Zoe Kazan: Ingénue In-Charge

With a bow in her hair and endlessly bouncing curls, Marie is a picture-perfect image of feminine youth in 1950s America. But beneath the charm and ease hides a girl eager to taste freedom... and who may shake things up in a couple's quiet home.

Starring opposite award-winning stars S. Epatha Merkerson and Kevin Anderson in William Inge's Come Back Little Sheba at MTC, budding actress Zoe Kazan has found a polished balance between her role as an independent woman "now" and the guidelines of being a girl "then."

BroadwayWorld News Desk Editor, Eugene Lovendusky, spoke with Zoe Kazan about her Broadway debut and the effects of her character on William Inge's classic tale of marriage, alcohol and the social standards of the 1950s…

Eugene Lovendusky: Thanks for stealing a few minutes to chat with BroadwayWorld and congratulations on being part of such a critically claimed show; what I'm calling one of the most "perfectly performed productions" of the season. How does it feel to be making your Broadway debut in Come Back, Little Sheba?

Zoe Kazan: That's so sweet and nice to hear, thank you. I feel lucky to receive such critical attention and praise when you're in a show that's going to last a month, it's just easier when audiences are more receptive.  I've done two new shows this year, so I'm always excited to work on something a little older, traditional and structured.

Eugene: Tell us a little about your character, Marie, and – without giving too much away – how you fit into the scheme of things.

Zoe: Marie is a young girl living in a house as a boarder with Doc and Lola – she's 18 or 19 and going to college in that town. She's experiencing freedom for the first time – which so many of us can appreciate, who've gone away to school – that feeling of going away to college for the first time and not having that parent looking over her shoulder. But there is a price to her freedom.

Eugene: Playwright William Inge shaped Marie in such a way where we feel like we know her, but partly because all the other characters are talking about her. But by the end of the play, she might still be a mystery. Do you think Marie has something to hide?

Zoe: Marie gets talked about a lot, but she doesn't speak of herself all that much, in some way her actions speak louder than her words. On the surface, she's a very polite, young girl. But she's also seeing two men – she's got a fiancé in one town and she's dating a man in the town she lives in – so there is some duplicity.  If not in her nature than in her actions. She does have a hidden-self, but I think part of it has to do with being a girl living in the 1950s – there are all sorts of rules that girls had to follow that they don't have to follow anymore. Rules with sexual appetite, propriety, social morays and gender dynamics.

Eugene: Regarding her toying with two boys – Lola and Doc seem aware of it but Lola refers to you and Terk as "just kids" and "sweet." Not trying to paint Marie as the bad-guy, but do you see Marie as taking advantage of Lola's trust?

Zoe: What I see versus what Marie sees are two very different views. Part of the challenge of being a girl living in the 21st Century, looking back, the danger is to not judge your character by your own standards.  My grandmother told me: "We all dated lots of different boys because no one was having sex or kissing. It was just going out for sodas and getting to know people. It didn't seem like there was a threat." I think now we have more ideas of people having premarital and unprotected sex. In some ways, I don't think Marie thinks she is doing "bad." She and her fiancé have an understanding to see other people. I think she knows he wouldn't be so happy if he found out she was sleeping with someone else – which is why I think she keeps that hidden from him – but I do think she reforms herself in many ways.  When we do something we're not proud of, a lot of people don't want to look at that, people may say "what people don't know won't hurt them."

Eugene: You seem really tapped-into your character!

Zoe: Half the fun is getting to play dress-up and imagine what it's like to be this other person. If you're not excited about a part where you get to use your imagination, then what's the point in doing it? It'll be just another job. Also, Director Michael Pressman and I see eye-to-eye with Marie.

Eugene: In the few years you've been on the New York stage, you've worked with stars like Ethan Hawke and Cynthia Nixon. Now you get to share the Biltmore with S. Epatha Merkerson and Kevin Anderson – how does that feel?

Zoe: It's so great. I feel like I've been really lucky with who I've gotten to work with because I've worked so much with them. I don't have a lot of stage-time with Kevin, but most of my scenes are with Epatha. I've learned a great deal just getting to watch Epatha. She's such a strong person. She would do anything to make Lola's voice be heard and I admire the way she works. She's also such a lady and a joy to be around. We all love her laugh and her hugs.

Eugene: The creative arts seem to run in your blood, as the daughter to screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, and the granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan. Did you always have the artist bug inside of you?

Zoe: We all have our essential nature. If you're good with numbers, you don't even know you're good with numbers because that's how your mind works. I think from my earliest childhood, I liked to tell stories, put on plays and write things. It's funny to think of it as an "artistic bug" because I didn't necessarily want to be an artist. It's just who I was and how I communicate.

Eugene: Congratulations on a great role. What do you hope audiences will feel when they leave the Manhattan Theatre Club?

Zoe: Too often in the theatre people can't wait for intermission to get some chocolate or something.  But with Come Back, Little Sheba I just hope people leave feeling like they've spent a really good two-hours in that house with us. Thanks so much, Eugene.

Manhattan Theatre Club's new Broadway production of William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba performs at MTC's Biltmore Theatre (261 West 47th Street). Directed by two-time Emmy Award winner Michael Pressman. Starring Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner and Tony Award nominee S. Epatha Merkerson, Tony nominee Kevin Anderson, Joseph Adams, Chad Hoeppner, Daniel Damon Joyce, Lyle Kanouse, Zoe Kazan, Brian Smith, Keith Randolph Smith, Brenda Wehle and Matthew J. Williamson.

Show times are Sunday, March 16: Tuesday – Saturday at 8 PM. Matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets ($46.50-$91.50, student rush $26.50) to Come Back, Little Sheba are available by calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com.

Zoe Kazan (headshot); Zoe Kazan as Marie (photo by Joan Marcus); Zoe Kazan and Brian Smith as Marie and Terk (photo by Joan Marcus)

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From This Author Eugene Lovendusky

Eugene Lovendusky graduated summa cum laude from SFSU with a BA in Writing for Electronic Media and a minor in Drama. Raised in the SF (read more...)