Interview: MARY TESTA of TENDERNESS AND GRATITUDE at Westport Country Playhouse

Another legend comes to the Westport Country Playhouse for one night only

By: Apr. 12, 2024
Interview: MARY TESTA of TENDERNESS AND GRATITUDE at Westport Country Playhouse
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Interview: MARY TESTA of TENDERNESS AND GRATITUDE at Westport Country Playhouse

The legendary Mary Testa is coming to the Westport Country Playhouse on April 15 for one night only.

We’re not exaggerating when we call Testa a legend. She received the Legend of Off-Broadway Award in addition to numerous nominations including all the top theater awards and multiple film festival awards.

On Monday, April 15, Testa will delight Westport Country Playhouse audiences in its signature Script-in-Hand reading of Enid Graham’s new play, Tenderness and Gratitude Number Four.

The hilarious and moving play is about two complex people -- party boy, Michael (Broadway veteran Robert Sella) who avoids intimacy at all costs and his work colleague, Jenny (Testa), a jaded, wise-cracking office worker who dreams of becoming an artist. They learn to open up to others and confront their inner demons as the show examines love, art, truth, lies, office politics, and friendship. Other performers are Fiona Robberson as Jordann and Blake Russell as Danny. Rebbekah Vega-Romero is doing the stage directions. Westport Country Playhouse’s Executive Director Mark Shanahan is also the curator of the Script-in-Hand readings.

Testa’s career has been dynamic by any standards. While she studied acting at the University of Rhode Island, composer and lyricist William Finn “came to cast one of his shows.” He was clearly impressed with her talent and stage presence. Once she moved to New York, Finn cast her as Miss Goldberg in his one-act musical, In Trousers, which also featured Chip Zien, Alison Fraser, and Joanna Green. In Trousers was the beginning of Finn’s Marvin trilogy, which included March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland. Testa reunited with Zien and Fraser for a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS staged concert of the show. Victoria Clark replaced Green.

In Trousers was Testa’s first show in New York. “Bill was a new voice,” she said. “This was in 1978. We loved singing his stuff. It was a very exciting time.” She still considers Finn a good friend. When his show, A New Brain, was first produced, she played Lisa, a homeless person. When it was revived, the new director wanted her to play Mimi Schwinn, Gordon’s unstable but loving mother. “A New Brain was special,” Testa says. “I don’t always want to do the same thing twice,” but “I knew his mother. It was a fortuitous thing.”

That said, in February Testa will again play Annie Edson Taylor in a concert version of John Michael La Chuisia’s Queen of the Mist, which she first did in 2011. Taylor is her favorite role, she says, because “Queen of the Mist was written for me…. It’s a spectacular show, a spectacular role.” Testa often plays strong supporting roles, but this time she was the lead. “I got to say everything and sing almost everything.”

Taylor is the type of character that appeals to Testa. She was an American schoolteacher who was the first person to survive a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and she did this on her 63rd birthday. Testa calls La Chuisa “a brilliant writer” and says she is delighted to be involved” with his works. She’s done seven shows with him, although some haven’t been produced yet.

Testa is happy to support new theater and to take chances. “Off-Broadway is where they can be a little more daring [and] expressive,” she says. Tenderness and Gratitude Number Four is actress and playwright Enid Graham’s newest play, and Testa encourages people to come and support it. Testa likes to play “strong people…flawed kind of dumb people.” She loves comedic roles, but also dramatic ones. “I love to do everything.”

Did we mention that when Testa is not on stage, she has done a lot of television including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Sex and the City, which is now playing on Netflix?

She frequently performs in concerts and cabarets. In addition to her cast albums, Testa released an album with Michael Starobin, Have Faith, in 2014. It contains song by Alanis Morissette, Prince, The Beach Boys, Leonard Cohen, Finn and LaChiusa.

Recently, Testa was in Texas to a concert with friends and students at Baylor University Theatre. “It was such a wonderful, positive, fabulous thing,” she said. There were master classes and a two and a half hour Q&A. Imagine what a treat it was for the students. For Testa, “It was an incredible magical five days,” and she even got to see the total solar eclipse.

Testa likens her career path to “a pinball. Whatever I hit is what I do. I never had a plan for it.” Even getting her first agent “boiled down to luck. I never had to seek out an agent. They just fell in my lap.” She intends to continue “as long as I can work at things I like, with people I like, and places I like.”

Meanwhile, book your tickets for Tenderness and Gratitude Number Four at the Westport Country Playhouse for Monday, April 15 through Tickets are $30.00. The Westport Country Playhouse is located at 25 Powers Court in Westport. (203) 227-4177.

Mark your calendar for other wonderful upcoming programs at the Westport Country Playhouse. Sunday, April 21 at 7:00 p.m. - Ann Talman: Elizabeth Taylor and the Shadow of Her Smile, a cabaret show. Saturday, April 27 at 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. – Mo Willems’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical! May 3 to 5 - All Things Equal: The Life & Trials of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a one-woman play starring Michelle Azar. May 8 at 7:00 p.m. – Ari Axelrod in his award-winning show, A Place For Us: A Celebration of Jewish Broadway. May 19 at 7:00 p.m. – An Evening with Bernadette Peters. And another Script-in-Hand production TBA. Wait until June! There’s a lot more exciting events to come at the Westport Country Playhouse.


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