Sunday, June 13, 2010

Our shyest great actress

Marian Seldes, 60 years into an award-winning career, wants to see your show. (NYT)

It is Seldes’s blend of Old World manners and youthful exuberance, her journeyman work ethic, paired with a sense of privilege at being in the theater, that has made her a legendary figure within it. In the mirrored bubble of show business, where people see only themselves, she sees everyone else. More than that, she celebrates them. She goes to their shows, whether on Broadway or some crummy joint downtown; she’s front-row center at both their sparsely attended readings and their lavishly produced awards ceremonies. She is as avid a fan as she is an actress; she listens as intensely as she speaks. After seven decades of working, often without acclaim, her rapture at her profession remains undimmed. Happily, the theater has ultimately returned the embrace. AndrĂ© Bishop, the artistic director of Lincoln Center Theater whose two plays Seldes saved in previews, said, “With Marian it’s like what Stephen Sondheim said at his birthday gala, when he quoted Alice Roosevelt Longworth, ‘First you’re young, then you’re middle-aged, then you’re wonderful.’ ” So much so that Rick Rodgers, a former actor, is making a documentary, “The Third Act of Marian Seldes.”

“I had to kill Marian onstage,” Nathan Lane recalled of their Off Broadway run in McNally’s “Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams” in 2005. “She played a woman dying of cancer who wants my character to smother her with a pillow. So one matinee I smother her. She dies and I was in tears. I drop the pillow and from the audience I hear an old man say, ‘Vell, that’s the end of Marian Seldes.’ And I thought: Oh, no it’s not! She’s still going to go on!”

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