PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Kathleen McNenny, the Good Wife of An Enemy of the People

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01 Oct 2012

Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny in <i>An Enemy of the People</i>.
Boyd Gaines and Kathleen McNenny in An Enemy of the People.
Joan Marcus

Meet Kathleen McNenny, the wife — on stage and off — of An Enemy of the People's Boyd Gaines.

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There a small, lovely, marital moment in Act Two of Henrik Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, that can fly by you it's so effortless.

Boyd Gaines, as an idealistic doctor trying to close the local and quite literal tourist trap — healing baths that are actually quite toxic — is ridiculed at a town-hall meeting by a hostile crowd because his inflexible medical stance could mean the financial ruination of the whole village. All is lost for him in this moment, and then, after a he crosses right to face the mob, a hand reaches out of nowhere to support him. Catherine, Dr. Stockmann's wife (played by Kathleen McNenny), has told him privately that his unyielding crusade jeopardizes their home and hearth, yet she publicly steps up to stand by her man while everyone else moves away. She is literally the woman behind the man.

So, one wonders — since both actors are married to each other in real life — if that tiny, but telling, gesture came easily because of decades of over-rehearsal. We grabbed a few minutes with the veteran Broadway, Off-Broadway and regional actress on opening night of the new Manhattan Theatre Club revival.

Was that little hand-grasping moment written, directed or just natural?
Kathleen McNenny: It actually just came out of a moment where he happened to be standing next to me one day when we were working on the blocking. I could see he was getting upset, so I grabbed his hand. We had talked about 'Don't let them get you upset. Stay calm. Speak your piece.' And then you can see he's starting to get kinda crazy, so it's an attempt by the wife to comfort the husband. It just felt natural to say, 'Take a breath, and start slow, and you'll be okay' — kinda how spouses do with each other, sometimes.

You've acted with your husband before, right?
KM: Yeah, but in New York City it's been 20 years. We did Comedy of Errors in the Park. He was Antipholus of Syracuse, and I was Luciana. That's how we met. Then, fortunately, about two years ago, we did a production of Sylvia by Pete Gurney at George Street Playhouse, playing husband and wife. That was the first time we'd actually done something together in years and years.

So you don't actively seek this, right? How did it happen?
KM: I don't know if we don't actively seek it. It's that it doesn't naturally occur. This play lends itself to a real couple. I think it's natural for a husband and wife to be cast in these parts — especially a couple who has the same kind of history. Y'know: it's a long marriage and had lots of ups and downs, there are children — similarities, and it felt this would be right, and [director] Doug Hughes agreed.

Who pointed that out?
KM: Boyd suggested it, and Doug said, "I think it's a great idea."

Kathleen McNenny and Boyd Gaines
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

What did Boyd see in the part that made him think you would be good in it? Or did you see it, too?
KM: Well, the other thing is that we had been asked to do this play — together — about six years earlier down in DC, and we couldn't do it. So I think, when it came up again, we already had kind of psychologically thought about it, having been asked to do it together before. We both had been thinking about it that way. When it came up again, it was a natural thing for him to suggest me to Doug.

Are you planning any more pairings like this?
KM: No. No immediate plans, certainly.

I see you've hit a lot of the local television bases — "Law & Order," "Criminal Intent," "SVU."
KM: I've been fortunate to do some. I'm a migrant worker. I follow the work so, wherever it happens to lead me is where I'm at. I do commercials. I do voiceovers. If I get a movie, I'll do a movie. If I get television stuff, I do that. I like doing theatre very much. Theatre doesn't pay as well, but it is really rewarding.

Regional stuff?
KM: I do a lot of regional theatre — a little less now because I want to be around my child so I don't want to go too far. [She indicates 14-year-old Leslie Gaines, standing beside her.] When Leslie was little, she used to come with me everywhere — to regional theatres all over the country. She's been to a lot of interesting places.

Leslie, what was it like seeing your mother and father up there on stage tonight playing a mother and father?
Lesiie Gaines: Well, I think it's better for me than seeing them play a husband or wife to someone else — because that's just weird!

Read Harry Haun's Playbill On Opening Night report about An Enemy of the People, which opened Sept. 27.