Stunning, Remarkable and Rock-Solid. These are just some of the words used to describe television, film and stage actress Mary McCann’s performance as the title character in the Atlantic Theater Company’s production Harper Reagan. McCann received rave reviews for her portrayal in the complex story about a woman who explores the limits of loyalty, morality, and the bonds of the family after a tragedy strikes them. I recently spoke with McCann about her role and learned how she is someone that many can relate to at times in their life.
McCann has been an accomplished actress since her childhood. Growing up on a small island in Put in Bay, Ohio, McCann and her friends formed their own theater company where they put on plays all throughout their school years. After graduating from New York University, McCann certainly didn’t forget about her small town roots. She became not only the founder of The Little Village Playhouse on the island, but also a founding member of William H. Macy and David Mamet’s Atlantic Theater Company. McCann has starred in a handful of ATC and Broadway productions including: Our Town, Spring Awakening and Boys’ Life, just to name a small few. Small of her television credits include “Sex and the City”, “Law and Order”, “ER” and “Spin City”. No doubt her impressive resume made a very interesting conversation with Mary McCann!
Congrats on the success of Harper Reagan, it’s doing very well. Can you tell me a little about it and your role in it?
Mary- On the page it seems kind of simplistic: a woman finds out that her father is dying and she tries to get off work and she can’t and you discover later why she feels she can’t leave her job. She goes to go see her father and when she gets there it’s too late. And the grief of that experience then sends her into- I would say going from a reactive person to a very active person. She starts really looking at the truth of her life and the truth of her relationship with her mother, and her husband, and her daughter, and she starts to tell the truth from there. And in that journey she does crazy things. There are surprising and wonderful things in the play. Simon Stephen, the play writer said, it’s got many themes. He was very much influenced by the idea of a Greek tragedy; that something has befallen this family. This tragedy has happened and the wife goes out into the world to write the wrong and heal the wound and the family. And in the course of that he really explores the relationship between mothers and daughters and fathers and daughters, because he and his wife were pregnant with a daughter the time that he wrote the play. And then there’s the idea of love. And what can love withstand and what does is take to have a marriage.
It sounds very interesting and very complex.
Mary- Yes it’s very complex! (Laughs) It’s very simplistic but complex.
What appealed to you most about your role? I read you could relate to her a bit.
Mary- Well I sort of joke about the idea that she’s a woman going through a midlife crisis- I mean I think she’s at a point in her life where she’s really looking at what does it all mean? Is she telling the truth about the relationship she’s in? How is she stuck? Where does she need to sort of break out in her life? There’s stuff in the play where she finds out her husband was arrested on suspicion of taking pornographic photographs of children and so there’s a big question about whether or not he was guilty or not guilty. She’s got this looming in her marriage and I think that that piece of information has really shut her down and has kept her away from her parents. And now she’s lost her father. There’s stuff that I can relate to yes. One having dealing with loss in my life, dealing with kind of looking around going wow? Is this it? What about this is working? What isn’t working? You work so hard and you look around and go wow? Is this what I should keep doing? What do I have to show for it? Just like all of those kind of midlife crises.
Is there a scene in the play that stood out most to you?
Mary- I just love all the different scenes and I’m with different people throughout. And they’re all incredible. There are a couple which she has this long scene in a hotel room with this man who she basically contacted through an internet website and he turns out to be this kind, gentle soul and seems to be a very normal man and she has an affair with him. And then in another scene she’s flirting with this beautiful, 17-year-old African-American kid on a bridge and she talks about not feeling like that for years. I joke, because I’m very happily married, but when I started the play I said to my husband I keep having these dreams about having affairs because it was all about this woman exploring the idea of a transgression in her relationship. So that was an interesting and surprising part of the play. (Laughs)
You have done many, many stage productions, off and on-Broadway, which one would you enjoyed the most as an actress? Or one you took the most away from?
Mary– I did David Mamet’s Oleanna for a year. And that was an incredible experience. One just because to do that kind of play for that long, and then the audience reaction to that was just so exciting. That was a great experience. I did a play called The Night Heron by Jess Butterwood, which was really fun. It was just this character that I would never have been cast in. Jess is a friend who asked me to do the part and as this woman I wore this huge fat suit, and I had my head shaved and I had a mullet-it was crazy. Sort of killer out in the countryside. So that was a really fun experience. I loved the BlueBird play. I feel like I’ve done some of the best work I’ve ever done in that play.
Who would you love to share the stage with one day? Any dream co-stars?
Mary– I would love to act with Alan Rickman. Meryl Streep, I’d love to do anything with her. I just love the idea with people who are really present and in the moment.
If you weren’t acting, what do you think you would be doing?
Mary- It’s funny because I also run the school at the Atlantic Theater Company and there’s a part of me that loves that. I feel like I probably get it from my dad, I have a little bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. I love to create new programs and come up with what the program would be and how it would look and figure out how to make the money. So I do love that. I often joke, that if I were to go start all over, I’d be an environmental lawyer. (Laughs)
If you could go back in time and spend a day in the life of anyone from history, who would it be and why?
Mary- I would love to be inside of Mother Theresa for a day and see what that selflessness is like and that level of compassion. I also feel like it would just be amazing to be Winston Churchill and see what that’s like and be faced with having to make the kind of decisions in the face of war and death and saving people. I guess his moments would be more dramatic and Mother Theresa’s would be more selfless.