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TONYS 2008 Q&A: Rondi Reed of 'August: Osage County'

Rondi Reed has been a Steppenwolf member since 1979, and has appeared in over 60 Steppenwolf productions. Rondi Reed received a Joseph Jefferson award for The Fall to Earth. Among Rondi's many other Steppenwolf credits are the Pulitzer-nominated Man From Nebraska, Side Man (also Australia, Ireland), Picasso at the Lapin Agile (also Off-Broadway, Los Angeles, San Francisco) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (also Broadway). She has also directed at Steppenwolf, including Lydie Breeze which was also performed in Australia at the Festivals of Sydney and Perth, Steppenwolf's first production to travel overseas. Rondi most recently appeared and to great acclaim at that, as Madame Morrible in the Chicago production of Wicked, proving she can do just about anything on a stage!

Her many Broadway credits include The Grapes of Wrath, Rise and Fall of Little Voice and of course her current Best Featured Actress in a Play Tony nominated role of Mattie Fae Aiken in Tracy Lett's August: Osage County. We caught up with her at the Tony Nominee's Brunch where she discussed the play and it's journey from Chicago to Broadway.


Eddie Varley: So wonderful to have you back on a Broadway stage, and much congratulations on the Tony nomination. You've been a Steppenwolf ensemble for many years haven't you?

Rondi Reed: Oh, thank you, thanks! I've been with Steppenwolf since 1979, 80, so I'm one of the old guard, not the oldest guard, but I call myself the "crone"! The Steppenwolf crone of the women! I'm not the oldest one but I'm close!

EV: Ha! You were there in the exciting days at the beginning.

RR: I started out in college with a lot of people who were the founding members, and then went off for the first few years and then when they moved to their home in Chicago, from the suburbs, that's when they invited me to join.

 

EV: That long time emotional connection really is on view in Osage between all of you, it truly is an asset isn't with this play, it helps create something special. That familiarity really lends itself to the work.

RR: Oh I think into this it does enormously, Martha Lavey, our artistic director has made a concerted effort over her tenure to have it be self generated work, to have it come from within the ensemble, to have as many actors on stage in the ensemble working together as possible, our Chicago audiences sort of demand that, I mean they get very upset when they, the subscribers see something and none of us are in it! Which I can understand. So to have the director, to have the playwright, to have a majority of the cast be ensemble members was a certainly, it was a tipping point to this production. People that hadn't seen our work in a number of years, came and said, well there it is, there's that kind of intangible magic that happens when a lot of you get together on stage, Jeff Perry has said that if you look around that dining room table in the second act, there's about 150 years of cumulative experience. The guy that plays my husband, I've known for 35 years, I went to college with him, Fran Guinan.

EV: This gives such emotional depth to these relationships.

RR: So there's a lot of short hand in our work, there are a lot of things we don't have to wrestle with, and it allows you to go further and deeper, then when things start to get real tired and you're crabby to each other, you can keep on going. Like the family!

 

EV: It shows, truly!

RR: I think it does! I mean, I know we feel it certainly; there are nights where that big dinner table scene just lifts right up. It's written brilliantly number one, those scenes are very difficult I think in any play to pull off, I think Tracy has written a brilliant familial dynamic with that scene. And I think we have a director who knows when to dial it up and dial it down and is not afraid to say you know, "That's great, but you know what, pick ONE of those five things".

EV: (Laughs) Right, please pick one!


RR: Just pick one! And we don't tip toe around each other, we are very much cut to the chase. We are very much a product of where we come from, we're from the Midwest, you know, feet on the ground and seat of the pants and all that jazz.

EV: Did it grow a great deal in the rehearsal process?

RR: I think it grew a lot, it actually grew the most between the original production that ended in Chicago, we only had about six weeks between the end of the original production, and the beginning of Broadway. So Tracey went back to look at his text again, he wanted to tighten things up, he wanted to take out, he said, "I'm going to take out anything that seems redundant", I think get a more linear trajectory. He also wanted to look at the character of the sisters, in relationship, just the whole family dynamic as to, what could I do, or what would make the story clearer. Where were the audiences in Chicago stating that they had problems? It was something that we really felt was not totally "done", and we tinkered with it right up until opening (laughs), of course we had a three week break so that didn't hurt!

EV: The stagehand strike really did come at a dangerous time for some many newly opened productions…

RR: That was, I have to tell you I thought, that is it, we're done. And the producers said if you want to go home we'll fly you home, or we will keep you here, which is relatively unheard, you know, in the Broadway world. We have some really incredible producers in the Jeffrey Richards group, I mean Steve Traxler, Jean Doumanian and Jerry Frankel, all these people, they are just amazing producers. They've done nothing but support this, flying in the face of all Broadway sort of things, with a cast of unknowns, you know, I give them so much credit.

EV: And it succeeded!

 

RR: It succeeded.

 

Tracy Letts' AUGUST: OSAGECOUNTY, is the winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, Drama Desk, New York Drama Critics Circle, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Play

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Directed by Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award Winner Anna D. Shapiro, August: OsageCounty is the explosively funny comedy-drama focusing on the Weston family following the disappearance of the family's patriarch.

Voted #1 play of the year by Time, The Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly, and TimeOut New York, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times has called August: OsageCounty "The most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years."

August: OsageCounty performs Tuesday-Friday at 7:30PM, Matinees on Wednesday and Saturdays at 2:00PM, Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 3:00PM. Tickets can be purchased at Telecharge.com, or by calling (212) 239-6200. Outside the NY Metro (800) 432-7250.

Photo by Walter McBride /Retna Ltd.

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