BWW Interview: Maureen Silliman and THE BELLE OF AMHERST at Two River Theater 4/13 to 5/5
Two River Theater (TRT) continues its 25th Anniversary Season with the celebrated American classic The Belle of Amherst, a biographical drama starring Maureen Silliman as poet Emily Dickinson. It is written by William Luce, and directed by the theater's founder and Executive Producer Robert Rechnitz.
Emily Dickinson tells her own story in William Luce's evocative portrait of the writer, which is drawn from her poems, diaries and letters. The play embodies Two River's mission to produce "new works and world masterpieces that most richly direct our gaze to the life of the human spirit."
Broadwayworld.com has the pleasure of interviewing Maureen Silliman about her career and the The Belle of Amherst.
Silliman first performed at the Two River Theater in 1998 when she was cast in The Real Thing, and went on to appear in The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Our Town. Also at Two River, she appeared as Sonya in Uncle Vanya and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie under the direction of Robert Rechnitz, as well as in the world premiere of his play, Lives of Reason. Also in New Jersey, Maureen appeared at Paper Mill Playhouse as Rachel in Rags, and at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in I Capture the Castle and To Kill a Mockingbird. She was in the prize-winning Angels and Ministers of Grace at New Jersey Rep in Long Branch. On Broadway, Ms. Silliman played Jenny in Shenandoah; Liv Ullman's daughter, Katrin in I Remember Mama; and in Is There Life After High School?.
What is your earliest memory of performing for an audience?
When I was 10 years old, my dancing school was casting a production of THE WIZARD OF OZ and I auditioned. I sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and read some scenes for them and they seemed to like me. But I knew my older sister, Kathryn, was next to audition so I didn't hold out much hope. BUT I was cast as Dorothy......and my sister played the Tin Man!
Has there been anyone in particular who encouraged you to become an actor?
My sister was the person I followed around in life. She became an actress -- and a brilliant one. I tend to try to do everything she does. And my high school teacher, Barry Kaplan, said I should think seriously about making it a career. I had no clue how you make a "career" of the theater.
You have such impressive and eclectic credits. What advice can you give other actors who wish to broaden their performance options?
You think you know exactly what you want your life to be when you are young. But life opens doors you never even saw. I like to tell people to say "yes" to things. even when it's scary. You never know.
How does it feel to be back at TRT?
I love TRT. I have worked there on and off for twenty years. And with all three Artistic Directors. Most of all, I adore Bob and Joan Rechnitz, the founders. Oh, my, look what they have created here in Red Bank. And if they call, I go.
Tell us a little about the team for The Belle of Amherst.
I am the only actor in this play. I have never done a one-person play before. I miss walking into rehearsal with my tribe, my people. I just love actors ..... well most of them. But our company of Director, Asst. Director, my blessed stage manager, our young and fantastic production assistants -- well, we are a company. We are there for each other.
What would you like metro area audiences to know about the show?
Emily was brilliant, yes, and her work is proof of that. But she wouldn't be able to write like that if she didn't FEEL things so deeply. She is a person that you can understand and identify with. And root for.
Can you share with us any of your future plans?
I will be going to Naples, Florida again next season to do a new play at the Gulfshore Playhouse. I love the Artistic Director there, Kristen Coury. She has the same love and excitement about theater that I saw in Bob Rechnitz twenty years ago. When you find that in a person, in a theater, you know you must say "YES".
Performances of The Belle of Amherst will begin in Two River's Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue in Red Bank on Saturday, April 13 and continue through Sunday, May 5. Ticket prices range from $40 to $70, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from https://tworivertheater.org/ or 732.345.1400.
Photo Credit: Yurik L. Lozano