Melinda Peterson loves the experience of re-creating a role years later, though she's quick to clarify that "creating anew" best describes her approach to it. In the current Colony Theatre mounting of Lillian Groag's Ladies of the Camellias, she delivers a bravura comic performance as Eleonora Duse, a famed real-life Italian stage diva of the late 1800s. Peterson initially played this role in the show's 1988 L.A. premiere. "I can remember a lot of the things I did with it," she explains, "and some elements are still present, but I'm at a very different place creatively now and bring a lot of new things to it. I recently read a wonderful biography of Duse. It's filled with great factual material, some of which I was able to use, but only to the extent that it relates to Eleonora's function in this play as a comic foil."
Peterson was born and raised in Hartford, Conn. She majored in technical theatre in college, gaining a diverse background that she says still benefits her. Her career focus is now acting. She has vast experience in stage performances in L.A. and New York and played a leading role in the daytime drama As the World Turns, which she loved. She's happy that she frequently has opportunities to work with her husband, actor Phil Proctor. Both are members of the renowned local classics group the Antaeus Company, and they also collaborate on writing and performing in radio comedies, an activity which includes jaunts to Ireland.
Her flair for classical theatre serves her well in her portrayal of the brooding, passive/aggressive drama queen Eleonora. BSW critic Wenzel Jones aptly called her characterization "a marvel of melancholia." She expresses rich nuances of character with an amazing economy of gestures and facial expressions, turning morose stoicism into a richly funny art form. She cites a quote from Laurence Olivier in describing her viewpoint to her craft: "It teaches the human heart the knowledge of itself."
"The great thing about acting," Peterson says, "is that it does exactly what Olivier said—for the characters, for the actors, and for the audience."
"The Ladies of the Camellias" continues at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (Also Sept. 4, 3 p.m., Sept. 9 & 16, 8 p.m.) Aug. 21-Sept. 19. $26-36. (818) 558-7000.