Interview: Theatre Life with Susan Rome

The actress on her work in Arena Stage's current production of Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches and more.

By: Apr. 07, 2023
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Interview: Theatre Life with Susan Rome
Susan Rome

Today's subject Susan Rome is currently living her theatre life in an epic way. She is currently playing four very different roles in Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches at Arena Stage. The production runs through April 23rd in Arena Stage's Fichlander Theatre Space.

Over the years, Susan has graced our local stages in a variety of different plays. A few of her many local career highlights include Indecent, All The Way and The Great Society at Arena Stage, Hand to God and If I Forget at Studio Theatre, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and The Moscows of Nantucket at Theater J, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Joy That Carries You at Olney Theatre Center, Love's Labour's Lost at Folger Theatre, Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes at Signature Theatre and Our Town at Baltimore Center Stage You think she is versatile enough?

You might have also seen Susan in your living rooms on the first season of NYPD Blue or maybe for four seasons you might remember her as ASA Ilene Nathan on The Wire.

With Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches, Susan gets to literally transform herself into four completely different characters during the three and a half hour epic. Read on to see who they are and how she keeps her energy up eight shows a week in what some would say is an endurance test for a performer.

Susan Rome is one of those actresses where no matter what the play or the role is, you can always expect stellar work from her. She is the epitome of a working performer who has the passion for her craft and it really comes through in each of her performances.

Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches is one of those shows that lovers of great theatre need to see. I highly encourage you to grab some tickets for this current version at Arena Stage. Seeing Susan Rome in four different roles should be reason enough to attend.

Susan Rome is an artist who is truly living her theatre life to the fullest. The DMV area is very fortunate to have her as part of our vibrant theatre community.

Was there ever a question about you becoming a professional actress?

Oh, sure! After I received my BFA, I couldn't get representation. After spending eight years in Los Angeles (during which time I got enough work to get all of my union affiliations out of the way), I decided to shift gears and got a teaching degree and a Masters in Education. I taught full-time for quite a while. I still teach (in the BFA program at University of Maryland Baltimore County, UMBC)!

Was there a particular production you saw as a child that made you say "Hey, I can do this!"?

Maybe not a play, although I remember my aunt taking us to see Babes in Toyland and she took me to see A Chorus Line when I was pretty young. It was really seeing Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence when I was 10 years old that made me want to be an actor. I don't know what my father was thinking taking me to see that movie when I was so young! But I am glad that he did.

Interview: Theatre Life with Susan Rome
Susan Rome as Juliet in the 1982 Baltimore School for the Arts'
production of Romeo and Juliet.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Did you go to school for theatre?

Yes. I was in the first graduating class of the Baltimore School for the Arts and a BFA from Boston University.

Interview: Theatre Life with Susan Rome
Susan Rome's headshot circa 1990.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

What was your first professional performing job?

Union-affiliated? My first SAG job was as a nun with a gun in the cult classic The Girlfriend From Hell! They gave me a line on-set. And my first Equity gig was at the Mark Taper Forum in the Robbie Baitz play The Substance of Fire. I actually got to meet my idol, Gena Rowlands! She was the social worker in act II.

Can you please tell us what makes Arena Stage's production of Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches different from other stagings of the show?

Two things: Janós Szasz (and his brilliant vision) and performing it in the round. The audience is brought into the essence, the vibrational level, of the play. It's extraordinary to feel the exchange of energy.

Interview: Theatre Life with Susan Rome
L-R Susan Rome and Edward Gero in Arena Stage's production of
Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

Can you please tell us something about the character/characters you play in the show?

I play four different characters, two of them in drag.

The Rabbi brings the audience into the story. They all become the descendants that I speak of. I love this character. He is ancient, almost Biblical with his 20-foot talit! But he is also mischievous and funny.

Roy Cohn's doctor, Henry, holds more power than you would think. He knows all of Roy's secrets. So much is at stake in that scene.

Then I play Hannah Pitt, "the least friendly Mormon in the world." My life is shaken by my son's late-night confessional. Mother Pitt is sure she is going to rescue him, but what she doesn't know is that she'll be saved.

Finally, I am the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, Roy's fever dream/nightmare. I'm vengeful, vindictive, and full of frothy schadenfreude!

Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches is a three-and-a-half-hour show. On weekends when you have to play two shows each on Saturday and Sunday, how do you keep from collapsing by the end of Sunday evening's performance?

Hahaha! Well, as simplistic as it sounds, we only do one show at a time, so it keeps me in the moment. Also, the ensemble draws energy from one another and from the audience. We love telling this story! (After the Sunday show, I still have to drive back to Baltimore, where I live!)

Interview: Theatre Life with Susan Rome
L-R Susan Rome, Nick Westrate, and Michael Kevin Darnell in Arena Stage's production of Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

Why do you think Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches is still relevant to today's audiences?

Where to begin...? The attacks on the LGBTQ+ community are regressive and lethal. Tony was so prescient in his handling of right-wing populism, the politics of race and sexuality, and even climate disaster. It hits differently than it did when I saw the play at the Taper in 1991 when men I loved were still dying of AIDS, but the resonance is deeeep!

Of all the productions you have performed in the DMV area, do you have any that stand out as particular favorites?

Oh my gosh - that's like asking a mom who her favorite kid is! This definitely is way at the top! The last show I did at Arena (actually triple co-pro), Indecent, is also up there. Love that play.

After Angels in America Part One: Millennium Approaches closes, what is next for you?

I'm not sure I'm allowed to say yet, but the first slot of next season is booked. My kid is about to leave for college, so I have much more availability. I'm going to need to keep busy; I'm going to miss them so much!

Special thanks to Bucklesweet's Royal Director of Public Relations Amy "Queenie" Killion Arena Stage's Associate, Marketing & Media Strategy Anastasia St. Hilaire,and Arena Stage's Media Relations Fellow Bianca Peña for their assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.


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