Put a twist on it: Mary Sheridan on broads on the boards

You may not know that the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation runs an Actor’s Equity show on Ellis Island. Every year, someone writes a play about the immigrant experience, and then someone casts it and directs it, and then a half dozen actors switch off performing it like 8 times a day, 7 days a week, from Spring through Fall. Dave used to work on this show as the stage manager, and we got to know lots of the kids in the show. Mary Sheridan worked on that show, since then has played lots in Sticky, and can often be found in an interesting play in off and off-off nyc theaters.

When she invited us to check out her latest, 10 Blocks on the Camino Real, I thought it’d be a good time to talk to her about the work she’s doing, and what it is to be a broad on the boards.

li88y
I’ve seen you in a few Tennessee Williams plays that were directed and performed with an experimental aesthetic. Do you think there’s something in Williams work that suggests an experimental approach?

Mary
Thanks for attending this play and for your awesome questions! Let me start by saying that Tennessee Williams is my favorite playwright so I think that I naturally gravitate towards doing his plays (they find me and I find them.) And the experimental aspect of the shows I have done have to do with the individuals—Barbara Vann of the Medicine Show Theatre, Tlaloc Rivas [“Summer and Smoke” at the Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row] and Robert Weinstein [“Suddenly Last Summer” at the Brooklyn School of Music] —who directed them. (But I think in general it’s always good/important to put a new twist on any play that’s been done before.)

li88y
What do you think is important about new spins on old plays? Do you think we learn more about the play that way? Or maybe are able to force the play to speak more about our own time than the time in which it was written?

Mary
The thing I love the most about the theatre (when it’s a horribly impractical modern pursuit) is that it’s always fully present. So it makes sense to me to keep doing plays that are well written but to do them in new ways (otherwise it’s just trying to re-create something that’s in the past which is boring and anticlimactic.)

li88y
You play Esmerelda, the Gypsy’s daughter. This is a woman who has been mistreated by men, by her culture which mockingly deifies her, and by her mother, who sanctions and solicits this mistreatment. Was it hard to get into the head and heart of a character like that? Does your Esmerelda know what is happening to her?

Mary
Esmeralda is a charming character to me and, while it’s a dark/corrupt environment, she’s also the Belle of the Ball and the Homecoming Queen of this community so to speak. (And who doesn’t like to be the most popular girl around?) While I realize she’s a cliché as the Town Whore, it didn’t bother me because (as you know) I never get to play the whores and only get cast as saints or virgins! So this is my chance!

My Esmeralda is smarter than she lets on and to me her scene with Kilroy (the protagonist of the piece) is about how she begins to realize from what he says that she has to get out of this town and start a new life for herself. So they really do connect but it’s bittersweet because she knows they have no future together because he only sees her as a whore (not to mention the fact that he’s very ill.)

li88y
Esmerelda is like the virgin/whore, so it’s like the best of both worlds. I’ve been talking to actresses lately about aging. It’s common knowledge that women can play engenues, mothers, and grandmas, with very few characters in between. Do you have any favorite roles that don’t fit the common stereotypes, either in age or style?

Mary
I always got cast as the sweet girl next door. (Which, let’s be honest, is what I am!) But the past few years, I’ve been consciously trying to subvert that. In Glory Kadigan’s production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Alba” I played Angustias who in my opinion is the runt of the daughters and I played her as if she had a disability. I produced and cast myself as Donna in John Patrick Shanley’s “The Dreamer Examines His Pillow” (directed by Megan Cooper) because she is super tough and assertive. And then I also got the chance to play someone really bossy and smart in J Boyett’s “Poisonsed” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival (directed by Michael Hagins) last summer. At the risk of sounding like a crazy person, I definitely feel there are parts of me that are all these things and it’s wonderful to get to access them as well as the traditional ingénue qualities.

li88y
We’ve been hearing alot about the Bechdel test in recent months, which basically judges a work of fiction on whether or not it features at least two women who talk to each other about anything other than a man. This play fails that test, as does almost anything contemporary, nevermind the myriad of “women conversing with women” lacking classics. How relevant is that to you as a theater artist?

Mary
It’s true that all the women in this play are supporting roles and they never really converse with each other. That’s not an ideal situation to me but at least there are four (Esmeralda, the Gypsy, Marguerite and the Flower Vender/Madonna) decent speaking roles for women in this play! I am all for more women’s roles but since I’m not a playwright I have to take what I can get. And as a performer I thrive on variety: of theatrical genres and types of characters as well as being the lead (and having to carry the show) and then happily stepping back to be part of an ensemble.

li88y
I know you sing in a choir as well, which is sort of the ultimate ensemble. Do you find that your singing informs your acting, or vice versa?

Mary
As a child, I started with music (playing piano, singing in choirs and then taking voice.) I really love to sing but it’s like a sport and you have to do it on a constant basis in order to keep in shape with it. So the choir is wonderful because it allows me to stay in shape with my voice (and it’s an amazing group of really good people.) When I’m older and don’t have to work full-time I plan to go back to singing seriously and do more cabarets. While I’m not technically a strong musician, I really love singing a song and interpreting it. I feel that best combines all my gifts as a performer.

li88y
Thanks Mary!

10 Blocks on the Camino Real

10 Blocks on the Camino Real

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