BWW Interviews: DEBUT OF THE MONTH: GRACE's Kate Arrington
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by Caryn Robbins
Kate Arrington is making her Broadway debut in the acclaimed dark comedy GRACE, written by award-winning writer Craig Wright and directed by Dexter Bullard. GRACE features alternating scenes of hilarity and poignancy in which life turns surreal for an eclectic foursome whose destinies collide in the Sunshine State. A wide-eyed young couple (Arrington & Paul Rudd) head south with big plans to open a chain of Gospel-themed motels. When an agitated rocket scientist (Michael Shannon) and a prickly pest-control man (Ed Asner) enter the picture, the couple's ordered world is thrown into utter chaos.
Recently received acclaim for her performance in The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theater (with Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy), Kate Arrington is a Steppenwolf Ensemble member, where she has performed in The Hot L Baltimore, Detroit, A Parallelogram, Fake, The Pain and the Itch, The Well-Appointed Room and The Violet Hour. Other theater credits include Off-Broadway: Happy Now?, When the Messenger is Hot, Far and Wide, Everett Beekin, Bluebeard and Other Less Grisly Tales of Love, Sexy Saint James, and Boom.
The talented actress chatted with BWW about her new play which she describes as, "a comedy, but God knows, it's a lot more than that!"
I was at the show last night and thought it was just wonderful - very thought-provoking.
Yes, there's a lot going on huh?
Yes! In fact, the play is described as a 'dark comedy' and I'm wondering, do you see it more as a dark piece or more of a humorous piece?
Well, it's really my favorite kind of theater - it's a little of everything. I mean you have these incredible juxtapositions for instance, the last scene where it's this incredibly tense gunpoint situation and in comes Ed Asner and has a line like, 'Welcome to Florida!" And that's my favorite, where you just can't say what it is and really, to be honest, I think that's the funniest - that's as funny as anything gets as far as I'm concerned! When humor comes into those tense situations, that's when you really can appreciate it.
Which I guess speaks for the brilliance of the writing.
Yeah. I think Craig has a real gift for that. I mean my favorite writers, Bruce Norris has that too, it's almost using humor as a tool, as a weapon, against the audience, I mean not really against, but just sort of messing with the audience in a really provoking way. Yeah, I like to think of it as a comedy but God knows it's a lot more than that!
Your character, Sarah really does stay true to herself throughout the play, yet she also undergoes a transformation.
Yeah, I think she does. I mean they all do except for Steve. I think Steve is the one who can't, sort of make peace with the change. But I think with Sarah, it's an interesting thing because we sort of assume that she's in the same boat as Steve, and then there's a subtle sort of moving away. I think Sarah isn't as bought into the idea of the mentality of faith being inextricably linked to financial gain and I think that starts to veer her away from Steve. And then I think she sort of rediscovers something and, in the presence of a sham that is big, you know, as she says, 'big music.' I think that's a really cool thing about her. Christianity can be very fixed but it can also be sort of all encompassing so I think she represents that. I think she does right by Christianity at a certain point in the play by the idea of really believing in something.
Did you do any preparation for your character before rehearsals?
Yeah, we did all sorts of stuff. I come from the south, I have a very murky relationship with Christianity. I come from like Bible belt territory so I know something about this fundamentalist mentality. I did little things, like I went to Ocean Grove which is a Christian community in New Jersey. They were having their Gospel weekend and I mean an all-white Gospel, verified! It was kind of interesting. So you know, little things like that.
A few weeks before rehearsal started, we were driving up to Montreal and I literally stopped the car in the middle of the highway, I can't believe I did it, because there was a 'SonRise Family Camp', and it was Sonrise with an "O" and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm stopping the car and taking a picture of that right now!" Do you remember the name of their company in the play is 'SonRise Reality' and Sarah says the line, "Sonrise with an "O"?
Yes, I do!
So yeah, I actually saw a Sonrise with an "O" family camp!. So we did little things like that. But once we started we did a lot of stuff. We met with a minister, Paul and I, to talk through the whole play with and get his perspective on a lot of things. And there was a really interesting moment when I asked him, "well if we went to a church like this, what would be the dynamic of a relationship of a marriage? What would the church give us?" And he said, "Your relationship would be a Fusion 520." And he exactly quoted the line from the play when Paul's character says, "a Fusion 520 does say wives must submit to their husbands." I mean he quoted it word for word the second I asked, 'What's the dynamic of a relationship." It was really interesting!
So we just did little stuff - like working backwards, as we do in the play, is actually kind of difficult. We did a lot where we would record ourselves going forward and play it going backwards to see how bodies move, and how breathing looks and stuff like that. Then there was a point in the script that says that Sarah begins to speak in tongues, so I did a lot of watching people speaking in tongues, which thank God I'm not doing, but it was incredibly informative to watch people be transformed in that way.
What has your experience been like working with Craig Wright?
Well you know, I'm surrounded by the greatest guys imaginable these days, between Craig and Dexter and then Mike and Paul and Ed, they are just such huge personalities and they're like old relationships. We have these fights that resolve so quickly it makes you want to cry. It's like, 'Oh, if only life can work like this. If people could just blow up and then be over it like 3 seconds later!' It's really cool.
And Craig's brilliant. This is the first time I've worked with him. I know him because Mike's worked with him a lot and I certainly knew his work. And he's great because for a long time, I thought that when I wanted something to be different I needed to really explain it, but the second I say to Craig, 'this line…" and that's all you have to get out and he's like, 'no, I know just what you're saying' and he does know exactly what what you're saying. He's so smart and so on top of where you're going and what you're thinking and what's working for the character and what isn't.
And what is it like working with a pro like Ed Asner?
He's amazing. He is just so amazing. First of all, he's such a smart guy. He's such an activist and he's so involved in the world and has this really humanitarian nature. He's just a really good person. And then on top of it, he's the funniest, cutest man. (laughing) I heard he did a segment on 'The View' today that is something to behold. Putting his hands down under Barbara Walter's seat just as she sat down!
Is this the first time you and [long time partner] Michael have worked together?
Yeah it is. We've done little stuff together. We've done some workshops and stuff and obviously we've been very supportive of each other's careers because we've been traveling around the country, but this is the first time we've actually worked together.
And how has that experience been?
Well you know, it's like relationships - fantastic and horrible! (laughing) There have been times that have been really hard and yet it's very much worth it.
Do you find there's something special about performing on a Broadway stage?
Umm, I'm trying to tell myself there isn't! It's big, it's really big, that's one thing. It's weird because it's not that much bigger than Goodman, but somehow the space, it feels bigger. I mean definitely that front balcony is so far away. So it's really weird trying to negotiate that.
And of course there's the excitement of Broadway, you know. These people, there's something so wholesome about these people standing out there for an hour during notes to get signatures on their programs. It just kind of breaks your heart. I'm like, 'you love theater this much?' It's so amazing. Especially with this play, it's not your standard Broadway play. I'm sure they're not getting exactly what they were expecting. But they're still so excited. It's really cool, it's really sort of a beautiful thing.
GRACE is currently in previews at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street) and will open on Thursday, October 4, 2012. For tickets and further information, please visit: http://www.graceonbroadway.com/
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus