Acting Like Directors
I've been a fan of Frances Lee McCain's acting since I saw her astonishing work in the 1976 PBS film The War Widow. After I experienced McCain's painfully moving performance in Kindertransport (Marin Theatre Company, through Feb. 11; call 388-5208), I knew I had to talk with her, to discover how a fine actor approaches a difficult part. “I'm relieved when the show finally goes up,” McCain explains, “because at that point we've learned all we can with the participation of an audience. The frustration comes after opening night, when I wish I could have weeks more rehearsal to incorporate what I get from the audience into the performance. That's the difficulty of live theater — we learn what doesn't work when it's too late to fix it.”
McCain is not only an actor. She's currently teaching at American Conservatory Theater's advanced training program, directing students in a production of Horton Foote's 1918. “It's fun to enter a play [with student actors], when it really is more about the process than the product. It's lovely to watch young people make discoveries about themselves and about their world.” I wonder if directing students might lead to directing professionally: “I don't want to be a director,” McCain insists, “but I do want to direct. In fact, it's more than I want to, it's that I have to. I've been inspired by good directors, by their ability to realize a vision, and I think it's time for me to try.”
Terry Baum is a solo performer who is also ready to change theatrical direction. After a long solo career, Baum is “sick of solo work. For me, working alone was a way to withdraw, and to maintain control. But theater is about collaboration, and for solo work to be the main thing that everyone is doing is not good, either economically or spiritually.” Baum is directing her new play, Two Fools (through Feb. 24 at Noh Space; call 621-7978), and the experience of working with actors is “startling. They're not me. The work is much more interesting and rich.” Baum's play is both deeply personal and political, as she explores the problems of immigration for gays and lesbians. “Gays can't move and have a love relationship between national borders, and so gay marriage is key to our achieving equality,” Baum argues. “We are entitled to marry. Get this, and the battle is won.” Baum's take on the issue is personal: She was involved with a Costa Rican woman, but Baum could not live in Costa Rica and her lover could not stay in the U.S. legally. “The question 'Where could we live?' affected our feelings about our future. I could see the different treatment that Latina women receive,” Baum declares, “but what do you do with white privilege?” If you're Terry Baum, you think and write and help the rest of us consider the question in new ways.
By Deborah Peifer