Mulgrew On 'Leading Lady', Alzheimer's AwarenessBy Michelle
May 8, 2007 - 8:09 PM
Kate Mulgrew (Janeway) and playwright Charles Busch discussed their interest in Laura Keene, the actress Mulgrew plays in Our Leading Lady, and famous transvestite performer Busch's reasons for not playing the part himself.
In a conversation with Susan Haskins of Theater Talk (transcribed at Totally Kate!), Mulgrew explained that Keene "was a great actress/manager of the nineteenth century" in an era when such roles tended to be reserved for men, and the fact that she was performing at Ford's Theatre the night of Lincoln's assassination "eclipsed what could have been a brilliant career." Both Mulgrew and Busch felt that Keene deserved better than to be a footnote to the assassination story.
Busch admitted that for him, the subject was of interest because his play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife was a hit when the theaters were closed after the events of 9/11. "I was just hysterical. What was gonna happen, you know? I had a hit, you know! How is this going to affect me? But then I did think really seriously though that in a way our self absorption is kind of our key to our survival."
Mulgrew found it "delicious and complicated" to play a woman at the center of the Lincoln tragedy, particularly since Lincoln had not wanted to go to the play that night but had responded to a personal invitation from Keene. "It's really the examination of this kind of a moment in a woman's life who's heretofore been so myopic in her thinking – Laura Keene was completely self-absorbed. And what did this, in fact, do to her? And it shows the resilience, I think. It shows a grace note, a depth." Mulgrew added that she thinks the play sheds light on other performers' mindsets.
Busch admitted that he did as little research as possible, having a phobia of libraries, and took liberties "because I just didn't know how to somehow take all this research and turn it into a linear plot" before he decided to invent the relationships among the characters in Keene's acting company. "They were austere. They were Spartan. They were practical people," Mulgrew explained that Busch taught her. "I thought it would be far more glamorous."
Busch said that he considered taking on the role of Keene himself, but "no matter how real I may play it, there's still going to be a separation between actor and role...the heavens brought Kate Mulgrew into our lives." The play's run has been extended at the Manhattan Theatre Club, he added.
Totally Kate! also has additional information about and photos of Mulgrew's activities to combat Alzheimer's. She appears in the National Alzheimer's Association Awareness Campaign and will serve as the honorary chairperson for the Dubuque Memory Walk in Dubuque, Iowa on September 22nd.