Ilana Levine radiates goodness. The effect is as soothing as it can be unsettling—who is truly this interested in other people’s happiness and success?—but wholly genuine. She is that interested in other people.
Her genuine curiosity is one reason her podcast Little Known Facts (and its television adaptation on the Stage Network) resonates. As she interviews fellow actors, she can talk the biz as well as they can, but, more importantly, she wants to know what her subject knows.
Now Levine is back onstage in Manhattan Theatre Club’s The Perplexed, her first show since launching her interview series, and she’s holding on to every word of wisdom she’s gleaned from those conversations.
“The thing that is true of the most famous theatre artists to newer theatre artists is that everyone feels fear,” Levine says. “And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be there or you’re not doing it right; fear is part of the process. Every single person I admire is dealing with fear as part of the process.”
Richard Greenberg’s new play (through March 29 Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club Stage I) delves into the varied reactions among two families as they navigate the wedding of their children. But the primary lure for Levine was Greenberg.
“I’ve loved Richard Greenberg since Three Days of Rain, and I met my husband when he was doing Take Me Out,” she says. “So I see Richard Greenberg as this fairy godfather for me, this magical person who’s inspired me to be part of the theatre. And nobody writes with so much integrity and intelligence and profoundly complex language that you really have to lean into. It doesn’t come easily for me and it scared me, and that’s why I kind of figured I had to do this.”
There was also the undeniably appealing opportunity to work with MTC and director Lynne Meadow, whose praises Levine is delighted to sing. “The way she runs a rehearsal room—I’m not saying you have to be a woman to do it the way she does, but it is so warm and supportive and maternal and strict,” Levine says. “I want to translate how she does what she does into every aspect of my life. It’s so clear and precise.”
But that’s already how Levine’s subjects and fans think of her: as a warm and supportive voice who sees people the way they secretly hope they’ll be seen. And audiences are better off for having her, whether onstage or in their ears.