“I said, ‘I’m free and clear, I know all of Elizabeth Strout’s novels, and I’ve been a friend of Laura Linney’s since the early ’90s,’” Eyre recalls replying. So his interlocutor, The Bridge Theatre’s co-founder Nick Starr, stepped in, pulled the assembled parties together, and the results finally arrive on this side of the Atlantic when the critically acclaimed solo show begins previews at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre January 4.
Rehearsals for the production, which first bowed in the U.K., found Eyre in New York City with Long Day’s Journey Into Night at BAM, so he left the Tyrones each day to meet with Linney, who resides in Brooklyn. The show—adapted from Strout’s novel by Rona Munro—went on to London’s Bridge Theatre and now returns the duo to New York City for the Manhattan Theatre Club production, where Eyre says their work is more about tweaking than revising the story of a woman who regains consciousness in a hospital room where she is confronted by the mother to whom she hasn’t spoken in years.
Initially, Eyre says, he simply trusted in Linney’s ability. He explained to her that he intended to stage it very simply, with a bed and chair on a platform, and a fair amount of projections. “You have to ensure that there’s a sense of momentum,” he says, “and that’s partly in the choreography and partly in the narrative devices you use to supplement what the actor is doing.”
As for what Linney does, “she’s just prodigiously talented,” Eyre points out. “There are very few actors in the world who pulled off what Laura did. Let’s face it, the hard thing was learning it. She speaks for 90 minutes, so learning it was like a tightrope walk over the Grand Canyon.”
Not that Eyre ever questioned his star’s capabilities. “I was always annoyingly confident that she would do it,” he says. “Laura would say, ‘I’m never going to learn this,’ and I said, ‘Of course you will.’” He laughs. “And I can see that’s infuriating it when you’re feeling very anxious. But I never for a moment doubted that she could do it.”