Recreating WORKING: Gordon Greenberg & Donna Lynne Champlin
"There is a school of thought that the more likeable a character is, the quicker the audience will relate to them-which can be an extremely handy short cut when you've only got 90 seconds (sometimes less) to get an entire character across," Champlin notes. "However, my job as an actor is to simply make these people as honest and three-dimensionally alive based on the words they chose to speak in their interviews. Their 'likeability' is not my concern, because to measure their 'likeability' is to judge them in some way. To judge my characters is to make decisions for the audience that I have absolutely no right to make. My job is to serve my character's truths as my own and then let the chips fall where they may."
Champlin has been involved in the new Working from its San Diego premiere, but her life has changed considerably in between the two productions, including marriage, motherhood and home-ownership. And while those changes have impacted her own roles, Champlin has found the strongest emotional growth in two scenes in which she barely appears. During "Just A Housewife," performed by Kenita R. Miller, Champlin sings backup while holding a doll. "I remember worrying during the whole Old Globe run about how I was holding my baby because I think I'd held an actual baby maybe twice in my entire life up until then. And now, of course, with a 17-month-old son, it's second nature. In fact, my onstage baby is smaller than my son is now and I find myself sort of wistful for when he was that little...But I swaddle it every night just like I did my boy. It makes me nostalgic, I guess."
And during one of the new songs, Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Very Good Day," about a nurse and a nanny caring for an elderly man and a toddler, respectively, Champlin doesn't even appear onstage. "As a working mom, I can't listen to it anymore without bursting into tears. There is a lyric that the Nanny sings: 'Her mother works late...I tuck her in each night...For now I do what her mother doesn't do'-and it just doubles me over. Before I became a working mom, I could listen to that song guilt-free, but now the lyrics kinda punch me in the face. Repeatedly."
That reaction, she says, is part of the show's strength, and another way for her to connect with her audience. "I knew I had 'working mom' guilt but I didn't understand to what extent until I heard that song again. It's a gift. It's a chance for me to come to terms with an issue that is much larger in my heart than I realized. Their mirror hasn't changed, but my reflection in it has."
Working, Champlin says, is based on truth-"and truth is universal so I think this show speaks to everyone as clearly now as it did then, and will continue to do so in the future. The people interviewed spoke from the heart, and I think a major lesson in Working is that anyone who's worked a day in their lives, regardless of their profession, all have a lot in common. The Wall Street guy, the housewife, the waitress-they all want to be happy. As our fireman so poignantly says, they 'all want to feel good about they did on this earth.'"