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Spotlight On RICHARD III: Maureen Anderman

Known for her many memorable roles on stages and screens large and small, many from the canon of William Shakespeare (OTHELLO, HAMLET, MACBETH) and Edward Albee (THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE, SEASCAPE, WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf?, A DELICATE BALANCE & LISTENING), Maureen Anderman is making her grand return to the realm of Shakespeare onstage in New York with the new BAM production of RICHARD III directed by Sam Mendes, starring Kevin Spacey. In addition to illustrating many aspects of the rapturously received revival of the historical tragedy as she has traveled with it around the world, Anderman and I also discuss her affiliation with Shakespeare and what she derives from performing his greatest works, with RICHARD III being the central focus. Also, Anderman details her experiences working with Edward Albee on the original Broadway productions of THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE and SEASCAPE, as well as offering some candid observations on some of her favorite feature film and television appearances over the years - THE DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD and LAW & ORDER included. As well as all of that, Anderman also shines a light on her recent standby duties for Vanessa Redgrave in THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING and DRIVING MISS DAISY, as well as the forthcoming Westport Country Playhouse production of MAGICAL THINKING in which she will be starring later this year.

Further information on RICHARD III at BAM can be found here.

Kings, Queens & Lizards

PC: You are a true queen of the canon of Edward Albee, so I was curious if you have seen his newest piece, ME, MYSELF & I?

MA: Well, I'm in it! [Laughs.] The character of the girlfriend of the boy is named Maureen, and they call her Maroon - and, that's what Edward has called me for thirty years!

PC: How fascinating! SEASCAPE was your first Albee play. Tell me about the little-known third act of that that was cut in rehearsals.

MA: Well, what happened was that, in the second act, the lizards brought the humans under water - that was the second act. And, then, the third act was when we came up and that became the second act of the final play. So, he cut out the underwater act because it was too long and too complicated.

PC: Talk about being near-impossible to stage.

MA: Yeah, set-wise it would have just been impossible.

PC: Did you rehearse that scene, then, I assume?

MA: We read it a couple of times. I mean, I did readings of the play for a year before we finally put it all together. Frankly, I can't really remember - but, I do remember he made us throw it out. When Mel Gussow was writing his book, I gave him my scripts and I don't believe the second act was there, so I'm sure Edward just collected them.

PC: I've never been able to find it myself. I believe it was staged once in the three-act version in Europe.

MA: Yes, they did it in Vienna at an English-speaking theater. I know they did it twice over in Europe because he asked me to be in it and I couldn't. That was a long time ago! [Laughs.]

PC: Thanks to increased global warming and more information on evolution readily available, SEASCAPE is as pertinent today as when it premiered, if not much more.

MA: Oh, sure! Sure. I think you're right.

PC: Was there a lot of kickback from the audience at the time?

MA: Not really. Well, I mean, it was a semi-success. It ran for a while on Broadway and we took it to LA - and, it did win the Pulitzer.

PC: Any play that wins the Pulitzer is certainly a success d'estime at the very least.

MA: Exactly. It's just that people were baffled by it and I think they wanted the people to be George and Martha and Nick and Honey, which we were in some way because we were two couples - there was that similarity - but it didn't have that sting. It had brutality in that Leslie was a big lizard - Frank Langella.

PC: What was it like working with him on that play? It was one of his first big roles.

MA: He and I had just the funniest time in rehearsal, as you can imagine, playing lizards - crawling around and all of that. It was very silly, but it was hard, too, because we had to make it believable for ourselves and for Edward, and, of course, for the audience. But, we had a great time rehearsing it - it was fun. You know, Frank was an imp - which he will admit to today! [Laughs.]

PC: What do you think of Albee as a director versus writer?

MA: Well, I enjoyed working with him as a director. I was a young actress, but, you know, I had worked with some great directors - Alan Schneider and George Schaefer and stuff.

PC: Of course.

MA: But, Edward was very good. He knew what he wanted. SEASCAPE, with the one set - he knew where he wanted it to go. And, then, he directed the revival of WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? that I did with Colleen Dewhurst and Ben Gazzara. He knew with that what he wanted to do - he wanted humor, plus the harshness and everything. So, he was a good director.

