Rabe Is 'Lili With An I' In THE AMERICAN PLAN

Mothers and daughters....a very unique relationship indeed which can present its own unique problems as noted in the current production of Richard Greenberg's THE AMERICAN PLAN, playing at MTC's Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). Directed by Tony nominee David Grindley, the show features Tony and Academy Award Winner Mercedes Ruehl and the subject of my interview, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominee Lily Rabe.

Rabe was previously see on Broadway in HEARTBREAK HOUSE for which she received an Outer Critics Circle nomination and as Anelle in STEEL MAGNOLIAS at the Lyceum Theatre for which she was honored with a Drama Desk nomination. Her Off-Broadway credits include CRIMES OF THE HEART and COLDER THAN HERE. The theatre genes are in her blood being the daughter of acclaimed actress Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe.

This is a young woman who has come into her own and is making a name for herself in the theatre world. We talked recently about her role in THE AMERICAN PLAN and life growing up surrounded by the entertainment business.

TJ:  Tell me a little bit about the character that you play in THE AMERICAN PLAN.  I understand her name is Lili?

Rabe Is 'Lili With An I' In THE AMERICAN PLANRABE:  Yes, her name is Lili, spelled differently.  All five characters in the play are fascinating and complicated.  She's quicksilver...she's very mercurial.  There's a level of mystery to her. Her mother has a line, like 'Lili must to be singed by a thing to keep from being incinerated by it.' And I think that that's true.  She tests the boundaries.  She's incredibly sheltered and has been very protected, sort of kept, by her mother.  Her social graces...many of those things have been stunted.  On the other hand she's wildly and fiercely intelligent and precocious and adventurous and daring. The coupling of those two opposites and her instincts versus her environments make for a really fascinating and challenging character.  She's complicated.

On the other hand, she's just a girl trying to figure out who the hell she is and get out from under her mother's thumb.  I think that that's universal, really...that sort of trying to become independent. She has some extenuating circumstances thatmake her position more challening than most.

And she falls desperately, desperately in love.  I remember how a first love does really make you want to become independent and makes you want to grow up soon as possible.  You start to think about your whole life and your future, your future with someone else...your future outside your family.  And in this case, her future outside of her mother.  It's very intense.

TJ: The bottom line with most parents, especially mothers because of their maternal bond with their daughters is the innate need to protect them.

RABE:  And she's her only child and the father was not there for very long.  It's not a healthy relationship but there is love, and as you say, that instinct which is driving her and ultimately is very destructive.  Unfortunately, Lily pays terrible consequences because of that.  She certainly does not want to destroy her daughter's life.  That's not her intention at all.

TJ:  It must be great to work with Mercedes Ruehl!

RABE: She is fantastic.  I love her madly.  She's an incredible actress...  She's a real creature of the stage.  She's so alive and present always and brave and smart and very generous.  We've found a sort of wonderful bond and we have a great time together.  I've had a wonderful experience working with her.

TJ:  You've been getting a lot of buzz since you first appeared on Broadway in Steel Magnolias.  And you were nominated for drama desk award for your performances Anelle.  Were you pleased with that experience?

RABE: I love that show.  It was my first show out of college...it was great.

TJ:  Your first show out of college and you get a role... great role on Broadway.  Not too shabby!

RABE:  It was a wonderful first job, yeah.

TJ:  What was it like to work with the cast?  You had such a wonderful ensemble cast including Delta Burke, Frances Sternhagen, Marsha Mason and Christine Ebersole, just to mention a few names.

RABE: They were all wonderful and dynamic women.  There were all these generations of women.  It was a great experience to work with all of them for my first show in New York.  I felt very welcomed into the community and I loved my role. 

You know, it has this tremendous following because of the movie.  I remember the preview audiences had these groups of women who bought their tickets to be at the first week of performances.  They came in clans of 10 to 20...  It was like the Rocky Horror Picture Show where they were quoting the lines along with us and it was sort of wild!  Definitely, I had not had that kind of experience before but it was a lot of fun...it was great.

TJ:  Was it culture shock for you going into a show like that the first time on Broadway?  Did you learn a lot from your co-stars in the show?

RABE:  Fran and Marsha are such theater vets and Christine...  Yeah, I did learn a lot from them.  We all sort of helped each other but I felt very comfortable in the environment and ready for the task at hand.

TJ:  Now, your mom is Jill Clayburgh, a very respected actress in her own right. Did it help growing up in a family where your parents were involved in the industry?  Did you know a lot of people beforehand?

RABE:  I think it's always complicated...I think everyone has their own experience with it.  I've never known anything else.  I think what's been the most helpful is having a good understanding of this lifestyle and the difficulties and the inconsistencies and the unpredictability...not having to sort of make a huge adjustment because I do think it is such a weird life.  I grew up in it so I think I went through a little less of an adjustment period...

TJ:  You saw what it was like.

RABE:  Yeah, I saw what it was like and there were long periods of time when one of them would be working and the other one wouldn't.  They would have to cancel vacations at the last minute because a job came up...all that stuff was very normal to me.  Just to have wonderful empathy and support from my family, that kind of incredible support, because they know the business better than anyone...I've been very lucky to have that.  You have to find your own way.  I think that's most important thing. 

We had moved to Connecticut so I had a real childhood and I'm really thankful for that.  It was very far away from Hollywood.  I didn't grow up with the business in my face the way that a lot of people do.

TJ:  You were sheltered from it to a certain extent...

RABE:  Yeah, yeah.  And also my mom really stopped working for a long time and wanted to be with us. She would do like one job a year. My younger brother and I were like three years apart. Later, she started to work a little bit more and now, she's really working again.  She hated being away from us. 

I think there is no right way to do it...  I understand and respect the women who were able to keep working and work through their kids growing up but I also understand needing to take a big break.  I think everyone has different limits.  I don't think she did better than anyone else but she did what she needed to do and has no regrets.  I certainly had a very present mother and father, which was great.

Special thanks to Rabe for her candid interview and you need to see this amazing actress at work in THE AMERICAN PLAN, now playing at MTC's Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street). Tickets are available through Telecharge.com by telephone at (212) 239-6200, or through the Samuel J. Friedman Box Office at 261 West 47th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue). Tickets range in price from $56.50-$96.50. Student rush tickets are available the day of the performance at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre box office for $26.50.

As always, folks, ciao and remember, theatre is my life!

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TJ Fitzgerald TJ Fitzgerald has been interviewing theatre’s finest talent with BroadwayWorld.com since January 2006. He has been active in the New England Theatre scene both as a participant (acting and directing) and an enthusiast of the entertainment scene for over 40 years. He was a featured columnist writing interviews and theatre features for New England Entertainment Digest and served on the Board of the New England Theatre Conference (NETC) for several years. Some of his noteworthy interviews have included entertainment luminaries like Tony Award winners Tommy Tune, Sutton Foster, Karen Ziemba, Michael Rupert, Faith Prince, Joanna Gleason and Gregory Jbara, Tony Nominees Brad Oscar, Keith Carradine and Andrea McArdle, Oscar nominee Marsha Mason, Oscar winning songwriter Paul Williams, Adrienne Barbeau and Oscar/Emmy award winning composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz. 2009 saw a milestone for TJ as he was welcomed to the 50's. In TJ’s words, "Life is good! Everyone's got a great story to tell and I am all ears! Theatre is my life!"


 
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