The Lovely Linney

Special Features   The Lovely Linney Laura Linney returns to familiar territory, starring in Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen

Laura Linney in Sight Unseen
Laura Linney in Sight Unseen Photo by Joan Marcus

No, says Laura Linney, she did not rush to pick up and reread a copy of Sight Unseen as soon as Lynne Meadow called. Ms. Meadow, calling from New York, reached Ms. Linney in California to ask if she might want to play Patricia in the Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of that diamond-sharp, Obie-winning 1992 drama by Donald Margulies.

"I just said: 'Yes, I do,' and that was that."

Last time out, 12 years ago, Linney, in her late twenties, scored brilliantly in the role of Grete, a cool, gorgeous German TV arts commentator/inquisitor who in two brief scenes probes uncomfortably deep under the Jewish skin of much-headlined hotshot American painter Jonathan Waxman.

This time out, in the play directed by Daniel Sullivan at MTC's Biltmore Theatre, she is Patricia, the restless housewife on an English farm two hours from London who, back in college, was Jonathan Waxman's muse and lover.

"God," says Patricia of that past, when Brooklyn-born Waxman (played by Ben Shenkman) drops in out of the blue, "when I think of all the angst, all the, what's the word, 'cirrus'?" "Tsouris."

"After all the tsouris our young souls went through. Your wife should thank me . . . I laid the groundwork. I was the pioneer. . .The sacrificial shiksa."

"You're looking beautiful, Patsy," says the surprise visitor — and Donald Margulies takes it from there.

May I ask, says a journalist who has been in awe of Laura Linney since her stormy teenage Nina in Jeff Cohen's way-Off-Off-Broadway The Seagull: The Hamptons: 1990s, if you've ever been close friends with a painter?

"No, but my father had friends who were painters." Her father is the top-drawer prolific playwright Romulus Linney, in whose work she has acted but once.

"It was while I was in college [Brown University], and the play was his Childe Byron. I was Ada Lovelace, Byron's daughter. I don't know why there hasn't been more; it just never happened. We could do it now, but when I was just out of school there was an offer [of another part in a play by Papa], and I turned it down. I decided not to do that to me — or to him."

Sight Unseen, says this golden girl of stage (Holiday, The Crucible) and screen ("Mystic River", "You Can Count on Me"), is "such a wonderful complex of conflicts, things that want to be forgotten but can't be forgotten: gentile/Jew, journalist/artist, male/female, past/present, past/future, England/America . . ."

Sight Unseen may be full of things that want to be forgotten. Laura Linney, seen or unseen, is not soon to be forgotten.