PC: What was it like acting alongside a legend like Dewhurst?

MA: We became very good, very close friends. After that, we did YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU together and we did a play at the Westport Playhouse together. But, we became friends, more importantly - she was one of seventeen people at my wedding.

PC: What do you think of the film version of Virginia Woolf? versus the stage version? The play is so much more in-your-face and visceral, I find.

MA: Yeah. I think the play is done everywhere constantly, so people get to see it. I think that, a lot of times, you know, they go see it because they saw the movie. It's a, you know, "Oh, I like that! I want to see it again." So, they go see it. I think that was kind of a similar thing with DRIVING MISS DAISY last year, people knew the movie so they thought, "Oh, I want to see that again." And, to see it with James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave.

PC: Why didn't Albee direct THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE around that time?

MA: When we did THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE, Irene [Worth] didn't want him to direct, so they got Alan Schneider.

PC: Speaking of Westport, it's such a great space, don't you think?

MA: I know! Jason Robards lived right by there and he was so great, too - I feel like I've lost my soul with losing all of these people! [Laughs.]

PC: I had to ask you what your thoughts are on Albee's lesser-known experimental piece, LISTENING? It's so unique.

MA: I did that first as a radio play, you know. The BBC commissioned several playwrights to do radio plays for this public radio series.

PC: Fellow InDepth InterView participant Angela Lansbury participated in a production of LISTENING, as well.

MA: Irene Worth, James Ray and I did it first for BBC Radio, and, then, I did it up in Hartford with Angela and Bill Prince.

PC: What a legend Ms. Lansbury is - and, rightfully so.

MA: Oh, listen, I have acted with the best! Eileen Heckart in WAVERLY GALLERY. Dear Julie Harris in THE LAST OF MRS. LINCOLN, way back. I shared the stage in my very first job with Eva La Gallienne and Roberta Maxwell, and, then, the next year, Sada Thompson and Jane Alexander. I have worked with so many of the great American actresses.

PC: What a list!

MA: I feel like I am probably leaving someone out, but, you know, you can bring the guys in there, too: Langella and Kevin and some of the other great men I've worked with over the years.

PC: What are your memories of working with some of those legendary names?

MA: Oh, I used to watch them - study them. I used to go out in THE LAST OF MRS. LINCOLN and watch Julie Harris act. She had a point in the second act where she was writing an imaginary letter and I would watch her. Same in Virginia Woolf, I would watch Colleen do the beginning of the third act. I would put on my trench coat and stand in the back of the theater to watch her.

PC: Tell me about the post-Albee era of your career. You focused on the family and did mostly TV and film work - LAW & ORDER included - it appears.

MA: Yeah, I did. I kept acting onstage, too - Hartford, Long Wharf, Yale. I kept doing things - even Off-Broadway here and there.

PC: THE DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD was very progressive and ahead of its time.

MA: I know! I know. I know. It was Jay Tarses. They had good writers - playwrights as writers - and good directors. And, they had Blair [Brown].

PC: Acting with Blair must have been a blast, yes?

MA: Oh, yeah - but, we were friends from the Guthrie! We were old friends.

PC: It's a small world! Your most recent Broadway appearance was as Vanessa Redgrave's standby in DRIVING MISS DAISY. What was that experience like? When did you find out you were going on for her for the first time?

MA: Well, the first time I went on was a week after opening - and I ended up going on a lot. You know, I got a call at home in the middle of the day - that's how it started. She was fragile - she got ill and she didn't have a lot of resistance. It happened several times that I would go on for a week at a time. So, one time, she had the Berlin Film Festival with the premiere of CORIOLANUS, so I knew that I had those couple of days. But, the other times, I would be going to the theatre or I would be on my train coming in from Connecticut and get the phone call at 5:30, quarter to 6, saying, "You're on tonight."

PC: How simultaneously scary and thrilling that must have been for you.

MA: Well, James Earl and I are old friends - his wife is one of my best friends - and Boyd Gaines was just, you know, amazing. So, it was all right. And, once the audience knew it was not a train wreck, people did not leave for the most part - they stayed, probably because James Earl was still there. They all had a good time and we still got standing ovations at the end.

PC: What do you think of the new trend on Broadway of only financing plays and musicals with big stars, pretty much?

