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A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Heather Cunningham
March 27, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Actor, Producer.

What is your show about?
A dark comedy about a couple trying to deal with the hardest kind of parenthood - their only daughter has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair bound and cannot communicate - and their marriage is on the brink from the stress of her afflictions.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
For as long as I can remember I wanted to do theater. I had a stage manager 15 years ago tell me I was "born in a trunk," and it's true! My parents worked in the theater, my Mother went on to be a professor of theater, and that early exposure was profound. My actual earliest childhood memory is of playing in a theater. At that time, the early 1970s, my parents worked at SoHo Rep quite a bit. I believe this was during a production of PRIVATE LIVES (although I concede it may have been something else - that was a production that my parents still talk about to this day, the discussions of which may have bled in to this particular memory) and my memory of running around the theater, and the actual architecture of that theater. It had huge red doors to the street, and when you walked inside the box office was immediately on your right. Just past that was the lobby with two entrances to the theater itself - one straight ahead - and one to the right up a flight of stairs. The stairs led to the last row of audience right, the doorway straight ahead led down a hall under the last side row and out to the deck level stage, where the first row met the "footlights," so to speak. I remember running around a lot - up the stairs on the upstage wall that led to a storage room (paint, mostly, as I recall), in the dressing rooms, and up and down the audience aisle while my parents painted scenery or worked on costumes. I also remember napping in that last row, coming in and out of consciousness during a rehearsal of some beautiful people on the stage going through a scene. It was as home to me as the home where my stuffed animals were.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
The immediacy of the audience. You're all in it together. You can feel them, and if you've done your job right, they feel you.

Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
In every show I do, in every character I play there is always a “favorite moment.” This one is one I’m still figuring out but it doesn’t make me any less jazzed to play it! In fact I might even be more jazzed because it can and does have so many levels to it. In the show I play the mother of a severely handicapped child, one with cerebral palsy, who has no movement or speech ability, and is now nearly 11 years old. I’ve been told her entire life that she is a “vegetable.” Now I’m reminiscing about a time when she was just 12 months old or so and she saw a stack of colored plastic bricks and managed to knock them down. Part of the memory is, of course, the incredible labor it took the child to manage this feat. The line, the moment: “A vegetable couldn’t have done that” is so filled with pride in the child and despair for her illness and disgust for and anger towards the doctors who for ten years have said she will never improve. It’s a cocktail of emotions, a roller coaster in one line, and I can’t wait to explore it further.

Which famous person would you most like to get a fan letter from: Denzel Washington, Maggie Smith, Ang Lee, Jennifer Lawrence?
Can I choose "other"? Because I kind of want to be Frances McDormand when I grow up - I can't imagine how I'd feel if I got a fan letter from her. Or Streep.. I'd die. Seriously. Laid out - on the floor - dead.

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I'd like to think so, and I'd like to think it already has. Of course we may never know - they may be the kind of small changes that we never see, because we never see the alternate universe in which those changes didn't occur. I like to imagine someone going in to a theater and having their thinking altered right there on the spot whether they realize it or not. And maybe that person finds themselves a few years out from that experience fighting for a cause they may not have previously considered or suddenly inspired to write a play... and maybe if we're lucky the cycle starts all over again and that play awakens a feeling in an audience member who then goes on to do something great, even if it is a small something, that changes the course of another person’s life. Eventually, if you keep going, change happens. It's a slow process, sure, but inevitable.