BWW Interview: Andrea Martin, Times 3, in ACT ONE
Andrea Martin is a triple-threat in Act One, the story of the theater legend Moss Hart, currently playing at the Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont. Not that she acts, sings and dances during the show, but that she inhabits three distinct Hart-centric characters: his Aunt Kate; his agent, Frieda Fishbein; and Beatrice Kaufman, the wife of George S. Kaufman. No mean feat. But she's not alone. Other actors in this adaptation of Hart's autobiography pull double and triple duty as well.
"There are definite challenges in doing these roles," Martin said. "I think you know the obvious-making the three women in Moss' life distinct. It helps using the wigs and costumes," she said with a laugh. Martin read a lot about the famed Broadway playwright-Tony Shaloub plays the adult Moss Hart-before she came to the role.
"I read a lot about Bea Kaufman, but I physically don't look like her at all," she said. "Even though I don't resemble her I try to be reverential to who she was, fitting that into who I am. There are a lot of beautiful scenes among all the actors, and for me to bring Aunt Kate to life was wonderful," an exercise in the imagination, she said. "Anyone who read the book imagined what she was like and I had to make it my own. But any acting role has a challenge."
ACT ONE is James Lapine's adaptation of Hart's autobiography. Hart wrote numerous Broadway classics, including, with George S. Kaufman, "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and "You Can't Take It With You," for which they won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937.
Hart was born into an impoverished family in the Bronx. His Aunt Kate introduced him to the glamorous world of Broadway theater. Act One begins with his childhood origins and ends with his collaboration with Kaufman on the musical that propelled Hart to stardom, "Once in a Lifetime," in 1930. It garnered rave reviews and in a surprisingly humble curtain speech, Kaufman (who directed as well as played a supporting role) said, "I would like the audience to know that 80 percent of this play is Moss Hart."
Martin, who read numerous books about both Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, was disappointed when searching for histories of Aunt Kate, who had a crucial relationship with Hart. "I read so many books on Moss and George S. Kaufman, some are out of print," she said. "I have some at the theater to look at for inspiration," she added.
"But there are no existing photos of Aunt Kate, no records of her. She was very eccentric and kind of crazy and she instilled a love of theater in Moss Hart. She did live in her own fantasy world with a stipend from her father," Martin said. "She was delusional in many ways; she carried on like someone from the upper class."
The magnificent revolving set weaves multiple layers into the intricacies of the story, Martin said. The stage is awash in characters, some played by just one actor. "They're all joyful to me. I may sound Pollyanna-ish," she said with a laugh, "but bringing the parts alive every night is sheer excitement. There's a great bit of energy and spontaneity, every night is different. It's not like PIPPIN"-in which she recently performed- "it's not a musical; it's a lot different.
"It has its different challenges and makes me feel, gosh, a lot of gratitude," Martin said. "I have a chance to play three different parts in Lincoln Center, where my career got started. I was in MY FAVORITE YEAR in 1991 with Tim Curry. It gives me chills to think about that. It got me my first Tony. Now I'm in the world of Act One."
Martin's appreciation for the era of the play runs deep. "I think what's really profound about the book Act One, is his mission and perseverance and ambition. His commitment"-to rise out of poverty-"is a lesson to young people.
"He could have stayed captive in poverty, but his drive and passion pushed the boundaries. A lot of people think they can have overnight success," Martin said. "It gives people in the theater hope they're going to make it. The play's also a beautiful story for older people who remember that era."
Away from the stage, Martin has been working on a book, "Andrea Martin's Lady Parts," due out in a few months.
The book is a collection of essays etched from life. "They're stories, not a memory, and they're very few stories about show biz in five parts," she laughed. "The last part is about my career and the whole thing is comedic observations done in my voice, not by a ghost writer."
Martin had nothing but praise for Act One's Shaloub, one of the most respected actors in the acting community. "It does feel effortless," she said of working with him onstage. "We trust one another-he's a beautiful actor. I'm Armenian and he's Lebanese," what better combination could there be, she laughed.
ACT ONE is playing at Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus