BWW Interviews: THE OTHER PLACE's Zoe Perry on Memory, Mothers and Red Meat
Zoe Perry came to admire Sharr White's The Other Place when it played Off Broadway in an MCC Theater production that won raves, paving the way to its present incarnation as a Broadway production of the Manhattan Theatre Club. Now in the role of The Woman, she is thrilled to be co-starring in the play with Daniel Stern and John Schiappa. But the added bonus for Perry is that she shares the stage with the formidable Laurie Metcalf, who happens to be her mother.
The searing drama bobs and weaves to an untidy conclusion during a 70-minute roller coaster ride, and Zoe (pronounced Zoe-EE) Perry contributes to a good chunk of the drama. "I had seen the first production and absolutely loved it," she said in a recent interview. "When I heard it was moving to MTC I was so pleased they had opened up the casting and just knew I had to audition for it."
Perry had been on stage with her mother just one other time, as a teenager in Chicago. "At that point, I wasn't thinking I would pursue acting professionally," she said. "So, working alongside her now as an adult feels like it's the first time in a way."
The production features Metcalf as the troubled, brilliant neurologist Juliana Smithton, who has veered from a career as a researcher to become a drug-company pitch person. The drama shines a harsh light on the nature of illness, memory, familial ties and professional roadblocks. As The Woman, Perry plays three distinct characters: a doctor, a daughter and a stranger. The austere set, a mélange of wooden square and rectangular shapes on the walls, augment the splintery tailspin spun by the play and acted with passion and heartbreak by the small ensemble.
"Working on this play has been a fantastic experience," Perry continued. "I'm just so grateful because it's been amazing working with everyone. It's been so rewarding, and having seen it before, I feel the same as the audience. It's moving, prescient and devastating and I feel privileged to be a part of it."
Since the play's Jan. 10 opening, critics have been consistent in praising The Other Place, which alludes to a second home owned by Metcalf's family that includes a straying (maybe) husband played by Stern and a daughter who has long ago flown the coop.
Metcalf kept away from Perry's involvement before her daughter landed a part in the play. "My mom stayed very far out of it. She was cool, and I was kind of keeping her in the loop when I knew something," Perry said. "When I first told her I was going to audition for it, and then when I heard the decision, I even asked for her permission," she said with a laugh.
"It has been such a wonderful experience working with her, very positive, and it's also such a treat to watch her work," Perry said. "I honestly get such a kick out of working together. It's like we're sharing our own War Horse. It's just so much fun to experience it in the present. She's so fantastic in the role, and to see her tackle it again, seeing her try new revisions, is just amazing."
Family members' working together doesn't always translate into a smooth experience. Not so with these two. "I guess there's always a natural concern that you have your familial relationship and you don't necessarily want it to infringe on whatever else you've got going on," Perry said. "But I honestly have to say that it's been absolutely wonderful and I hope she would say the same thing about me."
With a nurturing rapport with the other cast members - both of them - Perry feels safe exploring the tricky paths she has to navigate throughout the emotionally charged drama. "I've got a really caring, safe environment, and for Daniel and me as new people to the show, I have always felt a strong sense of support in the room that Joe [producer Joe Mantello] created. And with our abbreviated rehearsal - a period of two weeks - it was both a thrilling and fun environment. You wouldn't guess that we laugh a lot in the rehearsal room, given the material, but we're a pretty goofy crew."
The vagaries of memory and time are but a taste of the depths the production descends, but that hasn't prevented Perry from approaching her role with humor and grace. "We've definitely discussed different interpretations and the way things go back and forth in time, yet I still feel that I'm in a place of discovery as the audience rides this train with us."
Perry's method of revealing to the audience the multi-layered roles she inhabits is simplicity itself. "My approach is literally what is being told in the scene. I try to be as real as possible and I try to find my own truth in it and figure out how to best serve each character." One of her challenges is one most women have to face every day. "My extra curveball is when I have to wear heels, to try and stay upright as best as possible. The set also moves me - it feels like we're inside a literary experience where there's plenty of room for your imagination. I really like the freedom of the set, it's very evocative that can just whip from one moment to the other, rainy or not."
How does she burn off energy before or after such a demanding role? "I guess I don't have any one specific thing," she said. "Sometimes I take spinning classes. At the end of the play I feel that my brain has had a good cleaning out. Your body doesn't know you've been lying, so it reacts the way it reacts. I just try not to ask too much of myself and take it easy afterward.
"But I must admit sometimes when the play is over I am just starving, and feel like I need some red meat!" she laughed. "Although lately I've also developed a bit of a sweet tooth and Ben & Jerry has this peanut butter-something ice cream that's delicious."
The Other Place, by Sharr White, directed by Joe Mantello, with sets designed by Eugene Lee and Edward Pierce. It's at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre under special arrangement with MCC Theater, through Feb. 24. Runs 70 minutes with no intermission.