BWW Interviews: Maureen Anderman Talks THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING & Getting into a New Habit
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by Sherry Shameer Cohen
After touring in Richard III with Kevin Spacey in The Bridge Project, an ambitious transatlantic endeavor between The Old Vic, Brooklyn Academy Of Music and Neal Street Productions, Maureen Anderman returns to The Westport Country Playhouse in the upcoming production of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion's play based on her National Book Award winning memoir of the same name.
Joan Didion's double loss -- the deaths of her husband and their only child -- is so heartbreaking. What is about the play that made you want to be part of it twice -- first, as Vanessa Redgrave's standby five years ago on Broadway, and now in Westport?
This piece is so important, so powerful. It's laying out a path…. Joan Didion states in the beginning of the piece. "I'm going to tell you what happened…. This is what happened to me." She is giving us this plotline. It seems that's always been Joan's writing. She's always been an astute observer -- very clearly, cleanly, perceptively. It's what she sees from a distance.
We had a wonderful stage manager [during the Broadway production]. It was a wonderful group. Joan would come by quite frequently, usually Saturday matinees. She would bring fried chicken from Jezebel's down the road on 45th street. I watched it all the time. When Westport approached me, I was in London. From that distance, it seemed possible to approach it again. The hesitation? All the material going into that, learning it again. It wasn't in my head anymore. I'm hoping it will work. I will be talking to friends a lot of the time -- people I'm familiar with.
What will people enjoy about this play?
I think the audience will be surprised at how accessible, how human the play is. There is a wry sense of humor and a constant sense of peace in all this turmoil and grief. It's also a chance to hear the words of master. There's no fat. It's lean prose and very powerful. That's worthwhile to hear. We don't hear that very often anymore. It's only 90 minutes. They get into their seats and they're on an emotional ride. They will have an emotional experience.
Your partner goes through the same thing you go through. You're a sounding board for each other. There were no letters because they were always together…. There are certain inner things that speak to her that speak to me, that sense of play.
What are the biggest challenges of delivering a one-woman show?
There's no anonymity. It requires a lot of concentration, a lot of self-confidence. I wanted to get the old Maureen Anderman fearlessness back. After being with the Bridge project for 10 months with that big piece [Richard III), I had stage confidence. That empowers you as an actor. I can do this. No, I will do this. I'm going to challenge myself.
The main challenge is there's no one to hold hands with, to laugh if you made a mistake, to laugh if they made a mistake. The good thing is that there's no one there to tell you that you made a mistake! It requires incredible concentration, just going into the world and staying in that world. At the same time you're talking to the audience. There is no fourth wall.
You appeared in at least four plays by Edward Albee – Seascape, The Lady from Dubuque, A Delicate Balance and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Was that just coincidental or did you seek out those roles?
I will do A Delicate Balance again in Florida in the fall. It's an exquisite piece. Edward and I are friends. I count myself as fortunate. I understood his characters. I don't ask a lot of questions. Instinctively I could just get it from the page. He would only use me if he thought I was right. He wasn't just handing me parts. We had a history. We were close. I knew his mother. We saw each other at Thanksgiving, at Montauk. It was a very intimate friendship. His partner, Jonathan Thomas, and I were simpatico.
Who are your other favorite playwrights and why?
Nicky Martin got me doing Wendy Wasserstein. I loved going into Wendy world. She wrote about my generation and my people, our generation. I loved The Sisters Rosensweig.
What was your favorite role and why?
My absolute favorite was Beatrice [in Much Ado About Nothing] in college. It was joyous, so much fun. I always loved doing Shakespeare.
I love doing comedy. Most people don't know that. I realized what great fun it is with Kaufman and Hart's The Man who came to Dinner and You Can't Take it With You. Jason Robards, Colleen Dewhurst, Elizabeth Wilson … such an amazing family. We went from New Jersey to Kennedy Center. Colleen was a driving force. A wonderful loving crazy family.
What were your most challenging roles and what were the difficulties?
One that was really tricky was Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery…. His brilliant writing. He did all these overlaps. The dinner table scene was just unbelievable. We had to be eating, talking, paying attention to these overlaps. It was also difficult because Eileen Heckart was very fragile [with Alzheimer's]. She was brilliant. Again, it was a play about family.
Richard III. The Bridge Project was an experience of a lifetime, but it was also an experience for an actor for a lifetime some might not appreciate. For most of us, it was very special to see the world and perform. It was a lot of work and very, very difficult work. We'd arrive in a new country and each time there was new tech rehearsal, a new dress rehearsal, a new stage crew. There were four different sets and we were always on a different set – the doors were different, the floors were different.
What roles do you want fans to remember you most for?
Seascape. [Maureen played the likeable lizard-like creature, Sarah.] People still say "I remember I saw you in Honey in Virginia Wolf." People will always associate me with Edwards's work. I'm in Act III. I'm going and going what I want to do.
What roles would you still like to play?
I'm glad I'm doing A Delicate Balance again [at Palm Beach Dramaworks]. When I did it in Stockbridge, it was such a short period. Audiences loved it so much. I said to Edward, "I wanted to do it again." I will also do Doubt. I always wanted to be a nun. I would love to do The Seagull. I want to go into Chekhov's world. I know what it's like to go into O'Neill. I would like to do A Long Days' Journey Into the Night. It's very moving, very powerful. You feel a little lighter afterward. The heart gets that closing in the chest. Then you feel a little lighter. My heart stopped when I saw Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards in A Moon for the Misbegotten. It's like I stopped breathing.
It seems that Maureen never stops. Be sure to catch her in The Year of Magical Thinking, directed by Nicholas Martin,at The Westport Country Playhouse from June 12 to 30. For more information, visit www.westportplayhouse.org or call 888-927-7529.