One of the most fun things about being an actor is the variety of people you get to become. Life is never boring as you go from character to character. Also varying with each role are the circumstances.
For example, how do you approach playing an actual person – especially one who may still be living and/or is very familiar to the public? Think Meryl Streep as Julia Child or Margaret Thatcher, Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr.
Does the actor do an impersonation directly mimicking their subject or work more internally doing an interpretation of how the subject would feel more than look? Of course, there is no specific answer to that question – it’s very much up to the individual actor and is most often a combination of those approaches.
A similar but different situation is when the role one is about to play is almost totally identified with a specific actor. A couple of examples: Yul Brynner in THE KING AND I, Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL.
This is my current challenge as I prepare to play Lettice Douffet in Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of LETTICE AND LOVAGE.
The play was written and the role specifically created by British playwright Peter Shaffer for Dame Maggie Smith. So many people have said to me when I’ve told them I’m doing the role, “Oh yes, I saw Maggie Smith do it in New York (or London)”. Indeed, she won the Tony Award as Best Actress in 1990 for playing Lettice. And she is still very visible in the public eye. She stars in the current box office hit film, “The Second Best Marigold Hotel” and, of course, as the grande dame matriarch, Violet Crawley, on “Downton Abbey”. I absolutely adore watching her perform!
But then I began to feel that, in an eerie way, she was accompanying me as I prepared to play what was her role. I would almost hear her in my head and think, “Is that how Dame Maggie would say that line?” “Am I mimicking her accent?” and “Will my performance be compared to hers?” It was a bit disconcerting for a time…
…until I had a complete emotional reversal and began to think of her not in an intimidating way but rather as a compatriot. Look at what I’m sharing with her! I’m busy learning the very same lines that she had to learn and speak onstage. I’m sharing the feelings that Lettice experiences with the feelings Dame Maggie felt as Lettice, and it all becomes quite exciting.
As I’m joined by Leah Mazade who, in playing Lotte Schoen, has a somewhat similar situation (that role was created by another distinguished British actress, Margaret Tyzack), here we all are –Margaret and Jane and Leah and Lettice and Lotte – creating a lovely sisterhood with Dame Maggie!
Lettice Douffet, an expert on Elizabethan cuisine and medieval weaponry, is an indefatigable but daffy enthusiast of history and the theatre. As a tour guide at Fustian House, one of the least stately of London’s stately homes, she theatrically embellishes its historical past, ultimately coming up on the radar of Lotte Schoen, an inspector from the Preservation Trust. Neither impressed or entertained by Lettice’s freewheeling history lessons, Schoen fires her. Not one however, to go without a fight, Lettice engages the stoic, conventional Lotte in battle to the death of all that is sacred to the Empire and the crown. This hit by the author of Equus and Amadeus featured a triumphant award-winning performance by Dame Maggie Smith in London and on Broadway
Our production features Jane Squier Bruns as Lettice Douffet, Leah Mazade as Lotte Schoen, John Decker as Mr. Bardolph, Elizabeth Darby as Miss Framer, with David Johnson and Ruthie Rado.
Directed by Louis Pangaro. Tickets available today!