MA: Well, they can't put the plays on otherwise! Unfortunately, it's the terrible fact of life in the theatre now. I will say, I won't standby again - I did that for Vanessa for a very specific reason; I had done YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING for her, too. I did it for a very specific reason: it was for Vanessa Redgrave, so it was necessary. I won't do it again. But, you know, I can do these plays another time, so it all works out. As a matter of fact, I am doing THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING at Westport this Summer!

PC: How wonderful! So, it all comes full-circle after all! Were you a Joan Didion fan to begin with?

MA: Oh, yeah. I read a lot of her stuff in the 70s and 80s - 70s, basically; some of her earlier stuff. That is a major piece. It is daunting. I am a little nervous about it. Now that we have opened RICHARD III, I can start trying to learn it again. It's a big piece and it's the emotional journey in the piece that makes it and that is the difficult part. It's difficult. I figure that, after traveling the world with Kevin Spacey and doing this, I will be ready to take the stage for an hour and a half. [Laughs.]

PC: RICHARD III is a return to Shakespeare on a New York stage for you. Your Broadway debut was in OTHELLO, correct?

MA: Yeah, that was my first job ever. I was Bianca. That production was first in Stratford, Connecticut, and then we brought that in to Broadway. Then, I did Ophelia in HAMLET with Sam Waterson and Jane Alexander was Gertrude. Then, I did MACBETH with Philip Anglim at Lincoln Center, also. I've done Shakespeare at the Guthrie and Shakespeare at The Old Globe, but, before RICHARD III, I hadn't done a Shakespeare in thirty years. I had forgotten that it has been so long.

PC: There is a video version of that MACBETH, as well - a young Kelsey Grammer appears in it.

MA: Yeah! Kelsey was understudying Philip Anglim and playing Lenox. In mid-performance one day, Philip Anglim was losing his voice. You could hear it just going and going. We were in the banquet scene and I was sitting onstage and I looked at Kelsey and he looked at me and he put his on the table! [Laughs.] He knew in the second act that he would have to go on as MACBETH!

PC: That's a fabulous story.

MA: I remember when he had to talk to the witches there were scripts all around - it was crazy. But, you know, he hadn't had rehearsal! [Laughs.] It was great, though.

PC: What do you think of audiences today versus thirty years ago, particularly when it comes to paying attention and understanding Shakespeare as it happens?

MA: Oh, these audiences have been very attentive - so attentive - everywhere. I mean, there were subtitles in foreign countries, but they were so attentive that I think it is kind of remarkable. What I think that is going to happen now, since it is Winter in New York, is we are going to start to have coughers. I don't want to jinx it, but they are consistently standing at the end, and, even, cheering.

PC: Why do you think this production is getting that reception?

MA: I think it's because Kevin is doing this performance and taking the audience with him and it is real. It is a real crowd-pleaser because they become involved and have a good time. Sam has directed it so that you can follow it. He identifies the characters in a clear way. I had seen a production the Summer before - a beautiful production and the actor playing Richard was amazing - but, and I said this to Sam when I met him, "I don't know who half of these characters are!"

PC: It can be hard to follow sometimes.

MA: You know, I find it difficult to keep these characters in the history plays straight. I mean, I know who I am and I know who the women are, but now I really know.

PC: He has clarified a lot.

MA: He has directed this very clearly. Very.

PC: The technology element makes it truly 21st century, as well.

MA: Oh, yeah! It's just brilliant!

PC: You get the movie star Kevin Spacey onscreen and the stage star Kevin Spacey onstage at the same time.

MA: I know! And I've got to tell you: that's what people want! They want to see Kevin Spacey on film, too, so that was just a brilliant touch that Sam added.

PC: What was the rehearsal process for the show like?

MA: Well, we rehearsed in London at the Old Vic.

PC: Of course! Mr. Spacey's home base.

MA: Yes! You know, Richardson and Gielgud and Redgrave were in that same room. We had a luxury of rehearsing for six weeks - you know, here, it is three weeks, four if you are lucky. It was a great rehearsal period. So, we played it there through the Summer.

PC: How was it received in London?

MA: I think in London people in the cast were surprised because the audience stood in London. The English actors in the cast would say, "They never stand here! They don't do that here." But, they did. They did. And, that was consistent around the world.

