Courage Under the Ice
Actress Jean Lighty: "We’ve had our meltdowns, but mostly that’s because I’ve misbehaved."
MULTI-HYPHENATES ARE tricky creatures. Our culture doesn’t easily accommodate much space for artists pursuing realms outside of what we’ve come to know them for. Moreover when actors decide to take the reins on their own careers, donning a producer’s hat to call the shots, it can stir up a barrage of vanity-project-oriented-nastiness.
Yet everyone likes an underdog story, right? If it turns out that the actor in question manages to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and defy the rogues gallery of naysayers (and of course raise the money) to be the master and commander of their fate, if the show goes on, then we’re all smiles and pats on the back.
Actress Jean Lichty is aware of this. With the slightest of shrugs and a charming smile, she acknowledges that she has taken on a big task producing Ingmar Bergman’s Nora, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, while also taking on the lead role. She was involved in the casting process, as well as the selection of the director (Austin Pendleton, a multi- hyphenate if ever there was one).
In rehearsal, she’s leaned on Pendleton’s expertise, insisting that the Bergman’s streamlined adaptation is an ensemble piece. But even with the support of The Cherry Lane Theatre, a famous director and a cast of though-and-through theater animals, Lichty still feels the weight of the project on her shoulders. When the day is done and she hangs up the corset, she’s up into the wee hours of the night, answering a mountain of producer-related emails.
CLASSICAL TV: How did you first come in contact with this play?
JEAN LIGHTY: Michael Mastro (Resident Artistic Director at The George Street Playhouse) brought it to my attention. I obviously was aware of Doll’s House but was not familiar with Nora. And I fell in love with it.
CTV: How did Austin come into the picture?
JL: He’d directed me in Bus Stop and The Loss of Roses at Arkansas Rep. We had been talking about doing another play together. I said, “What about Nora?” Angelina Fiordellisi at The Cherry Lane got on board and said, “If you can get Austin... he’s so over-scheduled!” I met with Austin a couple weeks after that and he said fine. It was Angelina and Austin saying that they really wanted to do it.
Director Austin Pendleton
CTV: How has it been working with him?
JL: Dreamy. I think he had a profound and innovative grasp of Bus Stop. It was a wonderful production. I really wanted to work with him again. He loves Bergman. This is a real ensemble piece that has tremendous depth, but I wanted someone who wouldn’t do a pedestrian interpretation of A Doll’s House. I didn’t know what the unconventional but truthful interpretation was exactly, but I knew that Austin had his finger on it. And he does. There’s no twentieth century take on it, to him. He sees it as a nineteenth century woman who basically has conformed to being a very charming wife and mother. She has a great relationship with her husband. In some ways. But Torvald hits below the belt. Austin wanted me to, for the first third of the piece, to still want to reconcile with my husband. Bergman has us having sex after Scene 14 and Austin said, “There has to be a reason why you’d have sex with your husband at this point in the story.”
CTV: Did you have any disagreements?
JL: We’ve had our meltdowns, but mostly that’s because I’ve misbehaved. Austin forgives me! (Laughs) Bergman has it that there are moments of defiance and anger. This woman really is trying to keep her marriage in-tact. I do think that makes sense.
CTV: What is important to you about this story being told in 2015?
JL: I’ve never had an overwhelming desire to do A Doll’s House. I did develop an overwhelming desire to do Nora. Bergman focuses on the relationships that women have with one another. I think that Mrs. Linde’s relationship with Nora is lovely. In another life, Nora could have been her and vice-versa. They’re sort of the alter-ego’s of one another. Bergman really focuses on that. If your circumstances had shifted a little bit, you could’ve ended up with a very different life.
CTV: How has it been wearing the producing hat and being an actor in the piece at the same time?
JL: The hardest thing I’ve ever done. The agenda is always in your head and you can never leave it. It doesn’t mean that I can’t focus on playing Nora. What I love about it is that I have more control than I’ve ever had. But I don’t need to have directing control. I trust Austin implicitly. People are going to say whatever they want about my producing while playing this role. After doing this, if the reviewers are going to slice me apart, they were going to do it anyway. (Laughs) At this point, I just say, “What the fuck,” you know?
Ingmar Bergman’s Nora – an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic drama A Doll's House– will be given its English-language New York debut Off-Broadway this fall when Austin Pendleton directs the production at Cherry Lane Theatre, featuring George Morfogen, Jean Lichty, Larry Bull, Andrea Cirie and Todd Gearhart. For more information, visit www.cherrylanetheatre.org
Jean Lichty and George Morfogen in Ingmar Bergman's Nora, at the Cherry Lane Theatre (photo by Carol Rosegg)
5 Questions with Jean Lighty
Q: Rehearsal or Performance?
Q: Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill?
Q: Essential dressing room rehearsal accessory?
Q: Play that you’ve written that changed your approach to acting?
Q: Role that you haven’t done yet that you’re champing at the bit to do?
A: Georgette in Travelling Lady, Blanche in Streetcar and Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey. In that order. (laughs)
Michael Raver is an actor and playwright. As an actor, he’s performed Lincoln Center, The Pearl Theatre Company, Tony Randall’s National Actor’s Theatre, regional theaters across the country and in film and on television. As a playwright, his work has been presented by The Martha Graham Dance Company, The Actors Company Theater, The Pearl Theatre Company, Bedlam, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Playhouse on Park, The Bridge Street Theater, and Sonnet Repertory Theatre. His play Fire On Babylon was nominated for the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Award and was a finalist at the 2015 O'Neill Playwrights Conference. He has served as a judge of the Ferro Grumley Award for LGBT fiction and regularly contributes cultural arts journalism for Classical TV. His new play is called Riptide.
For more about Michael Raver, go here.
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