Last year, in relatively few times at bat (The Heart Is the Lonely Hunter and The Retributionists and the Lortel Award-contending Stunning), Cristin Milioti moved on to the fast track of Young Actresses To Watch, and the momentum continues with Polly Stenham's That Face, which bowed May 18 at Manhattan Theatre Club's City Center Stage I.
She's the teenage Mia, railing against her divorced, dysfunctional, dipsomaniac mother, Martha (Laila Robins).
This won't be the last you hear of her on that score, either. As soon as this run ends, Milioti says, "I'm playing Alexandra in The Little Foxes for Ivo van Hove at New York Theatre Workshop. We will rehearse in August and open in September."
Arguably Lillian Hellman's best play, The Little Foxes is the latest classic play to rate a radical reworking at the hands of the controversial Flemish director. Again, as before at NYTW, he will have the inestimable Elizabeth Marvel as his principal accomplice, playing Regina Giddens, Alexandra’s oppressive mom and a master manipulator in a world of men (think Bette Davis on screen and Tallulah Bankhead on stage). She was also in van Hove's deconstructed editions of Hedda Gabler and (in a splashy overhaul some dubbed A Bathtub Named Desire) Blanche Du Bois.
That Face, which spilled out of Stenham's head onto paper at the age of 19, gives Milioti a vigorous emotional workout. "It is not a fun play — we don't go skipping to the stage every night," the actress readily admits, "but we have had great leadership [director Sarah Benson] and a great group of people to act with."
This includes Robins as the Monster Mom on the loose — another exhausting role she squeezes to life. "I have a homing device that actually finds these roles," she laughs. "I dunno, I tend to gravitate towards the extreme and towards the wounded. Like a magnet, I'm pulled to those things because they're complicated. I was talking to my therapist the other day, and I said, 'I keep getting cast in these crazy, insane roles. I'm starting to take it personally,' and she said, 'Maybe you have some sort of knowledge of that world, but you're strong enough to do it eight times a week, and you have to be an emotionally stable person to go out there, do that and survive.'"
— Harry Haun