Interview: Mairin Lee Discusses ROMANCE LANGUAGE and Taking on a New Kind of Role

By: Oct. 23, 2015
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Mairin Lee may be known for her ingénues roles in Shakespearean and 19th Century plays, but this time around she's switching gears and playing a young corporate lawyer in Romance Language

Romance Language tells the story of a wealthy Manhattan widow who takes up private lessons with an alluring young Italian instructor. During the lessons she learns much more than just a language. As an unexpected romance blossoms, her daughter raises doubts concerning this mysterious teacher's intentions. The three tangle with art, passion, and even vendetta in Joe Godfrey's Romance Language.

BroadwayWorld chatted with Mairin Lee about Romance Language, her special bond with Jared Zirilli and Audrey Meyer, and her amazing Broadway debut in THE HEIRESS. Check out the full interview below.

Can you tell us a little bit about ROMANCE LANGUAGE?

Sure! So the main character, played by Audrey Meyer, is a divorcee who is sort of living a quiet, lonely life. She starts taking Italian lessons and falls in love with her Italian tutor. Her daughter, who is a young corporate lawyer does not approve of him. The three stand in conflict throughout the play.

Can you tell us about your character of Penny and how she melds into this conflict?

Yeah. So, the thing I love about Penny is that she is tough and she is very much a corporate lawyer. She feels very comfortable in that world and feels comfortable using elements from her work in her personal life. Like, she will speak legally to her mother sometimes. The thing that makes her so fascinating and nuanced is that she's extremely sensitive still. She is still really morning the death of her father, who died a few years earlier from cancer. She's really still angry about that fact that her mother and her father got divorced very late into their marriage. Penny holds a grudge against her mother for not treating Penny's father the way that Penny would've liked her to treat him. She has this very soft core and she's almost a raw nerve in a lot of ways about her Dad and her Mom that she has this very thick armor over that. So, it's really fun to sort of play with the balance of that. The lawyer in her and the daughter in her, who wants love and acceptance and just wants to end old wounds but she can't quite figure out how to do that.

Penny is very different from characters you've played in the past. How is it tackling this new role for you?

It's funny because even though it's very different from a lot of the characters I've played, we share a lot of similar qualities. The Shakespearian ingénues and the 19th century ingénues are very close to who I am as well. I love that 'young woman in love who is also well educated.' The costumes are also great in those roles. I do really connect with Penny because I think we both tend to be very perceptive and can also be judgmental and maybe a little harsh in ones judgements.

I know my Mother will see this play and be like, 'Oh, I see my daughter in that!' Growing up she would say that whenever I wanted help with something I would always want help NOW. So, she would say sometimes, 'Oh Mairin I love you, but you can be a very demanding child.' I just know when my Mom sees this she's going to be like, 'That was my little daughter.' She also said I should be a lawyer because I always loved to follow the rules. I actually played a young lawyer, a very different type of lawyer, in a film I did a few years ago. So, that was my first step into this archetype. Even though Penny is different, I've sort of dipped my toes in the water with that.

How long have you guys been rehearsing for? It's been a pretty quick turn around from what I understand.

We started at the end of September and actually because it's just the three of us and because the play is only 90-minutes, the rehearsal process was actually a little bit shorter than normal. We started in late September and we started previews last week. So, it was a little shorter than the normal rehearsal type process, but I think for what the project is it has been fine.

How did the first previews go?

It was wild. It was great! We had about ten people at our final dress, which is always nice to get a few faces out there. You never really know how it's going to be perceived so you just sort of go out their and hope for the best. It's like throwing spaghetti at the wall. You have to be confident in the choices that you've made, the tone, the style and the story you are telling. It's always interesting to see the immediate feedback after the first night. It's also the most nerve wracking I find as well because you never know and you've never done it before.

How is is working with Jared Zirilli and Audrey Meyer?

It's great! The are both super, super lovely to work with, very receptive, very generous. We have a really great rapport off stage. That extends to our director, assistant director, playwright, stage manager and crew members. It's a really great, supportive and positive group. Jared feels like a brother to me and we definitely have that camaraderie going on. He helps me figure out my love life, we get ice cream together and talk about boys. It's great. I always tend to have very close relationships with older women in the theatre because they do sort of become like Theatre Mom's in a way and that's how I feel with Audrey. Audrey has four kids so she has a lot of experience with being a Mom and it's great sharing a dressing room with her and have that relationship with her and share that bond.

Switching gears a little, you made your Broadway debut in THE HEIRESS a few years back. What was that experience like?

It was so wonderful. I was understudying four roles and I remember the morning I found out I was going on. It was a Wednesday morning and I was going on for the matinee. We had sort of maybe thought that Judy Ivey was going to be out because she hadn't been feeling well the night before. So, Wednesday morning I went to the gym and I just ran around like a maniac and got all my nervous jitters out and as I was leaving the gym I got a text message saying that I was going on. I was taking the subway from the gym to the theatre and I was so excited, like I'm not kidding I almost shouted to the subway car, 'I'm going to make my Broadway debut!' I was so, so, so happy to be able to have that experience and to get to go on for the lead as well was really, really magical.

How do you choose the projects to attach yourself to?

I think when I first got to New York a few years ago when I was out of graduate school the mentality was sort of to just book and do work. Now that I'm a few years down the line and I can look at my resumé and see that I have a lot of classical, 19th century and Shakespeare, so now I can wonder how do I diversify myself? Now, I look for new plays to be part of. Last year I did one at Premiere Stages and now I get to do one this year. So, it's been cool to start to develop those contrasts and working those different muscles. Also it's about TV, where I can land and find a new and exciting role.

Mairin Lee is known for her work on Broadway inThe Heiress. Off-Broadway: Measure for Measure (New York Classical Theatre). Regional: Antony and Cleopatra (McCarter); Soldier's Heart (Premiere Stages); In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (Wilma); Phèdre and A Christmas Carol (American Conservatory Theater); Pride and Prejudice and Hamlet (Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival); The Lion in Winter (Shakespeare Santa Cruz); Pericles (California Shakespeare Theater); Dracula (Alabama Shakespeare Festival); The Farm (Shotgun Players). TV: "The Good Wife", "Elementary". Film: Marcy, Mortem di Virgo. M.F.A. from A.C.T.


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