If Laura Kenny had been around in 1930s and '40s Hollywood, it's a good bet that this mainstay of Seattle's theatre scene would have been cast in the kind of roles that kept Marjorie Main, Marie Dressler, Thelma Ritter, and other such successful character actresses in demand. As one of Rain City's most adept and amusing character people, Kenny seldom lands a starring role, but she has kept busier than most, essaying a series of housemaids and housekeepers, including Della in Intiman's The Royal Family, Mrs. Pearce in Seattle Repertory Theatre's Pygmalion, and Mrs. Medlock in 5th Avenue Theatre's The Secret Garden. Earlier on, she was a grand and imperious Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, the mayor's wife, in 5th Avenue's The Music Man, and a hilarious harridan of a Giant's Wife in Seattle Children's Theatre's musical Jack & the Beanstalk, and she worked as an understudy and principal for much of the 1980s in Chad Henry's long-running hit Seattle musical Angry Housewives. At the moment, however, Kenny is relishing taking centerstage as Mag, the shrewish old Irish mother, in Tacoma Actors Guild's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and has some high-visibility film work on the horizon with a featured supporting role in the upcoming original Stephen King miniseries Rose Red.
"In Rose Red," said Kenny during a recent interview, "I play Kay Waterman, a single parent with a grown son whom she treats like he's 10. She has a bad shopping habit—she collects teddy bears, and she's constantly buying stuff. The way I'm able to support my shopping habit is through my son [played by Matt Ross] who makes money as a psychic. He doesn't totally enjoying doing it, but he's under my thumb. He goes to this mysterious mansion, Rose Red, and when I can't get hold of him I go there, and all kinds of horrible things happen!"
Though the film took more than four months to shoot, Kenny had a ball, particularly when acting with Judith Ivey ("I got to jump out of a closet and scare her!"), Julian Sands, Kevin Tighe, and leading lady Nancy Travis. "As it went along, it just got more exciting and more exciting," she said, beaming. "And my part grew as it went along, so I'm told I'm going to get main title credit, which is thrilling."
The unexpected and sudden demise of actor David Dukes during shooting touched Laura, and the whole cast, deeply. "He was a wonderful actor and a wonderful person. He was extremely knowledgeable about what shots they were setting up. He just loved his family and would talk about them all the time. It was just shocking. I was supposed to shoot with him the next day. We already had a call time; when I called to check in they were just finding out that he had died, and shooting was cancelled. His work will stay in, but it was very bittersweet."
Kenny came to the role of Mag in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at TAG well acquainted with the role, having understudied it at Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1999. "Now I'm getting to work at the role from the ground up, versus watching someone else do it, trying to match their work, trying to blend in as seamlessly as possible. So it's a totally different process. But I knew the script and the accent, so it was great to come into this with all of that behind me."
It seems that it might help an actor to like her character, but Kenny finds Mag a tough cup of Irish coffee to warm up to. "I try always to find something to like about my characters. I describe many of my ladies as being horribly misunderstood. Mag fits that category. I think that maybe there were things to like about her years before, and a lot of those things have gone away because of her need to be taken care of, and she'll pursue that at any length." Laura has great fondness, however, for Stephanie Shine, her onstage daughter in Beauty Queen. She played the Nurse to Shine's Juliet in Romeo and Juliet 10 years ago.
Kenny came to Washington many years ago from Las Vegas and has worked nearly every playhouse in the Seattle/ Tacoma area, many of them repeatedly. She mourns the loss of the Bathhouse, Alice B. Theatre, and the Group Theatre, and has realized that with the changing artistic regimes at the theatres, actors have to keep proving themselves over and over again. "But that's just the nature of the business. And I've managed to make more than half my living doing what I love best."
And what dream roles are still out there? "Well, Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I don't know if I'd be a good Mary, but I'd sure enjoy the adventure. I've loved those roles since I was a much younger actress. I'd like the opportunity to give either one a try!"