Love and mortality and long-interred betrayal are intermingled in Richard Greenberg's new play The House in Town, a work that in its title and in its tone evokes the Henry James of, say, "Washington Square," though the setting is 1929 and the template suggested to Greenberg by Lincoln Center's Andre Bishop was in fact Willa Cather's novella "My Mortal Enemy."
"Remember the Armistice?" Amy Hammer suddenly asks her husband Sam, a department-store mogul, at a crucial turning point in their own private drama. "I mean the false one with the rain of paper into Fifth Avenue. And we danced. And then the real one came a few days later, only nobody liked it much…."
Amy Hammer, who at age 42 desperately wants to get pregnant, and seduces Sam toward that end - a more experienced woman friend tells her how - is played at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater by lovely Jessica Hecht, who will be just 41 by the time you read this and is, in fact, the mother of two young children.
Jessica Hecht and Richard Greenberg first met beside the hospice bed of the late actress Ileen Getz, who had been in various of his works (as Jessica had not). Later, on one of the stricken Ileen's better days, the playwright invited her to sit in on a reading of The House in Town, to make her feel she belonged to something. And that's when Jessica Hecht learned what the play was all about - "a woman who'd had an extraordinary marriage that turned at the end." First Ileen Getz, then Wendy Wasserstein. "I auditioned the week that Wendy died. My first job out of school [NYU Drama] had been as understudy in the national company of The Heidi Chronicles. That was the year of the first Gulf War - 1991? This crazy thing… somebody's alive; then it's 15 years later, and they die, and you're still standing. And Mark Harelik, who was in that company, plays my husband in this play."
Where did you meet your husband?
"My real husband?" With a laugh: "At a bar in Los Angeles." He's television and film director Adam Bernstein. The director of The House in Town is Doug Hughes, with whom Jessica has talked about the genteel anti-Semitism of some of the characters in the play ("I'm actually quite Jewish, I go to synagogue") and about what it's like "for somebody who'd been really great in their whole life - a great woman like Amy Hammer - to grapple with whether she'd lost that. Then Doug told about his father saying, 'At one time I was really good as an actor' - Doug's father Barnard Hughes, a great actor his whole life."
Jessica Hecht has quite a pedigree: physicist father, psychiatrist stepfather, therapist mother. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, she used to live in Greenwich Village; now she lives with husband and kids in Hell's Kitchen. "When you reach 40," she says, "you sort of feel…" and does not finish the sentence. Nor should she.