Taylor Made for Broadway

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IRINA: (Sobbing.) Where? Where's it all gone? Where is it? Oh, my God, my God! My mind is a total muddle . . . I can't even remember the Italian for window or ceiling . . . I forget everything, every day I forgot something else. My life is just slipping away and I'll never, never get it back . . . and we're never going to Moscow, it's as clear as it can be, we're never going to leave here . . . -- Three Sisters, Act III

Those heart-wrenching words, by Anton Chekhov (translated by Lanford Wilson), as pure and telling a moment as theatre can know, are spoken these nights from a Broadway stage by a young woman who not long ago on screen gave a shockingly good, psychotic-tinged butch-beatnik performance of Valerie Solanis, founding and only member of S.C.U.M., the Society to Cut Up Men, near-successful killer of Andy Warhol.

Irina Segeevna Prozorov, that youngest and most idealistic of the three Prozorov sisters, would seem to be about as far away from Valerie Solanis as anyone might possibly get.

Lili Taylor, the Solanis of the film I Shot Andy Warhol, the Irina of the Three Sisters that Scott Elliott has directed at the Roundabout, nodded agreement, or partial agreement. Then, drawing a breath: "But what Scott says is also true. Irina's really a rebel, not an ingenue. Maybe she's not as pretty, coy and safe as she's been played in the past.

"So for me it's the stage of incubation, taking all the information in," said the diffident rising star of more than a dozen movies, nursing her courage, as it may have been, with a tea bag and some hot water in a Greenwich Village espresso house. This was a few days before the start of rehearsals on the Chekhov. Her deep purple fingernails were rather more evocative of Sally Bowles than Irina Prozorov, but one noticed, as not in films, the long clean jawline, the quite lovely flower face, the mass of piled-high dark hair, the flickering smile that comes and goes like heat lightning.

The "incubation" had had her reading and rereading the play, reading about Chekhov, reading about that era in Russia, thinking about Irina.

Okay, what about Irina?

"Well, let me say I'm almost 30 now, and she's 20 so it's kind of nice to go back, to relive that innocence, that hope. Because it's kind of like it's going to get less" the opportunity to play 20-year-olds, she meant. "And also I love that yearning, that innocence."

All of this implied, without being spelled out, the yearning and hope and, if you like, the innocence of Chicago schoolgirl Lili Taylor who made her professional stage debut at 17 and got kicked out of the Goodman of De Paul acting conservatory for . . .

"I'd say, for differences." Artistic differences?

Grave smile. "We had a mutual dislike, me and the faculty." Did you behave like Valerie Solanis? "No, no. No! I wish I had . . . Valerie is . . . I don't know anybody like Valerie." A laugh. "Her one chance at infamy, and it really got eclipsed by [Robert F.] Kennedy" whose assassination the next night wiped the Warhol shooting out of the news and off the map. "She was really pissed off at that."

Chicago, flat and broad, is still all over actress Taylor's non-acting tongue, and "Irina" came out, there in the espresso shop, as "Eye-reena." When her ear caught the interviewer's less emphatic pronunciation, she added that gratefully to her incubation.

No, she didn't think her own Irina would be based on anybody in particular she'd ever known. "It's probably like an amalgam; that's what usually works for me. I wouldn't want to pin it to one person. That would be to limit myself."

Pause.

"When you ask me that, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz comes to mind. The yearning to go back home" to Kansas, to Moscow. "Because I have a yearning to go back home but it's not the same home as when I was a child. The present is a bit harsh."

Lili Taylor, born Feb. 20, 1967, in the city that the next year would be tear-gassing kids with the whole world watching, is the second youngest of the six children of Park and Marie Taylor. Her father, she said, is now a folk artist for whom Lili is now trying to find a New York gallery; her mother is a professional baby-sitter these days.

In one recent year alone from August 1994 to August 1995 their daughter appeared before the cameras in six motion pictures. She counted them off on those purple fingernails: The Addiction, Four Rooms, Things I Never Told You, I Shot Andy Warhol, Girls Town. And there have been several more since then.

She'd done a good bit of theatre before all the movies started (with Mystic Pizza, 1988), and is a member of Machine Full, a theatre company "that isn't even a company, no subscribers, no reviews, no pressure; we do things I've directed three and been in maybe four at the One Dream Theatre" [in TriBeCa].

A couple of days earlier she had just met, for the first time in her life, her fellow Roundabout actors: Amy Irving, the play's Olga, Jeanne Tripplehorn (Masha), David Strathairn (Vershinin), Eric Stoltz (Tuzenbach), Billy Crudup (Solyony).

Last April another person she hadn't known, Scott Elliott, took her to lunch at a Union Square coffee shop and offered her the part of Irina.

"He's a very strong personality, very blunt. He said: 'I don't think you should wait any longer. You should do this play take Irina's journey at this point in your life.' I said: 'Okay, you sold me.' "

Valerie Solanis would have cheered. She never made it to Moscow either.

-- By Jerry Tallmer