Digging into the archives, we unearth the original articles printed in the Playbills of yesteryear.
Tony nominee Laurie Metcalf may be a fixture of New York theatre now, but back in 1995, she made her Broadway debut in My Thing of Love after seven steady years of TV-sitcoming on Roseanne. Even before her Lortel-wining performance in The Other Place and her run as Mary Tyrone in London’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Metcalf recognized herself as an actor drawn to playing “victims with attitude.” In this season’s A Doll’s House, Part 2, she continues on that path—and earned her fourth Tony nomination doing it—playing the ferocious Nora, a victim of cultural norms in a world devoid of women’s rights. In this article from the May 1995 Playbill, Metcalf reflects on her career and the theatre path she wants her Roseanne co-star to forge.
Laurie Metcalf, who is just about the shyest actress around these days, drops her reserve briefly to express delight with her starring role in the new Broadway drama, My Thing of Love. “I get to rage,” she says with a rare smile. “That’s always a lot of fun.”
Indeed, Elly, the heroine of Alexandra Gersten’s domestic drama, which opens at the Martin Beck Theatre on May 3, wields a sharp tongue and clarifying anger as she tries to keep her family and marriage together against the threat posed by an adulterous husband (Brian Kerwin) and his mid-life crisis fling (Sheila Kelley). Try as she might, the voluble and volatile Elly just can’t keep from picking at a scab.
Metcalf herself is an altogether different story. The daughter of an Illinois university financial officer and a librarian, she is the epitome of Midwestern reticence though she’s lived in Los Angeles for the past seven years, ever since she shot to stardom on the popular television series Roseanne.
“I tend to think of myself as pretty low key,” says the reclusive actress over a plate of sushi in a San Fernando Valley restaurant not far from where she lives with her two young children and live-in mate, actor Matt Roth, during a break in play rehearsals at a nearby studio. “I’m a pretty low-maintenance type person, so I tend to take things to extremes onstage. Even in the small roles, like when I played Tessie Mahoney in Miss Firecracker Contest. She was described as the ugliest girl in town, but when I played her, she had to be the ugliest girl in the universe. I like to take things one step further.”
Thus Metcalf relishes in playing what she calls “victims with attitude,” something she’s been doing to a growing public since she made her sensational New York theatrical debut in Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead in 1984 as a sad, naïve prostitute. That production was also the calling card for Chicago’s Steppenwolf company, of which she had been one of seven founding members in 1976. Like her distinguished colleagues from those heady years—John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Terry Kinney—Metcalf has successfully branched out from theatre to film (Desperately Seeking Susan, JFK) to television. As protean as her talents are, she’s nonetheless drawn to misfits, the inarticulate, the confused, and the blind.
“It’s kind of an aspect of Jackie,” she says of Roseanne’s spirited, man-obsessed sister, the role that has brought Metcalf three Emmys, financial security, and fame. “I don’t want to call her a loser, but she’s the kind of person who, though she’s having troubles in her own life, is very willing to explain your troubles to you.”
While Metcalf many tend to gravitate toward those loopy ladies, she appears to be as grounded and professional as the secretary she once was. (“I could type 90 words per minute,” she says proudly.) She maintains that the only reason she didn’t end up in the St. Louis typing pool permanently is that Terry Kinney saw her in a college production and invited her into his crazy acting clique.
Though they dated, she eventually married another Steppenwolf-ian, Jeff Perry, with whom she had her first child, Zoe. The father of her son, Will, is Roth, who once played her beau on the television series she thinks of as the “best job in Hollywood.”
“The television season is eight months, so I try to do theatre and film the rest of the year,” she says, “I try to keep moving around so I don’t burn out. But I really am most comfortable in the theatre, maybe because that’s where I started out, that’s where I feel I do my best work.”
Metcalf adds that she’d like to see her famous co-star on the series try the stage. “Roseanne should do a play,” she says. “I’d like to watch her do something dramatic, like Tennessee Williams or Edward Albee. She’d be brilliant.”