Taking Risks

Anne Gottlieb: Taking Risks

ODCfeature7As an actor, teacher, writer, director, and founder of her own production company, 40 Magnolias Productions, Anne Gottlieb has put her love and knowledge of theatre to work with artists and companies throughout Boston. Her work has made her a favorite with local audiences and critics, and won her IRNE and Norton Awards for her performances in In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) at SpeakEasy and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune at New Rep.

Now in performance in Other Desert Cities, Anne talks to us about finding inspiration in her character and in her co-stars.

Tell us about the character you play, Brooke Wyeth.
Brooke is a writer who lives in Sag Harbor. She hasn’t been back to her family home in Palm Springs in six years. She has a history with serious depression for which she has been hospitalized.

She has returned home for Christmas with a new book, a memoir in which she looks at the circumstances and reasons that led to her older brother’s suicide nearly 30 years prior. For Brooke it has been a way to come to a deeper understanding of her own repression and depression but it is met with considerable resistance from her family.

As an actor, what do you feel is the most challenging aspect of playing this character?
It’s a huge journey emotionally and that is the largest challenge in performance, not to get ahead of myself or the story and take that journey every night. I think Jon Robin Baitz is an inspired writer and has written a deliciously complex character in Brooke Wyeth. She has a tremendous need to get to the bottom of things, to make sense of her pain, to give it meaning. She also has a need to finally have the conversation with her family that they have avoided all these years. I think there is a desire to be seen and loved as well as a desire to know and expose the truth and sometimes those things can be in conflict with each other. Writing this book forces the issue.

Audience members seem to have very strong opinions about Brooke. Do you think it’s important that people like her?
No. The question about liking or not liking one or another character is entirely personal. I like that the play is provocative on that level. What we dislike on the outside or in others is often what we disown in ourselves. Brooke says to her father, “I am past the point of good manners,” when he asks her to wait and publish the book after they are gone. She does not play nice because something bigger than manners is at stake. And incidentally, her parents don’t play nice, either.

Do you share any characteristics with Brooke?
I don’t always make it easy for people to avoid conflict.

Did you do anything special to research or prepare for the role?
Each role requires and inspires slightly different preparation. In this case, I spent a great deal of time thinking about what was in her memoir, Love and Mercy.

What attracted you to the play?
So many things. The wit of the play, the depth and sophistication of each character’s central argument, the playwright’s ability to capture the kind of political arguments that have been going on in families since the1960’s.

This play marks you sixth collaboration with director Scott Edmiston, including the SpeakEasy productions of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), and The Women. What is it that you enjoy about working with Scott?
He inspires me. I deeply trust him personally and artistically and so I feel safe to take risks creatively. He tells me the truth when something is not working and he is willing to try basically any crazy idea I might have. He likes collaboration and I am a collaborative animal.

What’s it like to share the stage every night with local powerhouse actresses Karen MacDonald and Nancy E. Carroll? What have you learned from playing opposite these women every night?
Well, I would refer to them as powerhouse actresses who have worked all over the country and toured internationally. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working with both of them on this project. I tend to be impulsive as an actor. I wander around the text and the rehearsal room throwing paint on the walls, metaphorically speaking. I felt balanced by both Karen and Nan’s clarity. In addition to being very generous actors and people, they are fearless and great problem solvers. They have also totally gotten me into Downton Abbey. I would say, however that I am learning from all the actors in this piece. Munson and Chris are such sensitive and specific actors. It’s been a great pleasure being part of this ensemble.

The show has to wrap this Saturday, Feb. 9. What do you think will be your lasting memory/take-away from this production?
I am trying not to think about the fact that scripts like this don’t come along everyday wrapped in a package with a great director and great cast!

When can we expect your memoir?
It’s due to come out in the fall of 2053. It will not be available as an e-book and there will be only one copy in circulation.