep and rich and a real joy to work on. It's the kind of work I like to do because it bounces back from comedy to drama, sometimes within a line.
Playbill.com: Have you had to rehearse both at the same time?
LM: Oh, yes. We're in previews for Brighton Beach right now and I'm just about to head off to rehearsal for Broadway Bound. So the rehearsal period has been intense. It's much more difficult that I anticipated.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
Playbill.com: How did you put yourself in the period? Did you draw on things your parents had told you, perhaps?
LM: I did have to speak to people. Luckily, I was able to find a couple of people who had grown up right in the Brighton Beach area, and were Jewish. One explained to me that her mother was very much like my character. Another told me it was definitely his grandmother. They gave me insight into the community and the history of the immigrants there. And the fact that Neil was in the rehearsal room talking about his family was all really beneficial. Playbill.com: Do you find the plays very different, or are they of a piece?
LM: They're....both. The tone is very different between them, and yet they complement each other. I don't think they're usually done together like this.
Playbill.com: Your director, David Cromer, is from Chicago, too. Do you feel there's a Chicago vibe running through the production?
LM: (Laughs) I don't know.
Playbill.com: Or does it feel like a Broadway enterprise?
LM: I'm not that familiar with the Broadway....
Playbill.com: You've been here a couple times.
LM: Yeah. Barely, yeah. I guess it's a good mix of both.
Playbill.com: Is your middle name really Ophelia?
LM: No. No. That's on IMDB. Somebody put it there.
Playbill.com: It's also on Wikipedia.
LM: Oh, it is? I just never bothered to change it. No, it's not. It's Elizabeth.
Playbill.com: I thought perhaps your profession was pre-ordained.
LM: Oh, no. My profession is about as far away from growing up in southern Illinois as you can get. No one would have thought to name me Ophelia, that's guaranteed.
Playbill.com: I thought it might be the far-reaching influence of your great aunt, the early-20th-century novelist and playwright Zoe Akins.
LM: Right. But no.
Playbill.com: You family didn't sit around the dining room table talking about how wonderful she was?
LM: No. No one in my immediate family knew her. I've just seen pictures of her in some kind of fur cape. Anyone from the era looks imposing and striking. She lived out somewhere in Pasadena, which was too magnificent to imagine.