PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Linda Lavin

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Linda Lavin
 
Actress Linda Lavin's first Tony Award nomination was in 1970 for Last of the Red Hot Lovers. And she was already a stage veteran by then.
Linda Lavin
Linda Lavin Photo by Joan Marcus

Lavin's fifth and more recent Tony nomination came on May 4, when she won a nod for her acclaimed work in the current Broadway revival of Donald Margulies' Collected Stories. This is the third time New York has seen Margulies' 1997 two-hander about a seemingly naive budding writer and her cult-legend literary mentor. But Lavin's got that number beat: this is the fourth time she's played the role. Which may explain why she plays it so well. Lavin talked to Playbill.com about what it was about the role that drew her back to the Broadway stage.

Playbill.com: How many times have you played this part?
Linda Lavin: This is the fourth time.

Playbill.com: You obviously love this character.
LL: I love this character. It's a very rare play in how beautifully written it is and how beautifully wrought it is. I love the dimensions of the character. I feel a great connection to the character. It's very hard to find great roles, as you know. And I find out more about her each time I do her. I started the play in Los Angeles at the Geffen. Then we made a film of it for PBS. Then I did it at a community theatre I own with my husband, Steve Bakunas, the Red Barn in North Carolina. He directed me in it three years ago. And each time it's a little different, because I'm a little different.

Playbill.com: Had someone at Manhattan Theatre Club seen you in one of these productions and offered to bring the play into New York?
LL: No, Lynne [Meadow, MTC's artistic director] had offered me this part 15 years when it was first done in New York. But I had just done the Lillian Hellman play Cakewalk, and I did not want to do another writer on top of that. So I declined. And I had just moved to Wilmington, NC, where I was beginning to teach and direct. It was a few years later that Gil Cates at the Geffen asked me to do it. Having done The Tale of the Allergist's Wife with Lynne ten years ago, we've been discussing opportunities to work together. We were talking a few months ago, and one of us said to the other, "What about Collected Stories?" I said, "I'd do it in a minute." I said, "Will you direct it?," and she said, "Yes." She said, "Will you come in the fall?" and I said, "No! I don't want to be in New York in the fall and winter. I want to be in New York in the spring." I love the theatre season in New York in the spring. I love all the parties and the events. You get to see people you haven't seen in a long time. You get to see all the theatre.

Linda Lavin in Collected Stories
photo by Joan Marcus

Playbill.com: Some of the reviews of Collected Stories commented on how you're very adept at playing New Yorkers, be it the writer in Collected Stories or the housewife in Allergist's Wife. What do you think is the key to playing someone who's lived in New York all their life?
LL: I don't know. I guess I connect with my own truth about that, because I've lived in New York most of my adult life. I don't attempt a conscious choice about it, but I know a lot of people think I come from New York. It has to do with a rhythm, a sound, a tempo in speech, an occasional accent. I have a very good ear, so I'm good with accents. There's a music in the language. Playbill.com: How do you go about choosing stage roles at this point in your career? What sort of part will coax you back to the stage?
LL: I choose them if they're roles that I feel I can connect to emotionally. When I read a play, I want to believe that person is true and real and funny and moving. A major criterion for me is to be moved to laugh and cry while I'm reading a play. I like most of all reading a play out loud. If I'm interested in a character's endeavor or passion in the first few pages, that's all active stuff and playable, and then I'm drawn to explore that character. If I start reading a play out load when I'm home reading it — that's what happened with The New Century, Paul Rudnick's play. Within the first two pages of this lengthy monologue that he wrote for this character, I started reading it out loud, sitting in my kitchen. I had to hear it. I knew I wanted to play that woman.

Playbill.com: What roles that you've played over your stage career do you count as your favorites?
LL: Well, certainly The Tale of the Allergist's Wife — that was powerful and energizing and exhausting, a woman in such turmoil, a part that caused me to examine so much in myself so that I could survive the physical and emotional energy it took to play her. We're doing it at the Barn this season, in fact. Actually, I'm playing the mother in it. I've got a very talented woman playing my part, and I'm playing the mother, the part Shirl Bernheim played. Listening to that play every night, I have such admiration of Charles Busch's writing! Mama Rose is one of my favorites. It's demanding and challenging and exciting. And Kate Jerome in Broadway Bound is always going to be one of my favorites.

Playbill.com: Would you still be open to playing a musical in New York?
LL: I would be open to playing a musical, but that's a very broad statement. What musical? How hard would it be? What I love about this experience [Collected Stories] is it's a limited run. I don't want to be in a play for eight times a week for a year. I have much too rich a life for that now. I'm not starting a career. I have a wonderful, full life. I have my own theatre. I have a nightclub act. The Red Barn theatre opened three years ago with Doubt. We've done nine productions in three years. And we just turned a profit this past year. It's just an amazing little behemoth. But I'm not going to commit to a long run that's going to require me to stay in bed all day long in order to get up and sing at night. But having said that, it's kind of like saying I'm not going to have Christmas this year. Then I go right out and buy the tree.

Linda Lavin and Sarah Paulson
Linda Lavin and Sarah Paulson
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