PC: Wow.

MA: Even the three nights in Epidaurus - 10,000 to 12,000 people a night in the theater over there.

PC: How did it feel to be an American getting a standing ovation doing Shakespeare in London?

MA: Oh, it was great! It was thrilling. Of course, I just wept my first few days there because I was so honored and thrilled to be there. [Laughs.]

PC: A dream realized.

MA: Yeah! It was very emotional for me.

PC: How did you become involved with Sam Mendes and the production in the first place? Did you audition?

MA: Daniel Sweeney suggested me. He was the casting director for the American cast. So, I went and met Sam Mendes and we really hit it off. We had a great meeting - laughed, talked and, you know, shared our fears about touring, et cetera. And, I think he figured that I would be a good company member and I had a lot of endurance and could do the tour. And, they needed an American to play Kevin's mother.

PC: Did you at any point ever try to adopt the accent or was it always meant to be an American sound for you two?

MA: No. No. You know, with the men playing the other sons, Edward and Clarence - all of Richard's family is American.

PC: An illuminating textual and theatrical differentiation.

MA: Very interesting. It's never noted and no one ever says anything about the different accents, though. Not so far. Although, I shouldn't say no one because I don't really read reviews. I saw one online from Canada when we were in London still, I think, but besides that I don't know if anyone has noticed that or not yet.

PC: The reviews have been outstanding around the world. Ben Brantley reviewed it favorably in London.

MA: He did a blurb, though - he didn't really review it, but I think he said he was looking forward to seeing it again and reviewing it here.

PC: How has the production changed from rehearsal room to the various stages you have brought it to around the world to, now, New York?

MA: It's evolved. You know, it's going to change depending on the audiences. It's a little longer and more focused now, I think.

PC: Gemma Jones when she did this column said that her role has been significantly expanded - and sometimes the role is cut altogether.

MA: My part is cut, too, a lot of the time!

PC: When Ian McKellen did his film of RICHARD III, he cut her character completely.

MA: I know! I know. But, it's just evolved. And, I think it has more laughs now - I know that it does. Kevin has been finding these things that he wants to put in and that he wants to play. It has more humor. It is also more brutal in parts, I would say. A little louder in some parts.

PC: What is it like sharing the stage with Kevin Spacey every night? You two have one of the best scenes in the play.

MA: We have a great, great scene together. I think that, for both of us, it is never less than one hundred percent satisfying where we go with it. It is brief. It is intense. And, it is brutal. It changes him in the play. It really changes him.

PC: How do you see the women in RICHARD III, particularly your character?

MA: Oh, let me tell you: the women turn this play! [Big Laugh.]

PC: You can say that again.

MA: They make things happen! As you know, in this play, Richard and everybody is going on course - they've got their course - but, then, Gemma comes in and says, "Wait, you think you are doing this? No. This is what is going to happen to you." And, I come in while he is on his way thinking he is going one way and I say to him what I have to say to him and it turns him. You know, I am always in the back of his mind no matter what he thinks he is doing - it's his mother! He can't get away from her. And, then, Haydn [Gwynne] is the one who stands up to him and pushes and pushes and pushes against him as much as she can. And, Annabel, who plays Lady Anne - she is tough. She is not playing any simpering, wimpy Lady Anne. [Pause.] We all give him as good as he gives.

PC: Would you define your journey with this production and your collaboration with Sam and the cast as one of joy?

MA: Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah. It's wonderful. Just wonderful.

PC: So, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING at Westport is next this Summer. Is there anything else you have lined up after that?

MA: THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING at Westport and then who knows? I don't know beyond that. Things always turn up!

PC: What about a Broadway transfer of RICHARD III at some point?

MA: I think it's too big. And, Kevin's got a TV series he's got to do. I don't know.

PC: A filmed version would be ideal, I think - especially given that you have an Oscar-winning director at the helm of this production already.

MA: Oh, that would be wonderful! You know, there was a documentary crew with us that followed us all around the world. So, hopefully, there will be a very interesting documentary.

PC: Maureen, this has been a true delight. All my best to you and the cast of this tremendous production.

MA: This was so wonderful, Pat. Thank you so much. Bye bye.

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Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)