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CENTERSTAGE: Notables and Quotables

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Uta Hagen admitted that she hated being known as an acting teacher, saying that she'd rather be remembered as an actress who passed on a little of what she learned.

Zoe Wanamaker explained why she believes "Electra," has proven so relevant to audiences in this last year of the 20th Century.

Anna Manahan shared her secret of keeping a performance fresh night after night.

And, as strange as it sounds, just as Edie Falco was describing a strange "dimensional reality" experience that happened to her onstage in "Side Man" the night before, the lights and sound went out in the restaurant where the actresses were speaking.

They were addressing the American Theatre Critics Association's "celebrity" luncheon, held last month at the Crowne Plaza's Broadway Grill, part of ATCA's annual New York mini- meeting. The "celebrities" that were invited to the luncheon were each hosted by a different ATCA member. Since I had such terrific experiences playing host the two previous years (my guests were Vernel Bagneris and Anthony La Paglia, respectively), I volunteered to participate again this year and had as my guest Matthew Broderick, currently starring in the National Actors Theatre production of "Night Must Fall."

I had always admired Mr. Broderick's stage performances. I first saw him Off-Broadway in "Torch Song Trilogy," and then, of course, in Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues," followed by "How to Succeed...."

My question to Mr. Broderick:

You've always been typed out to play the sweet, honest, boy-next-door, and now you're playing a psychopathic killer. How did your getting this role come about? Did it take you a while to consider accepting the role exactly because you're playing so much against type? Or did you perceive this role as a real challenge and seize upon it for that reason?

Mr. Broderick obviously doesn't see himself as the nice-guy type. "I have played a lot of nice people, though they don't always seem that way to me particularly.... So I don't really think of roles as nice or mean." He added, "One interesting thing about working on this play‹and maybe I've gone mad‹but it feels not that big a step to me to want to chop somebody's head off and put it in a hatbox!

"The role came about when I saw Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in "Sunshine Boys.' I loved it, and I went backstage and Tony Randall said, "You should do a play for us!' and I said, "What?' and he said, " "Night Must Fall," ' so I said, "Okay,' and here I am." Sometimes it's as simple as that.

Here's what some of the other guests had to say in response to the specific questions they were asked:

Anna Manahan, lately of "Beauty Queen of Leenane," was asked by Diana Barth of The Irish Voice (New York):

How do you keep this role alive, eight performances a week, and play it as if it were the first time while you've already performed it 600 to 700 times?

Ms. Manahan replied that, thanks to her training, "I didn't have to go off to some corner of the wings and rope myself up. My work was done, my furrow was worked deep in rehearsal, and it was there in my self-conscious.

"I start at the beginning of each performance with a blank canvas. I live through each moment, and each moment the audience lives with me. That way we journey together. It is tiring, but the most rewarding way to perform that I know."

Alan Cumming, currently starring in "Cabaret," was posed this question by Alice Carter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

You were quoted in the magazine article as having said that you never regretted anything that you had ever done. What is it that you regret not having done?

Mr. Cumming explained, "As I got older, I changed how I think about acting. Now I think it's mostly about you as a person‹about how much you're prepared to, or are able to let your real person, your own personality, and what you've learned in life come out in your performances. I didn't used to think that, so I would try to do those things on top of me.... So, it's not really a regret, but I'm curious about whether I would have achieved that sooner if I hadn't gone to grammar school straight away and lived a bit more.... I sort of do regret plunging into formal training and not "living life' enough, but who knows?"

Uta Hagen, who most recently completed a run in "Collected Stories," was asked by Michael Barnes of The Austin American-Statesman:

In your 62nd year of professional theatre, how has the art of acting changed in that time?

For Ms. Hagen, what has changed the most is the "obsession to act." She explained, "When I began in the mid-'30s, we were not competing with television; we were not competing that much with film. We believed that the theatre had great importance for the nation and that being involved in it was an honor. Now, there is such a split between film and TV, and every actor has his foot in three different camps‹and even thinks it matters! The theatre has suffered tremendously from that. I still try to communicate in my performances and to my students that same involvement and feeling for a great and noble art of acting."

Edie Falco, currently starring in "Side Man," and two HBO series, "Oz" and "Sopranos," was asked by Ira Bilowit, a freelance features writer for Back Stage:

What does it feel like to be finally making a Broadway debut and playing two very disparate moms and a prison matron all at the same time?

Ms. Falco first set the record straight by saying that she's actually playing three moms: The prison matron in "Oz" is a single mom. Ms. Falco very comically described how she plays all the moms at the same time. "It's Pavlovian. You go to the set of "Oz' where you're in a prison, and it's a bunch of inmates and scary extras, and you put on a blue polyester uniform, and you look at yourself and there's no question who you are. I go to the Golden Theatre and there is my husband, Frank Wood, and my tattered bathrobe and my old-age makeup, and I know exactly who I'm about to be. I go to the set of "Sopranos" and put on the fingernails.... there's never any question about mixing them up, though if I had to be in one room and was asked to do them all simultaneously, I would have some difficulty...."

Christiane Noll played in "Jekyll & Hyde," and most recently in The York Theatre Company's "Little by Little." Outside of the theatre, her hobbies include skydiving, scuba-diving, rock-climbing, running, and golf. She was asked this terrific question by Jacqueline Gerber of the Springfield State Journal-Register (Illinois):

You have four elements here: Your skydiving is air; your scuba-diving is water; your rock-climbing, running, and golf are earth. In what way is the theatre the fire?

Answers Ms. Noll: "I have always tried to find a balance in my life and I feel, as an actor, that is so utterly important because so much of our fire‹of our passion‹is what we do nightly. A lot of people have said that acting comes from the heart, from who we are, and not just what we want to express, but really what we need to do. Filling my life with so many other passionate things is continuing my life university. The more we do, the more we can bring to the audience."

Warren Leight, author of "Side Man," was questioned by Jonathan Abarbanel, correspondent for Back Stage's Chicago column, among other publications:

When does a writer know when the time is right to author an autobiographical play? And to what extent is a play like "Side Man" an instrument of either healing or exorcism?

Mr. Leight responded: " "Side Man' is autobiographical. It's set in the jazz age of the '50s and people always ask me, "How did you research this?' and I just have never done any research in my life. It was easier for me to write the family story, but I avoided writing it for 20 years for a variety of reasons. I think it takes a lot to have some respect about a family, and I think if I had written it in my early 20s when I was joke writer, it would have just been joke-filled. A little later in my 20s it would have been anger-filled.... It took me a long time to work through the issues that being raised in my family caused, so by the time I was ready to write it, it came at the right moment in my life. I had thought some things out; I had gone through the denial stage, the anger stage. I was able to sit down and sort of understand my parents for who they were instead of whom I had wanted them to be. The trick with "Side Man' is that it's not written in anger; it's written in acceptance, which probably makes it more accessible."

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