She's back! Anita Gillette, who won a Tony nomination for Neil Simon's Chapter Two, is doing one of the things she does best: comedy. She's appearing opposite old friend Jamie Farr of "M*A*S*H" fame in Luigi Creatore's Flamingo Court, set in a Florida retirement community.
There are three one-acts. The first and third acts are a sort of Noises Off — "without the doors," adds Gillette. The middle and shortest play, while it has humor, is a poignant spin on a couple dealing with Alzheimer's.
Gillette and Farr have known each other for years, "just sort of around town, TV and game shows, but this is the first time we're together onstage. And he's a riot. We age from our 60s to 80s and then back again. It's quite a challenge, but also quite funny."
In the middle play, Gillette sings "Give My Regards to Broadway," and for a moment you're transported to the time when she went from musical to musical — from her debut in Gypsy to Carnival to Cabaret. "I never intended a show business career," she laughs. "I was married to a doctor and enjoyed my work at Sloan-Kettering. But I loved singing. Dr. Gillette gave me permission to do stock to get it out of my system and be a model doctor's wife. Yes, in those days you asked permission."
The ploy backfired. "I kept being asked to return." Show business wasn't compatible with her husband's life. "So after ten years and two sons," she says, "it was bye-bye, Dr. Gillette."
It seemed she would never stop working. Then, in the mid-'80s, she disappeared — from Broadway, that is. Gillette became that rare breed of actress who moves easily between television and film. There's no secret, she says: "I have a lot of energy and enjoy sticking my fingers in every pie I can."
One pie was "The Tonight Show," where she locked horns with Johnny Carson in more than 50 appearances, making her a household name. "We developed a rhythm," she says. "Johnny had impeccable timing, but didn't like to rehearse. I was quick. He liked my retorts. He was generous in that he allowed me to get laughs."
That experience helped in sitcoms. "In TV, you must stay on your feet because they cut while you're doing a scene. A good memory helps because you have to edit as you go. Live TV really taught me how to survive. TV is hurry up and let's wrap; film is hurry up and wait."
It's onstage where she feels most comfortable. "I know the stage. It's the one place where I know what I'm doing. It's my comfort zone, so after much too long a break, I'm thrilled to be back. And in a comedy. It's the right time, because we really need to laugh!"